The big interview: Katharina Wagner on The Valkyrie

The artistic director on bringing her great-grandfather’s Bayreuth Festival to Abu Dhabi

The big interview: Katharina Wagner on The Valkyrie
The big interview: Katharina Wagner on The Valkyrie Image #2
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We love exploring new horizons here in Abu Dhabi, and at the end of this month there’s a cultural debut to get very excited about. The world-renowned Bayreuth Festival is leaving Germany for the first time and coming to Abu Dhabi, with a special performance of Richard Wagner’s The Valkyrie accompanied by a film on a big screen.

The concert will be directed by Katharina Wagner, the composer’s great-granddaughter, and promises to be a sell-out success. Such performances are usually put on at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which was designed by Wagner himself, but Emirates Palace will play host this time around.

We chat to Katherina about bringing the festival to Abu Dhabi.

This festival normally takes place at the world-famous Bayreuth Festspielhaus. How have you adapted the show to be performed in Abu Dhabi?
Wagner operas are today performed all over the world, but only in the Bayreuth Festival House do you have this unique and worldwide-exclusive acoustic that fits his operas so well. It is the original venue built in the vision of Richard Wagner himself and destined for his operas in general, and for The Ring of the Nibelung in particular. At the same time it is important for us to bring Wagner’s operas to as many people as possible. But it is not as easy as playing a symphony. This is why we have tried to adapt to the performance to the Emirates Palace. I’m confident that people will enjoy the concert and at the same time get a very good experience of Wagner’s unique music. 

Is it exciting to able to bring The Valkyrie to a stage outside Germany?
It’s always exciting to bring our culture somewhere else. Bringing it to the Arabic world is even more exciting. In the middle of the library at Wahnfried (Wagner’s House in Bayreuth) library there is an edition of 1001 Nights. So I am, of course, excited to bring his music to Abu Dhabi.

Why did you choose to bring the festival to Abu Dhabi?
The orchestra performed [at Emirates Palace] ten years ago, putting on an orchestral version of The Valkyrie’s first act. It’s a fabulous venue and I am really looking forward to now bring the full opera with the film to Emirates Palace.

Is it an honour to be able to continue your great-grandfather’s work at the Bayreuth Festival?
Yes, of course, but it is also a big responsibility.

Have you added any of your own touches to the operas?
Well, the operas are all performed in their original format, but when I work as a stage director in Bayreuth for example, I will obviously add some personal touches. For the film, the main aim was to stay as true as possible to the story written by my great-grandfather and to his directions. But, of course, The Valkyrie is also a story of strong women, which I like to emphasise. They are the driving forces in this musical drama. The men in it are more reactive. Wotan wants to give up his power. His will that drives the story forward is personified by a woman: Brünnhilde, The Valkyrie!

Where did you get the idea to create a film to run alongside it?
This was initially the idea of Dr. Perlwitz from the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Then we discussed it and I liked the idea, and especially the flexibility it gives us. Thanks to this film we can tell the story of The Valkyrie to people who have never seen the opera. The music is very immediate and the film adds to this. Wagner’s music always speaks and conveys clear messages: the film underlines that.

Who directed the film?
It was David Kasperovski. But I oversaw the general artistic side which I enjoyed. I really like our movie and how it blends so well with the music.

What emotions can people expect to feel when they see the show?
It is a very romantic opera, at the same time it has this epic grandeur. People will experience a whole range of emotions.

What makes The Valkyrie such a special opera in so many people’s eyes?
It has this love story that feels like a shortened version of Tristan and Isolde and at the same time the opera unfolds this magnificent story of the relationship between Wotan and his daughter. It is intimate and magnificent at the same time. A family story and a mythical story involving the creation of a new world. And on top of all that, it has such wonderful music.
From Dhs200. Wed Jan 30 and Fri Feb 1, 7pm. Emirates Palace Auditorium, Emirates Palace, West Corniche, www.ticketmaster.ae.

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