After the Wagner Wochen, I have to confess my expectations about the Deutsche Oper Ring have been kept low. This is probably why I am not terribly upset by the frankly unsatisfactory Rheingold presented today as I was when I left the theatre after that dreadful Lohengrin.
To start with, Götz Friedrich’s 1984 production belongs to its age – it makes movies like Flashdance or Xanadu look like an example of timeless design. The basic set, although reminiscent of the Washington Metro, offers a large-scaled, interesting perspective. But that’s the only positive thing to say about the visual aspects of this staging. The scene under the Rhine was a matter of transparent fabrics that could have worked in a rather predictable way, if someone had decided to test the mechanism before the performance. The screens hanged rather loosely until one of them got caught somewhere. Then, it had to be ripped from its pipe lest the opera be interrupted for repairs. The whole episode in the Nibelheim is decidedly provincial (the complex stage contraption giving rather a contrived than awe-inspiring impression) and the scenes on Wotan’s mountaintop look depressively poor. Peter Sykora’s costumes are so ugly, drab and dirty that you feel like throwing a 5 cent coin on stage as a donation for the gods. To make things worse, Søren Schuhmacher’s Spielleitung basically consists of letting actors do whatever they seem fit, except for silly choreographies that make the ordinary opera silly choreographies look clever. Not to mention that scenes involving physical interaction seemed poorly rehearsed. I left the theatre wishing for a concert performance.
I had never seen Donald Runnicles conduct any Ring opera, but for the first two acts of a Walküre at the Met, of which I had a very positive impression, especially in what regards the quality of the orchestral sound. Not today. The performance started with the wrong foot – brass were so poorly pitched that I prayed that the strings begin soon. They did begin – albeit in very restricted volume, a situation which persisted through the whole length of the opera, with the exception of Alberich’s curse, in which the decision to drown the baritone seems to have been taken. I wish I could single out something positive – like tempi did not drag – but the sound picture was simply wrong for this music and Wagner’s multicoloured effect failed to work against the prevailing matte atmosphere.
Although the cast had no weak performance, only the Poles offered something to tell home about. Tomasz Konieczny’s forceful, dark-toned Alberich displayed the necessary intensity lacking almost everywhere else in this production and Ewa Wolak’s rich-toned, extremely concentrated Erda created alone the impact her scene has to offer. Although Judit Németh’s mezzo is a bit high for the Rheingold’s Fricka, she coloured her text knowingly. Burkhard Ulrich’s Loge was dexterous enough, handled his lines with clarity and found no problem in Loge’s sinuous writing. I prefer more heroic-sounding Loges, but there is nothing to fault, but instead much to praise in his performance. Andrea Silvestrelli’s cavernous Fafner, ideally partnered by Reinhard Hagen’s more focused Fasolt, is also worthy of mention. When it comes to Mark Delavan’s Wotan, it must be noted that his voice is noble sounding and reasonably large in its lower reaches. His bass-baritone has the proper sound for the role, but not necessarily the full impact. However, what might have disturbed a couple of members of the audience, who finally booed him in the curtain calls, is the undeniable lack of experience in the part. Although he was too clearly prompted, he still had some trouble with the text and, therefore, could not help but skating on the surface of the role. I hope that Die Walküre finds him a little bit more prepared!