Where to place Wagner’s first opera Die Feen? Not a typical comedy, but it’s also not a tragedy. Meyerbeer’s grand opera comes closest to the epic scope of this underrated masterpiece. Sure, it’s not in Wagner’s mature style, but with tonight’s ingredients, I fell in love with Oper Leipzig’s powerful production. It contains dazzling sets, refined musical accompaniment (the sublime Gewandhaus Orchestra!), and gripping vocals. Although Wagner never heard Die Feen performed – it premiered after his death – the impressively directed balance between fairy tale Romanticism, medieval conflict and a cleverly modern approach might just have swayed his own dire opinion of the opera. Any Wagnerian who dismisses this piece will miss spectacular magic.

Igor Durlovski (Fairy King) © Tom Schulze | Oper Leipzig (2013)
Igor Durlovski (Fairy King)
© Tom Schulze | Oper Leipzig (2013)
Lost in the wilderness (here ironically a modern family household), Arindal looks for his love Ada, the Fairy Queen, who disappeared on him after he asked her about her past. After eight years of absence, two subjects persuade him to return to save his kingdom, Tramond, from siege. Although Ada reappears, two fairies want Ada to return to remain immortal as fairy queen. They demand Ada tests Arindal’s love for her. If he doesn’t curse her, Arindal will have proven his love.

The next day during the tests, Ada appears to burn their two children and to defeat his army. Arindal curses her, and Ada turns into stone thereby remaining immortal. But the fairies want to get rid of Arindal (by now gone mad) forever, so they challenge him to save Ada. Except, he defeats the underworld demons, wakes her up and is granted immortality by the fairy king. Yes, the story gets quite confusing.

Director Renaud Doucet and set and costume designer Andre Barbe create three worlds: the modern day Everyman’s perspective, Wagner’s Romantic fairy world and the medieval setting of Tramund. They seamlessly flow into each other, so modernists, traditionalists and Romantics should all be satisfied.

Christiane Libor (Ada) © Kirsten Nijhof | Oper Leipzig (2013)
Christiane Libor (Ada)
© Kirsten Nijhof | Oper Leipzig (2013)
After dinner in a modern household, a father watches a television transmission of Oper Leipzig’s Die Feen. As his kids leave to play and his disinterested wife departs for the gym, the overture begins, and he is carried away by the music. The father becomes Arindal, King of Tramond, and so the story commences. A spectacular set change occurs as the façade of his house elevates to reveal a Fairy Kingdom with a giant tree, a swing, two semi-clad, blindfolded young men surrounded by giddy fairies with glowing light bulbs. Utterly enchanting!

Christian Libor’s singing was showstopping. Her first hair-raising aria “Wie muss ich doch beklagen” moved to tears, as she described her conflict of giving up her immortality to be with the human. Her voice bewitches, and she commands the stage with her mere presence. In Act II, she dazzled again with “Weh' mir, so nah' die fürchterliche Stunde”.

In jeans and an orange vest, Endrik Wottrich as Arindal/ the everyman keeps a distant, almost aloof demeanour. All his emotional expression came from his voice. As he belted out “Who finde ich dich?” in Act I, you could hear a pin drop. His stamina in Wagner’s impossibly wordy libretto impressed. His deeply resonant voice, crystal clear diction had deep emotional resonance. His chemistry with Libor made sensational drama.

<i>Die Feen</i> © Kirsten Nijhof | Oper Leipzig (2013)
Die Feen
© Kirsten Nijhof | Oper Leipzig (2013)

In the supporting cast, Dara Hobbs as Lora, Arindal’s sister and Queen Regent, demonstrated her enormous range with persuasive despair in “O musst du hoffnung schwinden” at the beginning of Act II, as Tramund is under siege. When she is reunited with her lover Morald (Nikolay Borchev), the romance turns into musical bliss. This romantic mood continued in the rekindling love duet between Drolla (the charming Jennifer Porto) and Gernot (Milcho Borovinov). Again, Magdalena Hinterdobler impressed, this time as the scheming fairy Zemina.

Under Friedemann Layer, the Gewandhaus Orchestra was at the top of its game with a seamless balance between voices and orchestra, highly atmospheric moods, resonating brilliance and dynamic volume. Add to that an unrelenting suspense and sweeping momentum, and this opera flies by.

Truly a gem, I eagerly anticipate the next time I will travel to Leipzig just to hear and see this production of Die Feen. You should too.