7 AUGUST 1964, Page 17

The Anti-Wagnerian

By NEVILLE CARDUS In 1928 Bayreuth was still dominated by the traditional sway of Cosima. The general stage set-up for all the Wagner music-dramas more or less observed instructions written down precisely and copiously by the Meister himself. I saw Tristan and Isolde then, with Larsen-Todsen and Gunnar Graarud the main protagonists, neither a great singer, but none the less the performance, Conducted by Elmendorf, remains for me to this day a glorious memory. The tragedy unmistak- ably was set into motion on a ship. There was no evidence at all that Tristan or Isolde had been anywhere near a ship in the production I saw a week or two ago at Bayreuth. The scene for the first , act of this music-drama could, Without loss of dramatic or psychological aptness, have served for the setting of Act I of Parsifal. Wieland Wagner has tried to set the music- dramas in a timeless, spaceless world beyond representation to the everyday visual sense. The idea was a. priori fruitful, applied to the legen- uarY, quasi-metaphysical aspects of Wagner's tput. Parsifal is all the better and more con- vincing a syjnbolical drama if we watch it, like .104-1's spies, looking in a dimension removed from these voices. Unfortunately, the sound of human voices, what is more, tenor voices, is bound to echo from the world of here and now, dispelling the traumatic, hieratic and transcen- dent upper ether which Wieland has enFleavoured to evoke for us.

, He is probably an artist quicker in response `° the visual arts, as we know them fashionably at the moment, than to music, or to the theatre of unambiguous movement. Wagner himself was as theatrical in his bones' marrow as Henry

14118 or Vincent Crummles was. Nietzche Maintained that his music was compact largely °f gestures. So it is. Isolde waves her scarf in the garden, the music marvellously, if onomato- pmically, reflects the action. The door of Hunding's dwelling swings suddenly open, re- vealing to the lovers the spring night. Siegmund and Sieglinde see it; the orchestra is bathed in moonlight. But the audience is not allowed to see anything of the kind. On the contrary, we are obliged to look at a picture which visually and dramatically goes entirely against what the music and the text are describing. 'Representa- tion' of the old order may well be obsolete in 1964, but why should change and evolution in esthetics run to complete misrepresentation? Why, when we are attending to Wagner now- adays, at Bayreuth of all places, and in too many other places, should what we are seeing time after time frustrate what we are hearing? The really re-creative stage-production genius will one day, I hope, give us a mise-en-scene which, with per- tinent imagination, applies the latest techniques of scene and choreography to Wagner's basic needs. Oeiginality is not achieved by topsy-turvy gimmickry.

Wieland 'Wagner, of course, is gifted enough. He has a remarkable instinct for lighting and grouping of a rhetorical kind. The Grail scene in Parsifal was deeply impressive, with Amfortas holding a Grail cup as glowingly red as a neon sign. There is a curious dichotomy when indi- vidual characters are put into the more or less immobile attitudes of solo singers on the concert platform. Hans Sachs begins the Flieder mono- logue standing one foot in front of the other, staring into the audience. I doubt if anybody of ordinary intelligence, not knowing German, or a translation of the words, could from Wieland's stage productions understand at all the connec- tion between Kundry and Parsifal, or that Kurvenal is always ready to die of devotion for Tristan. Wieland Wagner sincerely believes that everything he has erected and designed, every gesture and picture, is justified by the score and its promptings. Possibly he is hearing his grand- father's music in a way it has never been heard before. So courteous is he and tolerant in con- versation that I strongly resisted a temptation to ask him if he could remember approximately the date when he became an anti-Wagnerian.

Restricted in movement, the singers are under the necessity of conveying to us all, absolutely all, of the expressiveness of the music itself. Frankly, few vocalists have range and variety of tone to sing Wagner as if he were a Lieder composer plus and magnified. Birgit Nilsson's Isolde, as everybody knows, is the greatest extant, for glorious radiance of song and eloquent song- speech. But if Bayreuth is anything to go by, Wagner singers are becoming rarer and rarer. Jon Vickers is nqt yet, psychologically or vocally, the credible Parsifal, but surely he is the most potential Heldentenor anywhere—and a great Sieg- fried of the near future. Bayreuth presumably has to go on depending on the heroic Windgassen to cope with Parsifal and Tannhouser on consecu- tive nights. Its most precious asset is the or- chestra. Maybe it is, instrumentalist for instru- mentalist, no better than Covent Garden's, and owes much of the beauty of tone it produces to the opera house's perfect acoustics. Modern science cannot, apparently, equal them for rich and plastic-sounding properties. I almost tremble to imagine how some of Bayreuth's vocalists this year would tonally fall on or collide with the ear, heard elsewhere. From this harsh judgment I must except, with Nilsson, Kerstin Meyer, whose singing as Brangane in Tristan and lsolde had an unaffected musical eloquence which I hope long to cherish in my mind.

The atmosphere, the tradition, the pervading influences and memories emanating and prompted by Villa Wahnfried, make a visit to Bayreuth an experience as worth-while in 1964 as it was eighty years ago, when Bernard Shaw advised music-lovers to make it, despite the fact that it then cost the extortionate sum of twenty pounds sterling there and back. In the garden of Villa Wahnfried is the grave where Richard and Cosima are buried. I stood near it on a beatifi- cally beautiful summer evening. 'Rest, perturbed spirit,' I murmured on the nocturnal air, 'time will bring its revenges.'