The Loop of the Nibelung / Photo by David Sünderhauf
Simon Steen-Andersen (b. 1976) is the first composer, besides Wagner himself (and Beethoven’s 9th), to have a piece performed in the legendary Bayreuther Festspielhaus – and since the festival’s programme was canceled due to the corona pandemic, Simon Steen-Andersen’s The Loop of the Nibelung is the year’s only premiere at the legendary festival.
The Loop of the Nibelung is an audiovisual exploration of both the empty concert hall, which has been empty since the corona outbreak and Wagner’s opera tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung (1848–1874).
Tonight, a documentary will air on the German tv-station ARD Alpha, going behind the scenes of Simon Steen-Andersen’s sensational premiere of The Loop of the Nibelung.
Simon Steen-Andersen elaborates on the course of events leading up to the premiere:
“Bayreuther Festspiele invited me to make a ‘to-stage-rocket’: I was “introduced” to the festival in 2019, where I made the small concert performance Spinne Schwester, und Singe!!! in Haus Wahnfried, Wagner’s former residence in Bayreuth. And for 2020 we were planning a full show with live musicians and singers, scenically in dialogue with and as an extension of video material from the Festspielhaus. As you know, no one other than Wagner can be performed at the Festspielhaus, which is why we came to the perfect compromise: To do the show at Probebühne Drei (rehearsal stage three) which is an immediate extension of the three backstages, that you can open all the way back and have a direct look at the stage and further down to the audience rows in the distance.”
Every year, the Bayreuther Festspiele is held in this famous venue, but all concerts were canceled this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Most years, Der Ring des Nibelungen is performed in its entirety, but this year Simon Steen-Andersen has created a piece with motifs from The Ring in a completely new and inventive manner in the empty concert hall.
“In mid-March, the originally planned film production was canceled due to corona, just a week before the production, and the 2020 Festival was completely canceled soon after. The possibilities of making an online archive festival during the festival period were investigated, and we agreed on setting up a smaller, simpler version of the piece, specifically designed for the format. Just 2–3 weeks before the very last production window, I received the final confirmation – and then it was pure kamikaze until the final video-work was completed. The final live performance, if circumstances allow it, will be premiered at the Bayreuther Festspiele in 2021."
Wagner began the construction of the Bayreuther Festspielhaus in 1872, tailoring the building to his works. In 1876, when the house was inaugurated, it was Der Ring des Nibelungen that was premiered, and so Simon Steen-Andersen traces a line to the historical work.
“It started with the idea of making a new, site-specific Run Time Error in Festspielhaus and developed from there. In Run Time Error, I only use elements I find on location, so I found it quite natural to extend into including all the musical, narrative, historical, and anecdotal material that is inextricably linked to the place. And a very important idea was the notion of not only using the specific place as an "instrument", as I usually think of Run Time Error but also making the Festspielhaus itself the scenography and backdrop in a fragmented staging of The Ring, as it was the work that the Festspielhaus was conceived and built to be performed in. In this way, it bites itself in the tail and the Festspielhaus itself becomes Wotan’s Valhal, which eventually perishes in Ragnarok – not unlike Wagner’s first ideas for the Festspielhaus, which he aired in letters to Liszt and other acquaintances where he wanted, that the newly built theatre was to be demolished again after the premiere.”
“It is completely wild and in several ways a musical-historical event, so to speak, but I think my advantage is that I don’t think too much about or feel burdened by it. Only afterward, has it struck me how great a privilege it was to be allowed to be let loose to roam so freely in this unique place and be able to draw so much on all the resources and the technical resources of the place.”
"Officially I'm not getting a piece performed on the stage in Festspielhaus, of course, but on Probebühne Drei. In reality, though, it's documented in the movie how we're performing back and forth across the stage - and these are definitely not all Wagner-sounds. One could say that it's a bit of a grey area, since some of the material originates from The Ring and the material that doesn't originate from Wagner gets to have a narrative or symbolic function in what can be seen as a fragmented, free staging of the work."
The work is available until August 31 and can be experienced on the BR-Klassik website: The Loop of the Nibelung.
The documentary Watch RING RING RING by Andreas Krieger goes behind the scenes of the production of Simon Steen-Andersen's 'The Loop of the Nibelung' in Bayreuth. It can be watched here or tonight in German TV "ARD Alpha" 20:15.