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With Australian plain-speaking to be relished (or dreaded, depending on its source), Barrie Kosky, chief director at the Komische Oper Berlin, answers questions during a chatty train journey from Berlin to Bayreuth. The friendly questions were from Komische Oper spokesperson Rainer Simon and Felix von Boehm, who works in marketing and film production. Kosky, an aficionado of rail travel, expresses himself volubly about how his Hungarian grandmother indoctrinated him with stories of meeting Richard Strauss in Budapest and hearing Feodor Chaliapin, Lotte Lehmann, Maria Jeritza, and Ljuba Welitsch sing opera.

Discussing his critically acclaimed production of Meistersinger at this year’s Bayreuth Festival, Kosky describes his rapport with Wagner as ‘highly controversial and ambivalent. It is a struggle, a fight, sometimes I feel love and admiration and then again disgust. It’s as if one was lost in a labyrinth. To deal with a Wagner piece is to enter a labyrinth and wander around inside it. It is exciting, it strengthens one, it makes one angry. With Wagner’s works, it is not possible to dance, but only to wrestle and hope that something interesting will come of it.’

While also relishing operetta and musicals as a director, Kosky alludes to being haunted by the Master of Bayreuth: ‘When I stage Wagner, I see him appearing somewhere behind the singer, walking around and disappearing. That makes me mad. I’m not exaggerating. He is a dybbuk, a poltergeist. He is in the room and you cannot get rid of him.’ To resolve such challenges, he relies on his ‘fragmented Jewish-European-Australian bouillabaisse identity’, and strives to emulate the directorial precedent of Max Reinhardt who delved into cabaret, circus, and drama, apart from founding the Salzburg Festival. Praising Reinhardt as a ‘real showman and anti-snob,’ clearly Kosky would relish these words as his own epitaph.

Benjamin Ivry Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Opera Now, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing