MALCOLM MILLER enjoys
Jonathan Harvey's 'Wagner Dream'
at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam
Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey has everything: sex, violence, death, passion, philosophy, anguish, beauty, sensuality, spirituality, and it is a Buddhist opera -- or is it? The contradiction at the heart of Buddhism, desire for non-desire, is acted out in the inner life of the protagonist, a heroic figure yet one most associated with egotism, Richard Wagner, through his dying vision of his own unfinished opera on the Buddha, Die Sieger ('The Victors') which, some century and a half after it was first conceived, finally receives its posthumous post-modern realisation. this première co-production of the Nederlands Opera, the Grand Theatre, Luxembourg (where it was first performed on 28 April), and IRCAM Paris was a highlight of the 60th Holland Festival. There was a standing ovation from the capacity audience on 11 June 2007 at the recently opened Culture Park, Westergasfabriek Culture Park in Amsterdam.
Wagner Dream is set in Venice during the composer's last moments on earth, when he reflects on his unfinished Buddhist opera, which had occupied him for nearly thirty years. The plot is simple: Wagner (Johan Leysen) has a rendezvous with an old flame, Carrie Pringle (Bracha van Doesburgh), a Parsifal flower-maiden, which sparks a domestic argument with Cosima (Catherine ten Bruggencate) that brings on his fatal heart attack. As he dies, a vision of the Buddha grants him the chance to see his unfinished opera on condition he chooses the heroine's fate, a renunciation of desire, a choice which will ultimately allow his own release. That this choice stands at the heart of the work is significant since in Wagner's own works, the heroines celebrate rather than renounce desire through their redemptive self-sacrifice. Elisabeth, Senta, Isolde, Kundry: all die whilst Prakriti lives, renounces her 'nature' as woman and joins the 'brotherhood'.
Copyright © 17 July 2007
Malcolm Miller, London UK