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Posts Tagged ‘Wagner’s Das Rheingold’

Tankred Dorst’s 2006 production of the Ring des Nibelungen for the Bayreuther Festspiele, due to be released on DVD in the end of the year, seems to turn around the concept that myths do not belong in the past, but still linger in the darker corners of our daily lives. Although the Rhinemaidens and Alberich are shown in a stylized Rhine, Wotan and the other gods dwell on the top of a decayed building that could perfectly be on Leipziger Straße in Berlin. While Freia’s fate is being decided, a couple of tourists appear and takes a picture – in case someone had not noticed by then that the setting is contemporary. Nibelheim is an industrial plant (yes, nothing new about that) where an engineer passes by Wotan and Loge, who are invisible to his eyes, to check the pressure on a couple of pipes. During the opera’s last bars, a kid from our days finds a remain of Fafner’s treasure, but the curse seems to keep its effect. He soon gets a beating from his friends, who steal it from him. Considering the premise’s absence of originality, the scene who curiously seem to work is the first one, the only not to fit the concept. The stage direction has nothing new about it – some key scenes, such as Alberich’s curse, hang fire – the sets were uninspiring and the costumes are not only extremely ugly, but sometimes also impaired actors’ movements.

All that said, the production is nothing but a footnote in a Wagner performance in which Christian Thielemann is the conductor. Although his tempi were quite deliberate, the richness and clarity of orchestral sound and the purposefulness in phrasing filled these tempi in a way that simply sounded right. The Festival orchestra played with tremendous gusto, strings were full-toned yet extremely flexible, the texture was dense yet transparent, the various sections blended perfectly, brass instruments offered flawless playing. In spite of the venue’s famously difficult acoustics, one did not feel that the orchestral sound was recessed (the covered pit did make the sound less bright, but never small-scaled) and the conductor was very sensitive but also very sensible in deciding when it was possible to curb his formidable forces to help out singers.

Albert Dohmen, for example, did not seem to be in very good voice – on its higher reaches, his bass-baritone sounded bottled up and limited in volume. Truth be said, he was often covered by the orchestra and detached in the interpretation department. Back in 2004, I had the opportunity to see him as Amfortas in Munich and clearly remember a very large and powerful voice, but recently it seems to have shrunk in size. Let us hope that tomorrow will find him in better shape. Andrew Shore is a good actor and his voice has the right sound for Alberich, but his high notes were unfocused and often rough. After one has seen Tomasz Koniecny in this role, one tends to find fault in everyone else these days, but it seems that the British baritone was experimenting some sort of fatigue this evening. It has become customary for Kwangchul Youn to steal the show when he sings Fasolt in The Rhinegold – the Korean bass’s dark, incisive voice is taylor-made for Wagner. Brazilian bass Diógenes Randes’s is velvetier in sound, but his Fafner did not lack menace. Wolfgang Schmidt, whom I saw back in 1997 as an ill-at-ease Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera House, is now a powerful Mime who sometimes indulge in some Spieltenor mannerisms that do not really go with his basic tonal quality. Let us wait for Siegfried to say more about him. Clemends Bieber was a pleasant-toned Froh, but Ralk Lukas lacked slancio for his final and important contribution. Mihoko Fujimura is a light, efficient Fricka and Christa Meyer’s mezzo seemed a bit high for the role of Erda, even if she sang it quite commendably. Christiane Kohl, Ulrike Helzel and Simone Schröder were very well cast as the Rhinemaidens.

I will leave the best for last – Arnold Bezuyen’s impressively sung Loge and Edith Haller’s crystalline Freia. The Dutch tenor, in particular, deserves praises for his extremely musical phrasing, his intelligent word-pointing that never stands between him and true cantabile and his finely projected voice.

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Daniel Barenboim’s close collaboration with both La Scala and Staatsoper Unter den Linden has resulted a joint venture, which is a new production of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, apparently at the rate of one opera every season both in Milan and at the Schiller Theater. Although the production is going to be one for both theatres, casting differs. For example, Nina Stemme and Waltraud Meier sing Bruennhilde and Sieglinde in Die Walkuere in Milan, while Berlin will feature Irene Théorin and Anja Kampe.

Barenboim’s almost Furtwaenglerian large-scaled approach to the Ring is known through his Bayreuth performances released both in CD and DVD and it seems that the conductor tried to justify his second visit to the Nibelungs with a whole new different approach. Although Furtwängler himself has conducted a Ring at La Scala, one would believe that the maestro inspired himself in another German who has also tried his tetralogy there: Wolfgang Sawallisch (1973).  This time, large scale are hardly the words that come to mind – the orchestral sound is rather chamber-like and clear, with beautiful textures and rather detailed phrasing in more lyric moments, especially when soft dynamics are involved. In more purely “Wagnerian” passages, things tend to lack some finish. Curiously, the performance is dramatically rather blank and, in spite of the lightness, tempi rarely flow. Probably because of the light-voiced cast, restrain seems to be the keyword, what impared many of the opera climaxes, especially Alberich’s curse, which really misfired here.

The main source of curiosity in this performance is René Pape’s first Wotan. The Dresdener bass has made a reputation out of Wagnerian roles such as King Marke in Lohengrin and the King Heinrich in Lohengrin, but, if I am not mistaken, this is his first Wagnerian Heldenbariton emploi. Although the tonal quality is noble and the attitude is stylish and knowing, Pape’s velvety voice does not seem really cut for the part. In this tessitura, his voice does not really sound large and his high register sounds a bit bleached, what gives a more tentative than commanding impression. His Alberich, Johannes Martin Kraenzle, is similarly out of his sort. He seems to know what Alberich should be like and is also a good actor (even if he looks old for the part), but he cheats in every high note and is often overwhelmed by the orchestra, even in its light-toned version. Stephan Rügamer is also light-toned for Loge – and his nasality is often bothersome – but this imaginative tenor sings with amazing  tonal variety and an almost Mozartian dulcet quality that makes his character particularly insinuating. As always, he is a most gifted actor – certainly the singer who made most of the mechanical stage direction. Curiously, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s voice proved to be more penetrating than his in the role of Mime. Maybe it is a bit late for Doris Soffel to tackle the role of Fricka – her vocal production is now a bit raspish. She is a subtle artist with intelligent word-pointing and some effective use of mezza voce, but one wants more vocal comfort. Anna Larsson lacked firmness as Erda and Anna Samuil (Freia) was rather metallic in tone if quite hearable in her flashy Slavic voice. The remaining minor roles were all ineffectively taken. Truth be said, the only singer truly at ease in this performance was Kwangchul Youn, whose Fasolt outclassed the remaining members of the cast.

To make things even less exciting, Guy Cassiers’s production is a series of misconceptions. The omnipresent ballet dancers making their distracting steps all over the place would make Wagner turn in his tomb. In any case, it made me feel like kicking them and their clueless choreographies off the stage. From a certain point on, all effects described in the libretto were replaced in a most unconvincing way by dancers doing their routines.  Enrico Bagnoli’s sets are quite unsensational and oversimple. The whole concept turned around the use of water in the first scene, for a rather awkward impression, and, since it is not simple to dry the whole set, it remained wet to the end, the attempts to make that make sense even more pointless. The audience’s reaction was quite cold and it made me wonder if some things are going to be changed for next season’s prima, Die Walküre, which is going to need something more consistent than this.

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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!

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