Happy birthday Richard Wagner
When we were offered Die Feen by Oper Leipzig, we were puzzled because of the scale of Wagner's ambitions. We sat down and listened to the music and it was then we got the idea to take a gentleman, who after a family Saturday dinner tunes into the radio to listen to a MDR broadcast of Die Feen live from Oper Leipzig, a transmission which would actually take place on opening night. As the piece unfolds he and his family get pulled into the action.
This new production of Wagner's first completed opera, underwritten by the Bayreuth Festival to inaugurate Wagner's 200th jubilee, evokes the love affair and ensuing conflicts between humans and fairies by casting the entire story as a figment of the gentleman's imagination. As he listens to the overture on the radio, the façade of his nineteenth-century jugendstil apartment lowers revealing the fairies' enchanted pastures as Ada descends for her opening aria in which she laments the fact that her immortality separates her from Arindal.
Our approach to every aspect of Die Feen plays thematically on the power of Wagner's music to unleash the imagination. Everything takes place in the apartment of the gentleman who assumes the role of Arindal. In this way Arindal becomes a metaphor for the contemporary individual, of how we idealize ourselves as being other than who we are, a participation mystique afforded by the magic of art as suggested through music. The set designs were intended to exploit the antinomy between mortality and immortality in Die Feen by way of pointing toward this need to recreate our inner worlds. Through a form of theatrical escamotage the set and costume designs play out between the modernity of the gentleman's world, the romantic 1830s of Wagner's time and the Middle Ages, which were such an inspiration for Richard Wagner.
Given that the opera was to be performed solely in Leipzig, Wagner's birthplace and where it was composed, we felt we wanted to pay homage in how we staged Die Feen, which was never performed in his lifetime. We opted to use all the facilities and stage machinery in the Leipzig Opera house to their maximum effect, which combined with 52 set changes, achieved the type of spectacle that we imagined Wagner had in mind. It was after all a birthday gift.