Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Letter from Bayreuth

Me, in a possibly recognizable location

My SFCV Letter from Bayreuth is posted. I know how long it was when I sent it in - about 25% over the expected word count - and I'm afraid to check out long it is now. I wrote it in about a day and a half over the weekend, and after a week of contemplating everything I saw and heard, the process was comparatively painless. Big thanks to those of you I chatted with about the productions, the singers, and the Bayreuth experience. You know who you are.

As you might expect, there is a lot that I left out, because it really was not part of writing a review of this year's Festival. My article certainly doesn't convey the crazed intensity of seeing seven operas in eight days, especially at Bayreuth.

Performances there start either at 6, for Flying Dutchman and Rheingold, and at 4 for everything else. Dutchman and Rheingold both last about two and a half hours, so you're out in time to have dinner at a reasonable hour - well, if you consider 9 p.m. reasonable, since it will take a while to get to your hotel or a restaurant.

But consider the schedule if you're going to an opera with a 4 p.m. start time. I was staying at the Arvena Kongress, which is a 20-30 minute walk from the Festspielhaus, depending on how fast you walk, whether you're taking photos along the way, how much you dawdle. You might want to relax and do some people-watching before the show. So you leave around 3, meaning you have to get dressed starting around 2 or 2:30, depending on how elaborately you dress.

That doesn't leave a lot of time to do things in the morning, so if you have shopping or laundry to do, or you want to wander around Bayreuth, a charming city, you need to start around 9 or 10. This means being up, dressed, and breakfasted before then. Und so weiter.

Here is what a typical day looked like for me:
  • 9 a.m. or earlier, or sometimes later - wake up
  • Breakfast, which is excellent at the Arvena. Chat with friend I traveled with or fellow festival attendees.
  • Lectures - my friend sometimes went to the 10:30 at the hotel, sponsored by the Wagner Society of NY, or to the 2:45 p.m. at the Festspielhaus, sponsored by the Wagner Society of the Midwest, or both.
  • Or do something else, like laundry.
  • 2 p.m. - latest time to eat lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. - Dress for opera
  • 3 p.m. - Head for Festspielhaus
  • 3:30 p.m. - Arrive; have coffee or mineral water, or, if running desperately late, lunch
  • 4 p.m. Settle in for up to two hours of Wagner. 
  • Start first intermission, which is one hour long. Have coffee or mineral water or something sweet.
  • Settle in for Act 2.
  • Start second intermission, which is one hour long. Have dinner. I tried the sausage once, and it was not great. The stir-fried noodles - I am not making this up, you know - turned out to be tasty and economical, especially with shrimp added.
  • Settle in for Act 3.
  • Emerge from Festspielhaus around 10, blinking stupidly.
  • Walk back to hotel, arriving at 10:30 or so, depending on how much time you spent chatting with people after the opera.
  • Eventually calm down enough to sleep.
Thank goodness for the day off between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, which we did not spend going to Nuremberg, because it would have killed us. Instead, we slept late and went to see Haus Wahnfried, Siegfried Wagner's house, and the Richard Wagner Museum.

At the end of it all, I felt a little the way Jeffrey Kahane felt after giving a lecture, performing the Goldberg Variations, taking a lunch break, and performing the Diabelli Variations:
"Well, I don't have to do that again!"
It's not that I don't want to go back: as Alex Ross tweeted, the SFCV article is about my first pilgrimage to Bayreuth. I'd like to hear Parsifal there, and, well, anything Christian Thielemann conducts. But seven operas in eight days is a lot of opera, especially when it's Wagner. 

As  you'll see from my article, I wasn't thrilled with Flying Dutchman. I will stick with my judgment, but I am well aware that I saw it on my last day and my depleted mental state may have influenced me. However, it's equally likely that, having seen the wonderful Lohengrin the night before, I had a very good idea of what worked and what didn't. 

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