Wolf On The Ringstrasse

April 19 – April 27, 2019

Pumphouse Theatres
2140 Pumphouse Ave SW, Calgary, AB

“To demand that in every story there always be forgiveness, and ultimately exaltation, is essentially to demand that someone fill the role of redeemer, and in so doing forfeit for herself the chance to be hero.”
– Michaela Jeffery, Wolf On The Ringstrasse

In Austria, 1895, the caustic composer Hugo Wolf pens his famous opera, Der Corregidor. It is a new dawn. The fin du siècle is breaking over Europe with the chilly clarity of a wet spring morning. Plagued by the spectre of his adolescent rivalry with school fellow Gustav Mahler, and manically consumed by a need to generate  a work equal to those of the dead master Wagner, Wolf retreats, penniless and wretched, to the mountains and the childhood home of the wife of his most devoted patron, Herr Heinrich Köchert.

But Melanie Köchert has no time for ghosts. She would rather bury the remnants of the relationship she’d kindled so long ago with Hugo Wolf – scorch the earth – than permit that life to engulf her again.




Haysom’s Wolf is a daunting presence so it is to Val Duncan’s inestimable credit that her Melanie is able to hold her own against him. There is a scene where Melanie finally lashes out at Wolf, topping even his fury only to collapse into his arms, which is shattering in its intensity.

– Louis Hobson, Columnist for the Calgary Herald

Standing ovation for 2019 theatre

…a bold, powerful script that director Alexandra Prichard and a talented cast brought to life with shattering intensity.

– Louis Hobson, Columnist for the Calgary Herald


Michaela Jeffery

Playwright’s Notes

A polarizing figure in the cultural makeup of late-19th century Vienna, Hugo Wolf made himself no shortage of enemies. Described as volatile, irascible and “brutal” by biographers and contemporaries, the “Wild Wolf” made very public his disdain for polite society, and his contempt for those who flourished within its strict confines. It was said he arrived everywhere late, and departed early – a wreckage of overturned tables and offended sensibilities in his wake. 
Wolf on the Ringstrasse is the product of a multi-year collaboration between myself and Spirit Fire Artistic Director, David Haysom. We came at it with different fascinations – David, with the seemingly contradictory notion of a man whose public life was so tempestuous and reviled yet whose artistry endures because of its softness, its intimate understanding of human feeling – and myself with a rigorous longing to understand the why of the fanatical devotion this (objectively alienating) man inspired in those closest to him. 


Alexandra Prichard

Director’s Notes

In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria issued a decree to transform the old city walls of Vienna into a grand boulevard which would circle the historical inner city. The Ringstrasse was both a monument to Old World ideas and aesthetics, and a symbol of their transformation.Against the backdrop of this 30-year construction project, Modernism bubbles up through the art of Klimt, the writings of Freud and Nietzsche, and the music of Mahler and Wolf. Vienna is at a crossroads, and the figure in the middle is Richard Wagner. He is polarizing and revolutionary. He declares Jews to be “the born enemy of pure humanity,” writes of sex between siblings, and composes music which lays the groundwork for the atonality of the 20th century. One critic declares Wagner’s music downright dangerous, but Hugo Wolf proclaims himself “a Wagnerian” and strives to emulate “the master” in all his work. 
Like Vienna itself, the characters are simultaneously products of their time and desperately trying to carve out a sense of identity apart from it. “It is a curse to be born a composer after Wagner,” declares Wolf: “to have been alive to witness the world turn over, but to have arrived too late to participate.” In truth, of course-as an early experimenter with atonal music and a prolific songwriter-Wolf was a participant in the birth of Modernism. He was, however, not lucid long enough to appreciate or witness his own contributions. “Truth is ugly,” says Nietzsche. “We possess art lest we perish from truth.” Wolf and Mahler immerse themselves in their art to escape the truth-Mahler to escape his poverty and his Jewishness, and Wolf to escape the perceived disapproval of his father, his fear of inadequacy and his terrible secret. Melanie, also living a lie-deceiving her husband and, arguably, herself-is perhaps the only character prepared to address the truth. As a wealthy woman in 19th century Europe, she has had the privilege of education, has been blessed with resources and ability but is denied the opportunity to put them into practice. 
The beauty in Michaela Jeffery’s work is that these three characters are at once simple and complex, visionary and blind, great and pathetic, admirable and deeply flawed. She has eschewed the idolatry of the master creator for an exploration of Nietzsche’s ugly truth, and exposed them as simple human beings driven to love, to self-preservation and to creation. Each is out of place on the Ringstrasse, unsure of their footing in the perpetually-shifting landscape, but are ultimately bound together by their profound love of music and their near-desperate need to believe in the redemptive power of art. Because, as Wolf says, 
if it does not change everything, then what is the point? 



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