Tannhäuser Wins Over Fidelio

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Cologne opera logo

I saw a beautiful production of Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser at the Cologne Opera last night. The music and the singers were wonderful. But what was truly amazing was the stage design, the lighting and the costumes.

The Cologne Opera chose not to produce a “traditional” Wagner – with medieval costumes and romanticising sets. Instead, the singers wore contemporary clothes and most of the production was set in a modernistic steel and glass architecture reminiscent of the Bauhaus . This brought the story of the opera much closer to the audience without doing Wagner injustice. (Check out the link to the Cologne Opera photo gallery below)

Amazing – as so often at the Cologne Opera – was the color scheme and light design: the production used a very reduced palette of colors: red for Venus’ realm and blue for everything that happens on earth at the Wartburg. The only other “colors” were black, gray and white for some of the costumes and sets. But even though the color scheme on stage was very reduced and always highlighted what the protagonists were going through, it was never simplistic or boring.

Surviving torture with starched shirts

The thing that got me thinking again last night is how the Cologne Opera can have such aesthetical, timely productions like Tannhäuser on the one hand and others, which remind you of an amateur company that’s run out of money. Just recently, for instance, I saw Beethoven’s Fidelio in Cologne and was appalled. It simply gave the audience no food for thought.

Cologne’s Fidelio was a totally boring production – even illogical in some aspects: the prisoners, who are freed from the dungeons, for instance, all wear wonderfully clean clothes – you’d think that people who are supposed to appear like they’ve been tortured would wear rags and look like they are filthy and starved. Not so in this production.

Is it a question of costs or creativity?

I wonder if the different standards of these two productions at the same opera house have to do with money. Does one director get less from the theater than the other for his or her production? Do they have to battle for their budgets? Is there in-fighting between different directors as to who gets the most money?

How does the theater allocate the funds? Did it considerTannhäuser more worthy of a big budget than Fidelio?

Or was it just the fact that one director was more creative or innovative than the other?

Of course, there is one other possibility: Maybe all of this is just a matter of taste – maybe some more conservative opera-goers thought the Tannhäuser production was terrible and prefferred the Fidelio instead. Maybe. But in any case: isn’t it great when art gets you thinking, interpreting and debating? What more can art want?

Photo gallery of Cologne’s Tannhäuser production

Written by Thorsten

April 7, 2008 at 9:37 am

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