The idea of staging all of Richard Wagner’s music dramas one after the other is not new. As early as 1888, the Munich Court Opera implemented such an ambitious project in the musical rehearsal of Richard Strauss. Almost 100 years later, in 1983, another comprehensive exhibition followed under the conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch. In Leipzig, where the composer was born in 1813, the opera director at the time, Gustav Brecher, wanted to realize such a major project in 1933. But he could no longer implement it, the National Socialists drove him out of office.
The “Wagner 22” festival, which includes the master’s ten established music dramas and his three completed early operas that are not performed in Bayreuth, is also intended to commemorate the forgotten theater man. At the same time, Ulf Schirmer, after eleven years as artistic director at the Leipzig Opera and 13 seasons as general music director, is giving himself a parting gift with the first Leipzig Wagner marathon. At the end of July he leaves the house.
The run on the mammoth program is nationwide very large, the first performances were well attended with ticket prices of up to 230 euros in the most expensive categories. There are only remaining tickets for the upcoming ones, more than 400 opera fans are said to have bought tickets for the entire cycle.
The early work “Die Feen”, which opened the festival, was written by Wagner at the age of 20. He didn’t hear it in his lifetime. The score, with all its stylistic borrowings from Beethoven, Marschner and Carl Maria von Weber, may seem a bit immature, but here and there you can hear striking turns of the unmistakable handwriting that the composer later developed.
The love drama with its fairytale plot about King Arindal, who is not allowed to ask the fairy Ada who she is, is particularly reminiscent of “Lohengrin”. When he nevertheless asks the forbidden question, he is banished from the fairy world. In contrast to Elsa in “Lohengrin”, however, he is given a second chance, for which he has to pass the most difficult tests before the lovers are finally reunited.
The production by former ballet dancer Renaud Doucet captivates with enchanted, sometimes surreal magical landscapes and elegant bridges between the Middle Ages, Romanticism, Biedermeier and modernity. It was all the more bitter that both singer protagonists and the conductor fell ill at short notice and that there was no suitable substitute available for King Arindal in particular. As Ada, Kirstin Sharpin was able to come up with a large volume, but her soprano sounded very sharp in the peaks. Matthias Foremny did a solid job conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra, but didn’t make the score sparkle.
The Leipzig Opera House also recorded unusually high cases of illness in the “Rienzi” with the loss of 21 choir members. The remaining members sang with twice as much effort. In this situation, even the static, boring staging of Nicolas Joel, who died two years ago, seemed helpful, as he positioned himself largely closed on the ramp. The Frenchman staged the drama about the rise and fall of an idealized hero who wants to establish a republic in Rome based on the ancient Roman model with almost no personal guidance on an almost empty stage.
With Stefan Vinke, who confidently led his powerful tenor through all registers, the title hero is cast worthy of a festival. In the trouser role of Adriano, who initially supported Rienzi, but after the death of his father stirred up the citizens against him, Kathrin Göhring was only partially convincing with her lyrical, at times seemingly fragile mezzo-soprano.
A more excellent ensemble is presented in Liebesban, which is the strongest production of the three early operas in Leipzig. Matthias Foremny, who conducted this evening in a particularly stirring manner, showed a great feeling for the Italian-inspired music. The influence of Rossini and Bellini is evident in this free adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy “Measure for Measure” about a German governor in Sicily who wants to ban carnival and the love and joie de vivre associated with it, but who is convicted of his own weaknesses by a cunning nun and in the process is disempowered, unmistakable.
Aron Stiehl’s production, located between the jungle and the office, sparks the joy of playing of the excellent ensemble as a funny, turbulent mask play.
In the coming days, numerous prominent Wagner singers, including Catherine Foster (Isolde), Andreas Schager (Tristan), Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin), Stephan Gould (Siegfried), Michael Volle (Wotan) and René Pape (König Marke) expected.