Wagner is like drugs, but even better! – interview with Ádám Fischer

In 2020 we had to let a lot go; music lovers were very sad when they found out that the Wagner Days would be cancelled as well. Since 2006, it is a series of events that attracts many fans from Budapest and abroad to be absorbed by the world of Wagner, a world truly like none other.

“It is like drugs. But it is even better!”

– said a new Wagnerian in his twenties in the entrance hall of the Müpa.

This June, we still had a virtual consolation when Müpa made the Wagner footages of their archives freely available for ten days. And now the DVD version of the Ring tetralogy was also published, which is a collection of the opera videos taken at the 2019 festival. The emblematic productions, directed by Hartmut Schörghofer and featuring great international stars, are back. On this occasion we were talking to the artistic director of the Wagner Days, Ádám Fischer.

The Ring of the Nibelung was renewed in 2019. What do you remember from the old arrangement with love or nostalgia?

The arrangement is not new per se, it is more like actualised. We wanted to follow the Bayreuth ideology that comes from Wagner: everything has to be reexamined and rethought all the time, and what is good has to be kept, and what is bad has to be changed. One clear example: in The Rhinegold, there used to be pictures projected on the wall of the building of the Müpa under construction. This evoked different associations ten years ago: back then, the Müpa was the building that everyone is proud of, just like Wotan is proud of the Walhalla, even if it costs much more than originally planned – just like the Walhalla. This image is different today, so we left them out. But there is nothing that I would remember from the original arrangement that I remember of with nostalgia, because then we would have kept it.

What do you like more in the newer version?

I think we could concentrate on the characters’ psychology much more. We do not only show what they do, but also what they think or subconsciously feel. In short, it reflects much more on the unique Wagnerian motif technique. The new version gives much more possibilities for singers, orchestra and conductor, but it is also more responsibility. The imagery of the new arrangement also helps to use the matchless acoustic possibilities of the Müpa.

Did the music change as well? Did you have to direct things to fit the music better?

We renew every year, or at least I discover new things in the piece all the time. But a lot of things remain the same, because we build up on the experiences of the previous years, we do not let them fade.

There have been no Ring performances in Budapest in 2018 and in 2020, but for different reasons. How did you feel about these breaks?

For 2018, the Ring was simply not on the plan. The Wagner Days is there to nourish Wagner’s whole life work, so we also need years without the Ring to learn and rehearse the other pieces well. A renewal and performance of the Ring requires an awful lot of energies and we did not want it to displace the rest of the works. But it is also true that the Ring is the most attractive for the audience, so after 2018 we thought to include it for the upcoming years. And then 2020 came where everything was cancelled. But I hope we can have a Ring performance from next year on again. We will see, I am always ready…

What do you expect the most from and what will you do differently in the Ring performances of the upcoming years?

Ring is always current. I do not know what to do differently in the future, but even if I wanted to do the same all the time, it would not be possible. Everything is on the move, I am getting older, I cannot step in the same river twice. Nowadays, due to the climate crisis, I rediscover the basic idea that we have to take care of our world, we cannot let the treasures of nature, the gold of the Earth, be stolen. This is a basic moral of the piece, but I feel it more and more actual lately. I am sure to conduct that part in The Rhinegold differently where they steal the gold, because I have different thoughts on my mind. Same applies to the end of The Twilight of the Gods where they put the gold back. I hope humanity will be able to put our “gold” back as well where it belongs.

Could you have imagined such a long period like the 2020 seasons without conducting? What are you doing these days to occupy yourself?

I am reading a lot, I am thinking a lot. I could not have imagined this before. But I do not want to complain, because I still belong to the privileged part of the world. I want to value the possibilities of life more consciously than before the pandemic.

What do you miss the most from the opera?

I cannot give any specific answer. I miss the opera the most from the opera.

How do you imagine Wagner himself coping up with the covid-19 pandemic?

If we are locked down and “reality” has not so much to offer, then thoughts, emotions and passions get a much bigger role in our life. On the level of our dreams, fantasy and our inner worlds, however, we do not have any borders of the universe. This is the second part of Tristan! Wagner was able to pour us with a tsunami of intensive emotions way before we discovered them due to covid.

What do you advise: how can we listen to Wagner at home?

In a concentrated way. Smartphones have to be turned off!

The four parts of the Ring tetralogy can be bought individually or in a festive box set edition in the webshop.

These DVDs contain a code that lets members of the Müpa+ loyalty programme to reach the videos in HD online as well. The German opera can be watched with English, Hungarian or German subtitles.

Article: Zsuzsanna Deák

Translation: Zsófia Hacsek