It seems that anything composed by Richard Wagner will draw applauding crowds these days. The Ring is always sold out and just now all performances of the first opera he composed, at the age of twenty, are drawing full houses in a Paris run at that lovely Chatelets theatre. I saw the second performance of Die Feen on March 29.
Wagner, as always wrote his own libretto, taking a story by Carlo Gozzi, a tale about fairies and mortals. Arindal as loved by a fairy, Ada, who has him under a spell. Ada wants to hand in her fairy cards and marry a mortal, a tenor natch. To this end, he has to perform some fiendish tasks and suffer some even more fiendish torments from her. Meanwhile back at the ranch his sister Lora is defending Arindal’s kingdom which is going to ruin. It takes 3 long acts before a happy ending is reached; even with cuts Die Feen lasts three hours.
Now Wagner in his prime can last longer than that but by that time he could beguile you, bedevil you with leading motives, orchestral splendour and even occasionally enchant you with melody. But not at the age of twenty. Mainly he serves up the sort of music he was conducting at that period of his life ‘like Weber not under pressure’ Ernest Newman wrote. There are not many memorable moments in Die Feen although the fledging composer was capable of writing a score, suitably planned, but with more than a share of mauvais quarts d’heures.
What made the performance tolerable was the production and much of singing and playing. The Spanish director Emilio Sagi applies imagination, finesse and charm to the staging, décor and costumes to match by Daniel Blanco and Jésus Ruiz. Ada appears in one scene from a vast rose, another scene has a twenty-five feet high chandelier that must have sent the budget sky-high. Sometimes things get rather camp with male bare-chested fairies wearing diaphanous skirts. There are plenty of girls though and the performance begins and ends in swirling pink. Why the hero Arindal spends two acts in a green frock is not explained. Never mind, it was all good fun and helped to pass the time.
The performance of the evening was by the German singer, Christiana Liber with a voice that was strong, pure, bang in the middle of the note and full of drama. Her mortal lover, Arindal was the American tenor William Joyner, extremely competent but no charm or presence. His sister, Lora, was the Georgina-American Lina Tetruashvili whom we commended at Wexford last Halloween as Miss Bad Girl in Snow Maiden. She’s Miss Good Girl in this and a first rate performer to cherish. Ensemble, chorus and orchestra excellent under Marc-Minkowski, a name we know here from CD’s, good to enjoy his work in the flesh.
Signs and portents? Yes, a phrase here and a modulation there, very occasionally; but on the whole, the music of the future was in the future. But in the story line there were also some familiars; forbidden enquiry, a fairy garden, magic weapons, a touch of redemption and a final transfiguration, all of these were to ring a bell.
I hope that Die Feen (The Fairies) will be performed on rare occasions in future. My motto is; let sleeping fairies lie.
- John Amis