Practice makes perfect and the extra rehearsal time since Wednesday proved most positive to the last item in the first cycle of the Deutsche Oper’s Ring. Although the Gibichungen scene in act I had its longueurs (always a tricky scene for the conductor), this evening’s performance had everything a Wagnerian should expect: the orchestral sound was exemplary, textures were clear yet dense and a palpable sense of theatre, particularly in the passages in which the orchestra has to tell the story alone, a kaleidoscopic account of Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt and a truly incisive account of the Trauermarsch.
The revival of Götz Friedrich’s staging involves a rather shabby Gibichungenhalle and a poorly timed and unimaginative closing scene. The performance was particularly poorly lit, for catastrophic effects in the Hagen/Alberich scene. I am not sure if I like the idea of incestuous overtones for the Gibichungen either – although it could make sense, Wagner already explored this line of thought in Die Walküre and that should be enough.
This evening, Evelyn Herlitzius seemed determined to prove that she can shade her voice when necessary, but the success of this decision is debatable. She does not master the art of mezza voce and her attempt to soften the tone brought about an unfocused quality that disturbed even more her already unflowing phrasing. As in act II Brünnhilde has very little time for musing, Herlitzius could play her trump card and flash some really exciting Spitzennoten. Although she was in tiny little bit less exuberant form in the Immolation Scene, she still offered a healthy and powerful account of this difficult passage. In spite of all the shortcomings, these Nilssonian acuti are reason enough to reserve her some praise, especially in an age when few sopranos seem able to do something like that. And it does not hurt either the fact that she is a committed singing actress.
As a replacement for Manuela Uhl, Heidi Melton proved to be a most welcome surprise as Gutrune (and as the Third Norn, as originally planned). Her voice is large, bright, firm, focused and remarkably beautiful. If I write that she owes her notable talent a serious attempt to loose some weight, I do not do it out of pettiness. Although she is far from clumsy in the acting department, her overweight might be an obstacle for her casting as Elsa, Elisabeth or Eva, roles which would suit her to perfection. The remaining Norns, Liane Keegan and the fruity-toned Ulrike Helzel, were similarly cast from strength. Only Karen Cargill’s mezzo soprano lacks cutting power for the role of Waltraute and her handling of her registers could be a bit smoother too.
During act I, the evening’s Siegfried, Alfons Eberz, showed such warm tone, clarion top notes and sheer voluminousness that the words “golden age” came to mind. After the first intermission, a slight reduction in harmonics and amplitude would impose upon his performance. That said, I have rarely seen a Siegfried survive in such good shape to his death scene, let alone survive the test of miming the Waldvogel so adeptly as he did today. Any opera house would call itself lucky to secure such a reliable singer in this impossible role.
I had a most positive impression of Markus Brück in his performance as Wolfram last year in the Deutsche Oper, but since then I have to confess that his singing in the Wagner Wochen’s Meistersinger and in this Ring showed a rather unalluring vocal nature, very different from the smooth- and round-toned quality he displayed as Wolfram. To make things worse, his hamming, unaided by awful make-up and a costume unbecoming to his disadvantageous physique, simply ruined the role of Gunther for me. I cannot say how much the Spielleitung is to blame, but I understand that the character as written by Wagner is not supposed to be something of a ridiculous clown. Tomasz Komieczny’s last appearance in the Ring crowned a faultless performance. Any staging of the Ring that takes itself seriously these days must feature his Alberich in its cast. Pity that the role of Hagen has now become a bit of a stretch for Matti Salminen, whose performance in this role I had the pleasure to see at the Met in 1997. Back then no orchestra was too loud for him. Today he has to cheat a bit, but his charisma and experience finally pay off in his uniquely sinister and menacing approach to this complex role.