Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Wagner Die Feen Wiener Staatsoper

Wagner Die Feen at the Vienna Sate Opera? One could dream. Last year Wagner's early opera received several performances, including one in London with the Chelsea Opera Group (read my review here) but none could be quite so original as the special Oper für Kinder production that was done in Vienna, not in the main house but in  the tiny auditorium . Die Feen isn't Grand Opera though the teenaged Wagner might have had great ambitions for it. The plot is corny and there are so many characters it's hard to keep track. But in the intimate atmosphere of a tiny theatre, the audience is drawn into the action. Belief can be suspended, so the magic takes effect.

In German-speaking countries, opera for children is of a very high standard indeed, simplified but not trivialized. The full three-hour score has its longueurs, but this production compresses the essentials into a compact 47 minutes, so the dramatic flow is sharp and concise. We enter into the spirit of the opera, communing with this strange world of fairies, mortals and lovers as if they were real people like ourselves. Beautiful set - colours of the earth and nature, blended with fantasy shades of sapphire and delightful light effects.  The image of a doe flies across the stage: birds and paper hearts evoke the simplicity of folk art. Nature is not naive, though. Figures emerge from holes in the dense undergrowth. I imagined the smell of damp soil. The Fairies wear white tutus with overskirts like leaves, much in the way fairies might have been depicted in small German theatres in the early 19th century. The mortals enter the realm of the fairies clad in early 20th century explorer gear - a delightful comic touch.

Through productions like this we experience the magic of opera. "Glaubst du en Feen?"  an invisible  woman's voice asks. We're entering an exciting fairy tale. We can learn the Overture and the lengthy arias later. For now we engage with the spirit of the opera. Children have a natural capacity for wonder.  Perhaps all creative artists have this kind of imagination. Far too often in this world our souls are poisoned by negativity.  How can we really function without empathy and feeling?  This production is so good that adults would be well advised to learn from it.  It's available on demand on the Wiener Staatsoper Mediathéque.

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