Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bayreuther Tannhäuser approaching fast: Who is Sebastian Baumgarten?

The other day I discussed the revival of Les Brigands at the Opéra Comique in Paris, and I realized that a German version of this work [well, "inspired by this work", would be more accurate a statement ;)] was produced last year at the Theater Neumarkt in Zurich by Sebastian Baumgarten -- yes, the same guy who is in charge of this year's opening show of the 100th Bayreuther Festspiele, Tannhäuser, to be premiered on July 25.

Baumgarten (photo Nordbayerischer Kurier)

OK, I don't know much about Baumgarten, except that he was one of the young promising directors who after receiving the prestigious Götz Friedrich prize, for his production of Tosca in Kassel, did not really live up to expectations in terms of the volume of of opera productions he created since. That of course may mean nothing: didn't Stanley Kubrick made a tiny number of movies compared to his contemporaries, and is firmly standing as one of the very GOAT among filmmakers?!

After that big award he [Baumgarten] produced Werther for the Deutsche Oper in Berlin -- by portraying Charlotte as an unhappy housewife spending days fantasizing next to her washing machine... Ah yes, in the end Werther drowned in the swimming pool.

I am mentioning that just to give you an idea that he is not someone who will be happy narrating the Wagner's libretto of Tannhäuser, add a little choreography, and collect compliments from the traditionalists. I believe his show will be more audacious than the Neuenfels' Lohengrin a year ago. BTW, his intention to include 50 spectators in the stage action is already controversial on at least two levels (read this).

He then produced Oreste by Handel for the Komische Oper in Berlin (2006)*, very much "Dogma" in style, with the content focused on xenophobia: Iphigenie [Maria hot Bengtsson] even had an axe to express her strong feelings.
It is a kind of contemporary theater that makes a much bigger impact on you when you're in auditorium, but even on TV it's cool. If you're interested, a YT user uploaded it [start from this link and then you will find your way to see the rest of it] If you start watching it don't stop after a couple of short videos. It takes 3-4 to get into the swing and then you might find the show a very passionate drama, with some great acting and cool singing.

Here is a scene with Iphigenie visiting prison:

Obviously, something even remotely similar in style in this year's Tannhäuser would guarantee Baumgarten a record amount of boos at the Festspielhaus, but at least we would have had a good non-trivially projected story [other highly non-trivial Tannhäuser will be revived in Paris next fall (one of the two shows worth seeing at the Paris Opera next season), and I will blog tomorrow about the Konwitschny's provocative but not disturbing Tannhäuser in Dresden.]

A couple of years ago, also at the Komische, Baumgarten was in charge of staging the Mozart's Requiem.

Finally, he will direct a new production of Carmen for the same, our beloved, Komische in November this year.

One more of his critically acclaimed productions was Peter Grimes for the Semperoper in Dresden:

Ah yes, concerning Die Banditen from the beginning of this blog-entry, that show looked like this.

You're welcome!
* Thomas Hengelbrock and Sebastian Baumgarten were a team for Oreste and they will also be on a same team in Bayreuth for Tannhäuser.


  1. He's certainly out of the box... which in opera will likely get you more than a few "boos". I guess it's sort of the same with Classical Crossover, which many purists look down upon. While I myself am somewhat critical of much of that genre, I can't but admit that it has helped create more interest in classical music proper. In opera, I personally enjoy nothing more than the well done old school renditions but, as with Classical Crossover I find myself asking if making the art pertinent to a different audience could be helpful in preserving the art form proper. I'd be lying if I told you I could answer that lol.
    Thanks for posting.

  2. "While I myself am somewhat critical of much of that genre, I can't but admit that it has helped create more interest in classical music proper"

    Really? So someone who likes Charlotte Church or whoever the big crossover star these days is will turn in to somebody who goes to Ring cycles and Bruckner symphonies and "Wozzeck"? In my experience, they gravitate toward the fluffier end of the repertoire --yes Vivaldi, I'm looking at you-- which isn't really in need of more fans.

    The biggest problem I see is that crossover people often feel lied to, they find out that the standard rep *isn't* just "Nessun Dorma" or Pachabel's Canon in D, it's Wagner and Mahler and 3-hour operas like "Don Giovanni" and all that stuff that takes a lot of time and effort to enjoy. Why not just say "Yes, classical music isn't easy to follow at first, but stick with it, it's some of the greatest music ever written"? Oh right, that won't sell beautiful scantily clad women playing pop versions of Bach.