Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Off the beaten track near Dresden: an innovative multi-media museum devoted to Wagner's music

Bust of Wagner outside the Richard Wagner Stätten
Bust of Wagner outside the Richard Wagner Stätten, Graupa
Graupa is a sleepy little village on the outskirts of Dresden in Saxony, on the edge of the area known as Saxon Switzerland. Its main claim to fame is that Wagner took three months off from his job as Royal Kapellmeister in Dresden to live in Graupa and concentrated on writing Lohengrin in 1846. Wagner's residence in the village is now a charming museum complete with furnished rooms, and an exhibition on Lohengrin and its Dresden premiere.

Exploring the music of Wagner and his contemporaries - Richard Wagner Stätten
Exploring the music of Wagner and his contemporaries
Richard Wagner Stätten
Across the road from Wagner's former lodgings is a rather grander building, the Jagdschloss (hunting lodge) and this is now the home to the an innovative multi-media museum. The two Wagner sites are collectively known as the Richard Wagner Stätten, (Richard Wagner Sites). The multi-media museum in the Jagdschloss encourages people to explore Wagner's music without blinding them with musicology, whilst providing an innovative approach which manages to engage seasoned Wagnerians (at least this one).

It starts as you enter the building as a quotation from one of Wagner's operas plays as you enter the porch (a different quotation each time). The first room is the most traditional museum-like, providing background (Richard Wagner was a Saxon, born in nearby Leipzig), complete with an impressive model of the Dresden opera house as it was when Wagner was there.

The next room encourages you to explore Wagner's poetry. A card, given to you when entering the museum, is used as the key to the multi-media exhibits and you choose one of four themes 'Love and Punishment', 'Fear and Courage', 'Transgression and Punishment', 'Enchanted Artefacts', with the themes being a way into exploring Wagner's musical world. The first multi-media display allows you to explore quotations from texts of the operas, starting with your chosen themes. Short texts are displayed and spoken, and these can be explored at greater length (with longer spoken versions), or you can follow links to particular works or dates.

Exploring the music of Wagner  - Richard Wagner Stätten
Exploring the music of Wagner  - Richard Wagner Stätten
The next room puts music to the poetry, you can hear the same extracts as before but this time sung (again short and long quotes) with the ability to explore further. You can also hear music by important influences on Wagner from Gluck to Meyerbeer, composers who are introduced on the display boards in the room. Another sections takes film music from the original King Kong to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings revealing film composers' debts to Wagner. It should be added that multi-media presentations are available in English and German, and that the supporting displays in the rooms are also in both languages.

The theatre and stage room has images of different approaches to staging Wagner's opera, both period and contemporary. There is also the holographic theatre, where holographic animations of scenes from Wagner's operas are displayed with accompanying music. They are a chance to experience the operas using modern technology but incorporating Wagner's stage directions. So the concluding scene of Lohengrin happens as Wagner's stage directions intended. The descent into Nibelheim from Das Rheingold is rarely staged and here is given an imaginative realisation which follows the thematic development in Wagner's score.

The multi-media exhibition was conceived by the conductor and lecturer Michael Hurshell (conductor of the New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden). He explained to me that with the holographic theatre's final operatic excerpt, from Der fliegende Holländer, he wanted to show something rarely seen in the theatre. So the singing contest between the men of Daland's crew and that of the Dutchman's ship comes complete with two vessels, and water, with the Dutchman's vessel having the red sails that Wagner wanted.

The orchestra room introduces a new visualisation tool which enables visitors to experiment with an intuitive display which allows them to select orchestral moments from Wagner's works and have different aspects of the orchestration visualised, rhythm, pitch, harmony. It is completely fascinating to listen to a familiar passage and have the orchestration displayed in visual form. And the visualisations look good too.

Richard Wagner Stätten
Richard Wagner Stätten
The final room includes displays on Wagner's reputation as ell as screen which enable you to look at early 20th century news reels, plus a selection of films where Wagner's music has been used (including some quite surprising ones!). Upstairs the festsaal has been re-invented as a music room where concerts are given.

The museum is easily accessible from Dresden, on the end of the 63 bus route and a visit could be combined with a visit to Schloss Pillnitz.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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