vendredi 13 juillet 2018

Bayreuth Festival [1894] , an article by William von Sachs for The Sun.


Parsifal the principal attraction, but Lohengrin a great success

Interest in the performances as great as ever - Frau Rosa Sucher's Kundry amd Willy Birrenhoven's Parsifal - Madame Nordica's success as Elsa in Lohengrin - The admirable stage's management in this opera - The high standard of past festivals maintained in this one.

BAYREUTH - July, 20. With a performance, on the whole excellent, of Parsifal, embodying what is most sacred In Bayreuth traditions, the tenth festival began yesterday, and will, as heretofore, continue for one month. For the habitual pilgrim to this musical shrine, there is little to be noted that is different from former years; it is the same old-fashlioned town, with its recently acquired electricity and its lamentably defective drainage. Its primitive restaurants and now too luxurions lodgings. The numerous well-known musical personalities,from Fran Cosima and her family down to the humbler members of the chorus and orchestra, are to be seen as usual walking or driving through the streets at all hours of the day, while the visitors of former years can still clearly be distinguished from those who are here for the first time, to whom the entire experience is a more or less pleasing novelty. The difficulty of securing seats seems as great as ever, the confusion and bustle at the railway station remain what they were; indeed, but for a few unimportant changes, by war of improvement, such as the completion of the new Post Office, on the historical spot where formerly Angermann's tavern stood, the opening of a new restaurant opposite to Wahnfried, the Wagnerian home, as the branch of a well-known Berlin establishment,the decoration by flower beds of the approach to the theatre were it not for these slight alterations one would find little to mark a difference between the Bayreuth of 1894 and the Bayreuth of 1892.

The Maidens

To be sure the present repertoire is a different one, but then that has nothing to do with the outer aspect of the town during festival time. A certain dearth of celebrities is this year to be noted, though these may possibly make their appearance later as the season progresses. The main point Is that the Interest in the performance on the part of the public at large is apparently as great as ever, and that, according to the statement of the best informed authorities, the financial success of the present year is already assured. Five representations of Tannhäuser, six of Lohengrin, and eleven of Parsifal constitute the entire series,  and though the greatest stress is laid on the production of Lohengrin, on which infinite study and labor have been expended, the chief attraction would still seem to be the Master's swan song, of which Bayreuth has for twelve years had the monopoly, and which, in all probabilty, it will continue to hold for eighteen more, by which time the copywright in the Wagnerian
works will have expired. There is a special  spell exercised by this "sacred festival season," as the Meister himself has named it, and the conditions under which it has hitherto been heard unquestionably enhance its charm. More than any other of Wagner's works, it appeals primarily through the totality of its component factors; not so much by individual efforts can it be judged, but rather as a connected whole, embodying thus the doctrine so frequently set forth by its composer. From year to year there have been changes in the cast, some for the better, some for the worse, and yet Parsifal has not materially suffered thereby. The present cast shows a number of new names; a new Parsifal and a new Kundry were presented in ! yesterday's initial performance, but the impression was as profound and the general effect as excellent as ever before.

The main credit for an incomparably high standard so successfully maintained is unquestionably due to Frau Cosima Wagner, whose untiring zeal and ceaseless energy animate alike each and every one directly or indirectly connected with the festival musical dramas. It requires someone with the authority of the Meister's widow, not to mention her intimate knowledge of the various works, to set such a vast machine in motion and successfully guide it to results that claim the admiration of the musical world. That her Judgment has always proved unerring, or that perfection has been attained here when it has not elsewhere been reached, not even the most loyal Bayreuther would venture to maintain. It is equally certain that the task Frau Wagner has set herself is one that, apart from the labor and responsibility, encompassed by much bitter feeling and not a little animosity; nor is it surprising, therefore, that tales of unjust treatment should be current in certain Bayreuth circles. Mme. Wagner has undertaken the responsibilltles both of director and stage manager, and whatever disagreeable attaches to these two offices she has had to accept as well.

That Bayreuth has accomplished a great deal during the years that have followed Wagner's death cannot be gainsaid. Interpretations such a that of Tristan and Isolde, thanks mainly to the surpassing talent of Frau Sucher and the rare ability of Felix Motel [sic], will probably remain as a model to be followed for many years to come. In like manner, though possibly not in so eminenta degree, Die Meistersinger von Nüremberg has been presented here as on no other operatic stage, and honestly deserves a high place in the annals of musical achievements. On the other  Tannhäuser certainly disappointed expectations, mainly by reason of an inadequate cast. Unfortunately this shortcoming has, during the present season, not been remedied, the favorite work being presented with the very same singers who gave proof positive of their inability two and three years ago. The conductorship has passed into the bands of Herr Richard Strauss, the transcendental young composer, whose symphonic poems and recent effort in the field of operatic composition have been accepted by some as the highest efforts of inspired genius, and by others as the unhealthy outcome of all that is modern and sensational in music. Herr Strauss has for several years stood in close intimacy with Bayreuth, and hill health alone has prevented him from heretofore taking an active part in the festivals. Reports from Weimar, as well as from Berlin and Munich, had spoken in the most glowing terms of his ability as a conductor; and yet, though it would be hasty to pass final judgment after a general rehearsal, there does not seem to be any likelihood that his substitution for Herr Motel [sic] will benefit the Tannhäuser performances during the present season in any way.

What was missed in the older work will judging by present appearances, be made good in this year's production of Lohengrin, which is to be given for the first time to-morrow, and which will form the subject of a later letter. If it approaches the standard of yesterday's Parsifal, little will be left to be desired, for although there have been more brilliant performances, especially those in which Van Dyck was concerned, and where his talent was made known almost as in the manner of a revelation, the beautiful spirit that has at all times characterized the presentation of the work was once again felt by all who constituted this year's first audience. Though criticism could attach itself to matters of detail, the music drama as a whole could not but command unconditional admiration.

To anyone interested in the bestowal of special honor, the task of allotting the highest praise would be an easy one, for without question belonged to the orchestra, which, under Levi's conductorship, fairly surpassed itself. To be sure, the general nervousness consequent upon a first performance, which made itself at times painfully felt on the stage, attacked in the beginning the musicians aswell; the opening bars of the prelude were given with that precision to which one is accustomed in Bayreuth, but this apparent trepidation soon wore off, and for the rest of the performance the interpretation the inspired score received was well high flawless.

Kundry (Rosa Sucher, Bayreuth 1894)
The chief interest and curiosity centred in the Kundry of Frau Rosa Schuher, whose Isolde and Venus are such bright memories of the past that expectations ran high with regard to this newest creation. Or better would it be to say recreation, since on one former occasion she essayed the role, falling, though, to create a profound impression. This was, at the time, attributed mainly to the fact that she had studied her part quickly, and that she had not had time to elaborate it with the care she is accustomed to bestow. There were others, moreover, who recognized that it was not suited to the character of her talent or her voice. The experiment was not repealed during subsequent festivals, and not until the present year was it proposed that it should be attempted once more. For this purpose the part was seriously studied anew under the personal supervision of Frau Wagner, it was carefully and frequently rehearsed, and as a foregone conclusion tho satisfactory results of yesterday's performance were prognosticated. Not that Frau Sucher's Kundry is now, or seems likely ever to be, an embodiment worthy a place by the side of her Isolde or Seiglinde [sic]; certain phases of the role are too foreign to her nature for that! but, nevertheless, it contains much that is beautiful and worthy of admiration. She lays special stress on the womanly side of the character, as is her wont, realizing thus her best results in the great duet of the second act. Her voice, by the wav, sounded wonderfully fresh and pure, and if New Yorkers hear her in February as she was listened to here yesterday, they will have no difficulty in understanding why Rosa Sucher enjoys so great a reputation in Germany.

A tenor new to Bayreuth, Herr Willy Birrenkoven,  made his debut as Partifal, and had the double responsibility of a first appearance and the inevitable necessity of being judged by the high standard set by Van Dyck. Although a young artist, practically at the beginning of his career, his name Is already favorably known among the rising singers of Germany, and his popularity in Hamburg, where he is engaged, would go far to prove that his reputation for an unusually fine voice is deserved. Unfortunately he failed to do himself credit in yesterday's performance, as there was nothing remarkable either in his tones or in his manner of producing them. As an actor he is constrained, while his stage presence is not such as to materially strengthen the favorable impression he may make as a singer. If, however, he did not create a profound impression, it would likewise be unjust to assert that he was a disappointment; on the contrary, he had certain moments of positive excellence, while his work only at intervals sank to the level of the special star of the initial festival performance. If such a term is admissible in connection with a work like Parsifal,  was Herr Theodor Reichmann, who has few roles in which he is seen to greater advantage than that of Amfortas. Unfortunately it has frequently happened that he was not in good voice, or at least that his intonation was at fault. This, however, was not the case yesterday, and it seemed peculiarly fitting that he who alone belonged to the original cast of 1882, should uphold the Bayreuth traditions in the most striking manner. His popularity here, as in Vienna, is as great as ever, while the special cult which he has inspired among the fair sex continues as heretofore. An other artist from the Austrian capital, Herr Carl Grengg, covered himself all over with glory as Gurnemanz, in which no other singer has shown himself as worthy a successor of Scaria. Excellent already several years ago, when he first essayed It. be has improved wonderfully on his initial efforts, and he may now claim to have made the part entirely his own; a boast that can likewise with Justice be made by the gigantic Herr Plunk, who as Klingsor could not well be surpassed. A newcomer. Herr Fenton. displayed a sonorous voice in the part of Titurel, while the minor roles were mostly intrusted to young singers, heard here for the first time.

In the nature of a positive loss is the non appearance of Fraulein Kramer, who hitherto has always assumed the silent role of the youth that carries the Grail, and performed that office in a spirit of rapt devoutness that impressed itself wonderfully on every visitor to the sacred festival drama. She has now been replaced by a very commonplace young woman, who makes one realize how even the relatively smallest factors are of importance In the totality of effect here aimed at and realized.

Those who heard the first performances of Parsifal in 1882 are not likely to forget the chorus of flower maidens and the rare combination of beautiful young voices that made the scene in the enchanted garden a fragrant memory to be carried to one's grave. Such purity of tone, such delicacy of phrasing as was then achieved have not again been realized, and this year possibly less than ever. An improvement in the interpretation of the difficult music may certainly be looked for in later performances, but the quality of the voices themselves, for those who remember how Wagner wished and intended them to be. can certainly not ultimately prove satisfactory. On the other hand, the choruses in the ensemble scenes have been carefully drilled, and went yesterday without any hitch. The unfortunate chorus singers have a hard task before them this summer, as their services will be required at every performance, and in Lohengrin they are almost uninterruptedly occupied. As there are four, and sometimes five representations a week, it means a great deal of hard work to be accomplished, and work of a kind that is not always especially pleasant.

As yet nothing is heard as to future festivals, and as to whether there will be another next year or not again for some time to come. There was an on dit a few months ago that several years would elapse before the management undertook a new series of performances, aud then again came the report that by way of countercheck to Munich a revival of the Nibelung Ring had been planned for 1896, on the twentieth anniversary of the first production of the tetralogy. No official action lifts at all events been taken in the matter, and the probability is that nothing will ho known till the definite result of this year's festival can be as certained. For there are two sides to the Bayreuth enterprise, as to all others of its kind, the artistic and the financial, and a careful study of ways and means in the old town would lead one to the conclusion that the latter is not the less important.

W. vos Sachs.

from The sun. (New York [N.Y.]) 1833-1916, August 05, 1894, 3, page 5.

William von Sachs

William "Willy" von Sachs was an american music critic and journalist of Austrian descent (b. 30 May 1856 in New York). Sachs was the music critic of the Commercial Advertiser in New York, and he hosted a musical soiree for Tchaikovsky during his visit to the city in 1891. The composer described him as "a very likeable and refined gentleman" , noting also that "This refined little gentleman, who speaks French fluently, has excellent knowledge of music, and is very considerate to me, is perhaps the only person in New York whose company I do not find onerous, and even pleasant" .

Nota bene

The illustrations do not belong to W.von Sachs article.

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