Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Boycotting Castorf's Ring

We all know opera lovers are weird, right?

Whether it's waiting in the freezing cold in the early hours for standing room at the Wiener Staatsoper; staying up all night to try and grab tickets as soon as they go online; or grovelling outside the performance venue brandishing a "Ticket Wanted" signs, night after night.

No price is seemingly too high, no queue too long for a hardcore fan to catch a glimpse of their idol.

But even among opera lovers, Wagnerians seem to be a breed apart, a little bit weirder than most.

I'm not just talking about the 10-year waiting list for a ticket to Bayreuth or the endless vitriol you'd be subjected to if you dare suggest that Wagner might not have been a very nice person.

I'm talking about the vast sums of money that the self-appointed keepers of Wagner's Holy Grail -- you know the ones, the trainspotters of the opera world who insist the only way to stage The Master's works is to abide by his libretto and stage directions to the letter -- are prepared to pay not to see a production that they have decided "desecrates" the composer's memory.

Yes, you read that correctly. The tens of thousands of euros a Wagnerian is willing to pay NOT to see a Wagner opera.

Just such someone, calling themselves Erich Fischer, has bought a small square of space in the high-brow arts section or Feuilleton of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently to proclaim to the world that "out of reverence and love for Richard Wagner, we will not be taking our seats in Ring II in Bayreuth."

Aus Ehrfurcht und Liebe für Richard Wagner werden wir unsere Ring II Plätze in Bayreuth nicht einnehmen. erich-fischer@gmx.info

I'm not sure the world knows or cares who Erich Fischer is.
But he apparently feels it imperative to inform us that he doesn't like Frank Castorf. And he placed five such adverts in the FAZ over different days to do so.

He could have just quietly returned his tickets, or given or sold them on to someone else.

But no, here was someone who has waited long enough -- or was rich enough -- to have obtained tickets not only to Bayreuth's Festspielhaus, the Holy of Holies in the whacky and wonderful cult that calls itself Wagnerism, but also to the most anticipated and talked about event in the Wagner Bicentenary.
And he feels compelled to tell the world he isn't going to use them. "Out of reverence and love for Richard Wagner."

There is no explanation of his reasons or his motives.

I tried to contact Erich Fischer via the email address provided, but he hasn't responded so far.

A quick web search revealed that a man of the same name is a 75-year-old Munich-based former entrepreneur who has set up the philanthropic Internationale Stiftung zur Förderung von Kultur und Zivilisation (International Foundation for the Promotion of Culture and Civilization).

According to a downloadable pamphlet on the foundation's website, Erich Fischer was the owner and managing director of a micro-chip company. And he set up the foundation in 1995 to "promote art and culture, mainly in the field of music; improve the living conditions of senior citizens; and further develop civilization."

The foundation's achievements so far seem to have been putting on afternoon concerts for senior citizens and financing music lessons for school children and prisoners in an attempt to re-socialise them. 
Another laudable project is to stage neglected works of music from all eras and engage young and up-and-coming musicians to perform them.

There even seems to be a Wagner connection: a special project to present a pocket two-hour, five-singer version of Rienzi in a number of towns in cities in Germany and Switzerland during the Bicentenary Year.

Could this be one and the same man?
If so, how does that all tie in with someone who is willing to shell out €24,000 (that's the estimate of another daily Berliner Zeitung) to inform the unsuspecting world that he won't be making use of his tickets to Bayreuth?
I think it's fair to assume that Erich Fischer hasn't actually seen the offending production, so my question to him would be on what grounds is he boycotting it?

Sadly, I don't honestly expect to receive any answers.
But like I said, Wagnerians are a pretty weird bunch.

Two days after I posted this article, I received an email from Erich Fischer's secretary, confirming that the man who took out the adverts -- five in all, on August 10, 14, 15, 17 and 19 -- was also the same Erich Fischer who set up the Internationale Stiftung zur Förderung von Kultur und Zivilisation.
She promised me that he would get in touch in due course.
He hasn't yet. I'll keep you posted about his reply. But I'm not holding my breath.


  1. Well said, Simon!

    Have just attended the second cycle of the Castorf Ring and would rate it a memorable experience for all the right reasons: a brilliantly directed, absorbing and challenging production, as well as musical performances on all fronts that lived up to the high standard to be expected at Bayreuth.

    I also saw Erich Fischer's announcement in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and am baffled by such an ultra conservative attitude - expressed not just by him but also by many critics and members of the Bayreuth audience. Full marks to Castorf for challenging the reverential, 'holy of holies' view of how Wagner's works are performed at the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth.

    1. Many thanks for your comment.
      I have, as you know, my own reservations about Castorf's staging.
      But my hackles rise when audience members, critics and especially people who haven't even seen the production start harping on about Wagner's "true intentions" and the "sanctity" of his works.
      If opera is to remain a living art form, directors MUST challenge and sometimes provoke their audiences.
      And it's only healthy that we can disagree about the outcome.