BUDAPEST – Swedish soprano Irene Theorin was beaming backstage after she’d burned down the Valhalla home of the gods at the end of Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung”, and brought some five hours of singing over three nights in Budapest to a glorious conclusion.
“I’ve now done this brilliant part many times but never in my life in three days,” Theorin said at the post-performance reception. Most Brunnhildes take a day off between one of the operas.
“I was really a bit scared but I thought it’s a challenge and if for once in my life I would do that, I knew that Adam would be the right person to do it,” Theorin said.
By Adam she meant Adam Fischer, the Hungarian conductor who in a little more than a decade has built up Budapest’s “Wagner Days” into a celebration that may not rival the Wagner festival in Bayreuth for bragging rights, but is easier and cheaper to attend — and delivers the goods.
For about 70 euros for the best seats — compared to 320 euros at Bayreuth — opera lovers who flock to what might be called “Bayreuth on the Danube” get many of the same singers who perform at the opera house that Wagner built. They also get the ambience of Budapest, which is becoming a music capital of Eastern Europe, not to mention the food, pubs and nightlife.
“The ‘Wagner Days’ have became so famous now and they are very popular with singers, too,” said Csaba Kael, chief executive officer of the modern Bela Bartok National Concert Hall, on the banks of the Danube, where the festival is held.
The festival’s future is about to be tested, however, as Fischer and his artistic team try to come up with a revised production that would not be as difficult to perform at the concert hall. The semi-staged version deployed for the past decade makes extensive use of video projections and requires the installation of a base for the screens, plus other adjustments. With installation and rehearsals, the hall is out of use for more than a week before the festival begins.
Hence, no “Ring” cycle in 2018, though Fischer will offer three other Wagner favourites, including a new production of “Tristan und Isolde” with soprano Anja Kampe and tenor Robert Dean Smith in the title roles.
“Artistically we want to keep it, I would like to keep it, but we have a technical problem that the technique is very complicated for this hall,” Fischer said, discussing the future for his “Ring” cycle as he ate a pile of canapes after conducting for four and a half hours.
In Fischer’s view, revamping the production “costs only money”, but of course money is the issue. CEO Kael said he, too, wants to keep the “Ring” but noted that opera productions are costly.
“That’s why always the big question when we would like to produce a new production (is) how would we get money,” Kael said. “…I am looking for especially German sponsors because it’s part of the German cultural heritage but it’s very difficult to catch them.”
Fischer, who has almost single-handedly and single-mindedly created the “Wagner Days”, hopes everything will be resolved in time to put on a revised “Ring” in 2019. If uncertainty makes it harder to line up the singers he wants, or causes some attrition in the audience, he can handle that.
“I’m very glad if the audience comes but I have to be very honest, I don’t do it for them,” Fischer said. “I have a vision and I’m very glad I can realise it and the more people who want to see it the better because it’s a confirmation…
“I will do everything to continue.”
— Michael Roddy