Kosky praised for embracing the opera’s complexities; Domingo and Alagna part of Bayreuth’s 2018 programme.

Barrie Kosky’s new production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for the Bayreuth Festival has been met with widespread acclaim. Making history as the first Jewish director and first Australian director to work there, his Bayreuth debut has been praised for its nuanced interrogation of the composer’s anti-Semitism, and the questions of German nationalism that the opera raises.

According to reviews, Kosky has set the first act of Meistersinger in the composer’s Wahnfried house, with Wagner evolving into the opera’s central character, Hans Sachs. Hermann Levi, the Jewish conductor who Wagner denigrated by saying he should be baptised before leading the premiere of Parsifal in 1882, also appears onstage – he visits Wagner at Wahnfried, where the role of Beckmesser, the opera’s victim who has been long read as a Jewish caricature, is forced on him. Such doubling occurs throughout the opera, with the young knight Walther also a younger Wagner, Eva also the composer’s second wife Cosima, and Pogner, Eva’s father, becoming Franz Liszt, Cosima’s father. “You need A-level Wagner to get the most out of this show”, writes Martin Kettle for The Guardian.

“This production…sits in judgement on Wagner…at the heart of this Meistersinger is an imaginative, subtle and serious staging of a simple question: how far does Wagner’s antisemitism invalidate his artistic achievement. In the end, Kosky proves to be a fair judge of a question that is still necessarily debated”, adds Kettle, calling the production ‘Kosky’s evening’.

Writing for The Financial Times, Shirley Apthorp likewise commends the production for its subtlety. “Katharina Wagner’s production of the same piece a decade ago was an awkard attempt at addressing the work’s troubled reception history, complete with swastikas and goose-stepping Gestapo. Kosky’s work is more deft, more witty, and altogether more comfortable with itself”.

Full of lush tableau and a coup-de-theatre involving “an entire (second) symphony orchestra and chorus” onstage, Kosky moves from Haus Wahnfried to a courtroom referencing the Nuremberg trials, with the composer himself in the dock.

“The Australian director Barrie Kosky’s remarkable new production of the work rakes over the scars and looks beyond them”, said Neil Fisher from The Times. “It is messier than his best work, but is full of his trademark eye-popping stagecraft. It bows out not with festive pomp, but tear-joking joy… Overall, however, this is a rare Bayreuth achievement: an evening that both celebrates Wagner and attacks his cult”.  

In other Bayreuth news, Plácido Domingo will conduct three performances of Die Walküre next year. Domingo has previously performed the role of Siegmund, but this will be the first time he has conducted the work. His Wotan will be Matthias Goerne, making his debut in the part, with Catherine Foster as Brunnhilde, Stephen Gould as Siegmund, and Emily Magee as Sieglinde.

Meanwhile, Roberto Alagna will make his Lohengrin debut in 2018, marking both his first foray into Wagner and his debut at the Festival. Alagna will be singing opposite distinguished German soprano Anja Harteros in the role of Elsa, who replaces Anna Netrebko. The veteran mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier will be appearing as Ortrud, one of her most celebrated interpretations, with Christian Thielemann at the podium.