Waldoper Zoppot - Das Bayreuth des Nordens und seine Sänger

Artist Various
Title Waldoper Zoppot - Das Bayreuth des Nordens und seine Sänger
Release Date Sunday, August 27, 2006
Genre Classical > Choro
Copyright © Preiser Records

Promotion Text

Lebendige Vergangenheit

"Life is a lottery," say the people of Berlin. "Life is like a game of chance," wrote Pushkin. Bismarck spoke of "the accursed accident of birth" and the police put their trust in "Commissioner Luck". But it is not only individuals who are at the mercy of fortune, good and bad. The fate of countries and cities is determined by their geographical location. Difficult as it might be to imagine, let us suppose that only the area of Eastern Germany to the south of Pomerania and West Prussia had been ceded to Poland in 1945 and that, instead, Czechoslovakia had annexed Franconia and had "de-Germanised" it as radically as it did Prague and the Sudetenland. The original inhabitants would have been "resettled" in what remained of Germany, between the rivers Maas and Vistula. Bayreuth would now have a Czech name and its celebrated Festival Theatre would be no more than a faded memory in the minds of a few unwelcome refugee groups. This imaginary post-war Germany, just like the real one, would have de­ Nazified Wagner with Teutonic thoroughness and, after a suitable period of self­ mortification, would have revived the Wagner festival - not, however, at Bayreuth, but at "the Bayreuth of the North". Although it might draw cries of horror from pro-Bayreuth Wagnerians, the idea is not so fanciful given the arbitrariness with which the map of Europe was redrawn in 1945. Between 1922 and 1945 the Sopot Forest Theatre's Wagner Festival was as inter­ nationally famous as that of Bayreuth itself, and its productions had the advantage of being unique. From 1933 onwards, Tietjen's Bayreuth productions were also staged year-round at the Berlin State Opera - and with a changing cast, too. Forest Opera productions, on the other hand, were neither copied nor transplanted to other theatres. A natural environment develops according to its own laws and cannot easily be altered. Besides, every open-air performance has its acoustic peculiarities, dictated by the venue. It took the Forest Opera twelve years to achieve its definitive form, and its history is an example of the perfect partnership between astute women and energetic men. It all began in the summer of 1908 some 2,500 km to the south-west of Sopot in the Pyrenean resort of Cauteret, which was famed for its sulphur springs. Whether the world's first outdoor Siegfried at the Theätre de la Nature, as it was called, could be described as a "festival performance" is a moot point. Only the Viennese Carl Kurz­ Stolzenberg, who took the title role, sang in German; the otherwise all-French cast consisted of leading singers and musicians from the two Paris opera houses. But at least one spectator was enthusiastic about the performance: Mayor Woldmann of Sopot, who was always on the look-out for ways to make the Baltic resort (which King Wilhelm II of Prussia had personally elevated to the status of a city on October 6 1901) more attractive to visitors. Woldmann had in fact undertaken the then 1;mimaginably long journey to the Pyrenees at his own expense - as was expected of Pruss'ian officials. The Cauteret Siegfried completed his vision of the new image he wanted to create for his city: elegant sports facilities, a casino and an open-air theatre would make Sopot the Olympia, the Monte Carlo and the Bayreuth of the North. In fact Woldmann did not live to see his ambitions realized. He died in February 1919, before the terms of the Versailles peace treaty had come into force, cutting Gdansk (then called Danzig) and Sopot adrift from Germany and robbing them of their natural hinterland. Woldmann would not have been satisfied with an open-air stage that was only adequate for theatrical productions, like the one at the Harz Mountain Theatre; in 1910 Germany had more than 60 such institutions. The idea of an operatic forest theatre came to him during the unveiling of a monument in a forest clearing on the Promken Heights, on the outskirts of the city. The performance put on by the spa orchestra showed him what an ideal setting this would be for open-air concerts. The wooded slope that bordered the clearing acted like a stage backdrop, naturally reflecting the sound. Specially devised acoustic tests showed that not only the human voice, but also the sound of the strings, usually rather feeble in open-air concerts, carried deep into the forest. Woldmann's report from distant Gascony tipped the scales: Sopot's city elders put up only token resistance to the construction of a forest theatre and officially sanctioned the raising of 2,000 gold marks - a meagre sum even in those days - to cover the entire cost. The project might well have failed in its very first year, just as Cauteret gave up staging Wagner. But Woldmann's wife Gertrud, herself a former opera singer, knew the acoustic problems of open-air concerts and advised him to start modestly. While Woldmann, his director Paul Walther-Schäffer and his conductor Erich Schwarz argued ovet whether the first production should be Hänsel and Gretel, Siegfried or Der Freischütz, she decided on Das Nachtlager von Granada by Conradin Kreutzer. Her reasoning was simple but incontestable: Kreutzer's then popular opera required neither a large orchestra nor, more importantly, a Wagnerian tenor; its crowd scenes would give Sopot's amateur singers and choral societies ample opportunity to participate in "their" forest opera; and its setting and structure were such that this charming and undemanding work could be performed in one act, without an interval. This was an important consideration, because none of Sopot's innkeepers had yet committed themselves to setting up so much as a snack bar on the spot. ...