Guy Cassiers’s Ring for La Scala/Lindenoper could hardly be described as a story of success. The première of Das Rheingold was able to create the rare event of an almost consensus among Wagnerians (against the omnipresent dancers); Die Walküre hit the news of Corriere della Sera when Waltraud Meier voiced what everybody had already noticed (no Personenregie); then nobody bothered to comment Siegfried, for at that point it seemed like beating a dead horse.
I would dare to say that there was actually some evolution between the first and the second day of the tetralogy: Siegfried is aesthetically superior to these production’s two previous stations. I would even say that Götterdämmerung is a further step from Siegfried. Although the team of dramaturges display an almost psychedelic imagination and a colorful bibliography in the performance books’ texts, the issues raised by them do not make into the staging (except for a 1889 frieze from a building in Brussels not even remotely connected to anything Wagnerian but used as some sort of centerpiece in the sets); here the story is told with literalness and stand-and-delivery is the sort of acting one would find here. The insight is entirely delegated to Arjen Klerkx and Kurt d’Haeseleer’s aptly atmospheric yet often overbusy videos. All that said, apart from horrendous costumes, the production is more often than not visually striking, coherent and unobtrusive. This hardly sounds positive, I know, but I wonder how much the pressure of being original did not prevent this creative team of doing the most basic task of staging an opera, which is telling the story. Insights are like melodies – you cannot produce them out of willpower. They are either there or not. When one thinks that almost every production of the Ring – traditional or revolutionary – never solve basic scenic problems such as “what should everybody, Hagen particularly, be doing while Brünnhilde sings the Immolation Scene?”, one should think twice before dismissing directors who are just willing to tell the story in a CONVINCING way. For instance, although I still dislike the idea of the Tarnhelm represented as FOUR dancers (Brünnhilde must have thought very confusing that these FIVE people were actually just one man and not a Big-Love sort of group-marriage), the fact is that the Siegfried-disguised-as-Gunther scene is supposed to be violent. Generally, Brünnhilde looks like a very formidable lady overreacting to a clueless guy with a piece of cloth on his head. This evening, even if the whole concept could be refined, the helpless Brünnhilde was practically violated right before the audience’s eyes.
The Staatskapelle Berlin, as in Siegfried, produced exquisite sounds, but Daniel Barenboim would only intermittently delve into the heart of this score. The Festtage is an athletic task for someone in his 70’s and one can see that the marathon of daily conducting big works has its consequences. This evening, his supply of energy proved insufficient in many key moments – a egg-timer approach to Siegfried’s journey through the Rhine made for a rather lifeless Gibichungenhalle scene; act II had a labored and noisy ending, while act III featured an exhausted, superficial funeral march for Siegfried and a Immolation Scene that never beyond correct in spite of a brilliant soloist. In other moments, though, one would feel as in Wagnerian paradise, surrounded by rich, clear and warm sounds used in the service of the drama.
This evening, Irene Theorin was the very example of artistic generosity. She carried on her shoulders the task of generating the expressive impulse of this performance – and she relished the opportunity. She proved again to be particularly warm-toned in her middle-register and in ductile voice, exploring both ends of dynamic range with naturalness. She produced a rare display of dramatic and musical unity, galvanizing every note and every word in the score with her sensitive and intelligent singing and acting. The Waltraute/Brünnhilde scene, for instance, where Waltraud Meier (who should give her long-abandoned mezzo roles a try again) and Theorin showed you everything you should know about Musikdrama, was an experience to cherish. Although she was not as ideally partnered in act II, she offered the ideal balance of power and subtlety Wagnerians dream about.
Again, Waltraud Meier was in very good voice and offered a deep, intense performance both of Waltraute and the 2nd Norn, where she was well partnered by Margarita Nekrasova and Anna Samuil (unfortunately, far less successful as a very metallic and blunt Gutrune). The Rheinmaidens were also very well-matched in spirited performances.
Among the men, Johannes Martin Kränzle (Alberich) proved to be the most convincing, even if his voice is not as dark as one would wish for. His crisp delivery of the text and dramatic intensity were a contrast to Mikhail Petrenko’s disappointing Hagen. Seeing a young singer in this role – one who has the necessary attitude for it moreover – promised new perspectives, but this singer should take some time for an “engine check”. As heard this week, his singing seems drained of overtones, throaty and constricted, entirely different from what I heard from him in a not distant past. Ian Storey (Siegfried) seemed to be making a tremendous effort that brought about very little sound until he was announced indisposed but willing to go just before act III. After that, although one could hear that he was not well, he could find very intelligent and sensitive solutions to make it to the end. Finally, Gerd Grochowski was a boorish and somewhat rough Gunther.