Ada Gottlieb’s reflection nervously picked at a makeup brush in her dressingroom mirror.
’s Prelude had just become Scene One and Gottlieb could make outMime’s muffled hammering and whining out on the Festspielhaus stage. Her painted facelooked cartoonish under the incandescent lights above the mirror, and she took care toavoid looking too deeply at her reflected countenance, lest the anxiety increase. It wasnearly time for her to warm up, though she wouldn’t have to lie down on stage for another two hours.Something about this evening’s performance was giving her a ferocious case of stage fright. A usually confident performer, she wondered what was causing her to loseher calm of late. To begin with, she thought, every performance of this cycle so far had been rough. To say the least. In fact, nothing had gone smoothly since the festivaldirectors’ selection of stage director and conductor had generated enormous controversy just under a year before the festival. Reinhold Schlagen, the cycle’s director, was anotoriously disagreeable German avant-garde stage director and performance artist,whose past projects had included a mostly nude production of Shakespeare’s
in Russian Sign Language that had never, not once, been performed tocompletion due to the refusal of audiences to sit through the excruciatingly lackadaisicalsecond masturbation scene. The cycle’s conductor was Yuri Bergner, the Israeli radical,who had replaced the Wagner tubas with Sousaphones and who would sort of sing-squealalong with the orchestra in a warbling and always audible falsetto. He claimed it was aninvoluntary tic. This pair had enraged many devoted Wagnerites—including a number of the festival’s major benefactors—and had been persistently arrogant, aloof, and abusiveduring rehearsals and performances, taking a substantial toll on many of the performers’confidence, and on what a New Ageier person might call their mental, emotional, andspiritual wellness.Then there was the issue of the staging itself. Schlagen had “distorted the
beyond all recognition” (the
). He had set the cycle in Manhattan, placing most of the action in a Jewish deli. All the human characters were costumed asOrthodox Jews, and were lovingly outfitted with headscarves and yarmulkes by Mr.Cohen, an adorably senile tailor who’d been flown in from Brooklyn and who had believed he was designing costumes for a Bayreuth production of
Fiddler on the Roof
,and everyone had been damned if they were to tell him otherwise. The dwarves werecostumed (though not by Mr. Cohen) as neo-Nazi skinheads, and were all played byactual dwarves. The parts of the giants were sung from the orchestra pit, and wererepresented onstage by giant goose-stepping robots in Gestapo officer garb, which robotsmalfunctioned frequently and which were described by one critic as “frankly anembarrassment not only to the operatic tradition, but to theater itself as a humaninstitution.” Valhalla’s denizens were mostly depicted as dark-suited Wall Street or corporate types, which was generally considered a banal and uninspired choice onSchlagen’s part. Even worse was that the Valkyries had actually been costumed as toplesslesbian bikers, which Gottlieb found unbecoming of the dignity of great musicians suchas herself, but which had at least provided some incentive for heterosexual men in theaudience not to leave until the final act of the previous night’s performance of
. Then of course there was the dragon Fafner, whom Schlagen had replaced with