Posts Tagged ‘Rheingold’

Das Rheingold, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

5 April, 2013

The lights went down and all was silence. In the partially covered pit the conductor was invisible but slowly a quiet E flat emerged. Daniel Barenboim’s restrained conducting allowed huge clarity for the singers and plenty of scope for the brass at big moments. It was a coolly intriguing prelude to The Ring.

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

The stage was filled with water, albeit shallow, and Alberich and the Rheinmaidens were like a boy with three teasing girls splashing around in the water. After their mockery he is defeated and soaking wet. Then comes the gold motif and we’re off and away.

After Alberich takes the gold, dancers enter. They form everything from an arch for the entrance of Wotan and Fricka, to a throne for Alberich and an animated tarnhelm. They also writhe and express themselves to the music, but not everyone will like this aspect. Some of us prefer less distraction. It seems that the director, Guy Cassiers is keen to see perpetual motion on stage, whereas many in the Wagner audience are doubtless more keen to listen to the orchestral sound and the singers.

Loge and dancers

Loge and dancers

In this respect there was some very fine singing indeed. Johannes Martin Kränzle was a terrific Alberich, somewhat hampered by the dancers in this opera, and I look forward to his return in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Superb diction and tone from Iain Paterson and Mikhail Petrenko as Fasolt and Fafner, plus a very strong vocal presence by Stephan Rügamer as Loge, and mellow attractiveness from Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka. Despite a subdued performance as Wotan, René Pape came through strongly when necessary, particularly after taking the Ring from Alberich when he gloats that his new possession will raise him to der Mächtigen mächtigsten Herrn (the mightiest of mighty lords).

Alberich and dancers

Alberich and dancers

The Ring itself in this production is a sparkling glove, and when Alberich loses it the end of his arm appears cut off. The glove idea has the merit of making the Ring obviously visible to the whole audience, and when Wotan heeded Erda’s warning he gave it up by simply tossing it over his head.

Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen put the giants in dark suits, and the representation of the male gods reminded me of some rather odd dictators (the late Kim Jong Il came to mind in the person of Donner), and British readers will know what I mean if compare the appearance of Loge to violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Good lighting by Enrico Bagnoli, who collaborated with director Guy Cassiers on the sets, and I liked the video projections that at one point seemed to suggest a future world. Their reflection on the water was very effective, but I gather from friends that this was not visible from all parts of the auditorium.

This performance was on April 4. Die Walküre continues tonight on April 5, unencumbered by dancers if my memory of La Scala serves me right.

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Das Rheingold, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

25 September, 2012

This prologue to Wagner’s Ring promises a feast of fine singing and acting in the remaining three operas of the cycle.

All images ROH/ Clive Barda

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

Bryn Terfel sang as well or better than I have ever heard him in the role of Wotan, emphasising maturity and self-awareness, showing he realises he has set in motion something against which the treaties on his spear will be powerless. His acting left the audience in no doubt that they were witnessing the start of something very dangerous, confirmed by Loge’s later warning when he sings of the gods hastening to their end.

As Wotan’s wife Fricka, Sarah Connolly sang beautifully, giving the role a hugely feminine charm, and in two days time it will be intriguing to see how she and Terfel interact in their difficult conflict during Act II of Walküre. Such a pity however that fratricide has removed Iain Paterson’s magnificent Fasolt. His engaging appearance in flat cap, carrying a measuring rod of five cubits length, was well matched by his superbly lyrical singing, and when Fafner strikes him down we see the action very clearly as he falls forward against the glass wall facing us.

Gods and telescope

This is one of many fine aspects to Keith Warner’s production, revived by the director himself. The descent to Niebelheim is accomplished by the floor rising, revealing a coldly lit, colourless realm where a cadaver lies on a hospital trolley, and Alberich rapes a woman tied down to another trolley, though Wotan eventually sets her free. Niebelheim is a thoroughly nasty world, but this production also has its light moments. Alberich’s transformations using the tarnhelm are amusingly effective, and right at the end of the opera, the shrewd but flippant Loge takes one of Freia’s golden apples, slices it, and cooks it in a frying pan!

Valhalla awaits

In the meantime Antonio Pappano’s conducting has moved the action smoothly forward, making two and a half hours seem like nothing at all, particularly with such very fine singing from the whole cast. Gerhard Siegel made a superb return to the role of Mime, but many of the cast were new. Wolfgang Koch and Eric Halfvarson sang strongly, making their House debuts  in the bass roles of Alberich and Fafner, and Maria Radner sang a glorious Erda. Stig Andersen made a cheekily lively, if somewhat ungainly Loge, Ann Petersen sang with real feeling in the relatively minor role of Freia, and among the Rheinmaidens I particularly liked Harriet Williams in the role of Flosshilde as she sings seductively to Alberich.

Word has it that the entire cast for this Ring is rehearsing very strongly both in terms of singing and acting, and I eagerly await the next three operas.

There are four Ring cycles, the final Rheingold being on October 26 — for details click here.

Das Rheingold, Metropolitan Opera live relay, October 2010

10 October, 2010

Building a glorious monument with borrowed money is a dangerous business, as many of our politicians have now realised. It’s a lesson they could have learned from Wagner’s Rheingold whose consequences lead to three more operas in the Ring cycle. When the two brothers get their payment for the elaborate folly of Valhalla one kills the other to take the powerful ring, reminding me of recent events in British politics. The brother giants get their payment in treasure stolen from Alberich by Wotan, but Alberich in turn stole it from the Rheinmaidens who were guarding it in the river Rhein. There’s word play in German between Rhein and rein (pure), and although one might regard the Rheinmaidens as pure they are not unsullied by very human failings, and it’s their teasing rejection of Alberich that causes him to forswear love, a necessary precondition for creating the ring from the gold.

 

Giants and Gods, all photos by Ken Howard

 

One cannot help feeling sympathy with Alberich as he cries out, “O Schmerz!” (What pain!), and Eric Owens sang and acted the role brilliantly. His dark, rich voice expressed his anguish and determination, and my only quibble — a really minor one — is that he looked such a nice guy! Truly he was the star of the show, along with Bryn Terfel as Wotan, who managed to look ruthless and show fierce determination to retain the ring after stealing it, until Patricia Bardon as Erda warned him off such nonsense. She was terrific in that small role, looking and singing like a goddess.

 

In Niebelheim, Alberich transformed as a dragon

 

As that other goddess, Wotan’s wife Fricka, Stephanie Blythe sang strongly and gave a warmly human portrayal. Loge, whose schemes let Wotan off the hook he’s made for himself, was well sung by Richard Croft, and I liked the costume and the lighting for him. In fact the whole production, by Robert Lepage, was very well lit by Etienne Boucher with good costume designs by Francois St-Aubin, including those for the giants who were made to look large without using stilts or artificial heads. Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König as Fasolt and Fafner both gave fine portrayals of these giants, and I loved the way Fasolt turned his head sympathetically as Fricka sang of a woman’s value, Weibes Wonne und Wert.  Fafner was thoroughly menacing, and we shall presumably hear him again in his transformation as the dragon in Siegfried.  Carl Fillion’s set design, with multiple strips of wood that could tilt at various angles was certainly clever, and I liked the placing of the giants at a higher level, and loved the rainbow bridge at the end. This high-tech production sets a standard that will be hard for other opera houses to beat, and I look forward to the broadcast of Walküre next May.

 

Gods ascend the rainbow bridge

 

As to the conducting, it was wonderful to have James Levine back in the pit, and the orchestra played beautifully under his direction.

The Ring, Maryinsky Opera, London, July/August 2009

30 July, 2009

ring[1]

Rheingold. This promises to be a wonderful Ring, as Valery Gergiev unfolded the music beautifully in this first opera, never rushing, but never flagging. He even held the first chord for longer than usual, but with excellent effect. George Tsypin’s powerful designs showed four giant horizontal human torsos that moved up and down at various times. With fine costumes and Gleb Filshtinsky’s excellent atmospheric lighting this was a very welcome change from the two operas I saw in Bayreuth at the weekend! I particularly liked the costumes for the giants, and the use of dancers in raising the huge silk representing the river. As to the singers, Nikolai Putilin was superb as Alberich, and was the star of the evening — I’m delighted he will appear again in the last two operas. This is not the case with all performers, and Evgeny Nikitin, who was a slightly underpowered Wotan, will reappear in Siegfried, but someone else will take over in Walküre. Fricka was well sung by Larisssa Diadkova, as were her brothers Donner and Froh by Evgeny Ulanov and Evgeny Akimov, with Zhanna Dombrovskaya as Freia, and Oleg Balachov as a strong Loge. When Donner roared out his last words Weise der Brücke den Weg it sounded like Russian, but that was fine with me because the cast were all entirely in character. Vadim Kravets was a beautifully voiced Fasolt, with Gennady Bezzubenkov as a surly Fafner, whom we shall see again in Siegfried, along with Zlata Bulycheva as a darkly voiced Erda. Andrei Popov sang Mime, but the part will be sung by someone else in Siegfried. Altogether this was a great start to the Ring, though standards slipped in Walküre the next night.

Walküre. The first act was disappointing with Avgust Amonov as an underpowered Siegmund, who gave the impression he didn’t understand the German he was singing, and Keiner ging—doch Einer kam followed by Winterstürme lacked emotional force. Gennady Bezzubenkov as Hunding, following his appearance as Fafner the night before, carried more power. Mlada Khudoley as Sieglinde was stronger than Siegmund, but again she couldn’t hit the heights. Her response to Brünnhilde’s annunciation in Act III with Rette mich Kühne was without impact. The best moments were the duets between Wotan and Fricka in Act II, and Wotan and Brünnhilde in Act III. The Wotan was not the same as last night — and the eye patch was changed from right to left eye — but though Mikhail Kit showed warmth in his voice, he lacked the strength of other Wotans I’ve seen recently, such as Tomlinson and Terfel. As Fricka, Larissa Diadkova was superb, with wonderful stage presence and complete command of the part — she was the best Fricka that I remember seeing. As Brünnhilde, Olga Savova was a powerful presence, commanding in her appearance to Siegmund Nur Todgeweihten taugt mein Anblick, appalled by Wotan’s revenge War es so schmählich, and convincing in persuading him to protect her by fire. Gergiev conducted with restraint and emotional support for the singers, never drowning them, and I felt that with stronger principals in Act I he would have let the orchestra leap forth with greater effect. The Russian brass and percussion were superb, and this is where a Russian conductor is so important. The production included four human torsos again, but bent at the waist, and the costumes were effective, particularly the Valkyries holding shields, like wings, in their right hands. Only the sword was a disappointment, with its battery-powered light in the handle, like a child’s toy — really naff (not available for fighting). I hope Siegfried forges it into something more worthy!

Siegfried. This was a more rewarding experience than Walküre, mainly because Leonid Zakhozhaev sang an excellent Siegfried, wielding the sword like a real weapon, and Evgeny Nikitin sang out well as Wotan, much better, I thought, than his appearance in Rheingold — the patch, by the way, was back on the right eye. Nikolai Putilin sang wonderfully as Alberich again, and Erda and Fafner were the same as in Rheingold, though Fafner’s voice as the dragon was amplified, which I didn’t care for at all. Mime this time was Vasily Gorshkov, who played and sang the part very well, and Anastasia Kalagina was a lovely woodbird. My only complaint on the singing was Olga Sergeyeva who took over as Brünnhilde, but whose voice had too much vibrato, and seemed out of pitch in the awakening duet with Siegfried. The orchestra played very well again under Gergiev who seems to be able to draw on immense reservoirs of emotion. Staging and lighting were fine as far as I was concerned, except that when Brünnhilde climbed onto the rock, where she is supposed to have been sleeping for a generation, the lighting was bright and only went dark after she lay down. If she was moving to a musical cue, then it was a lighting fault, but I rather suspect she was to blame, indicating that the whole thing was under-rehearsed. Now we await yet a third Brünnhilde in the final opera.

Götterdämmerung. Musically this was on a par with the others, and vocally it had some wonderful singers and lovely moments, but there were serious shortcomings, notably boule de suif Larisa Gogolevskaya as an unsuitable Brünnhilde, who simply didn’t have the voice for the part. Viktor Lutsyuk as Siegfried lacked voice control and was not as good as Leonid Zakhozhaev yesterday. But Nikolai Putilin was an excellent Alberich, as before, and Mikhail Petrenko a very fine Hagen. His half siblings Gunther and Gutrune were brilliantly sung by Evgeny Nikitin and Elena Nebera. Nikitin, who was Wotan in both Rheingold and Siegfried, was the best Gunther I ever remember seeing. In fact he and Hagen made me think immediately of British politicians Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson. Elena Nebera had a lovely voice and her acting was terrific. She moved like a ballerina with arms, head and body — I was impressed before she ever sang a note. Petrenko, Nikitin and Nebera formed a wonderful trio as Hagen, Gunther and Gutrune, and their scenes, along with the encounter between Alberich and Hagen at the start of Act II, were the highlights of the evening. As for the scene between Brünnhilde and Waltraute, sung by Olga Savova, who was Brünnhilde in Walküre, this merely became an ineffective clash of prima donnas.

The production itself had some good moments, but there were glitches too. Hagen’s appearance on the roof in the scene where Brünnhilde accuses Siegfried of treachery was very effective, making him seem like the puppet master he is, and his murder of Siegfried during the hunt was very convincing. But when he later goes to the bier to take the ring, Siegfried’s arm did not move, so it was inexplicable that he moved away again. Then at the end when Hagen should sing Zurück vom Ring!, where was he? And why did he not sing? The surtitles showed Away from the Ring! But there were no Rheinmaidens to take it, and no Hagen. With Brünnhilde singing weakly, and nothing happening on stage except for some clever lighting, the ending was disappointing.

I’m sure there will be serious criticism of this Maryinsky Ring, and quite rightly too since it failed on many of the high points, but there were wonderful moments, which often don’t come over as well as they did here, and I’m thinking particularly of the scenes with Hagen, Gunther and Gutrune, which were the best I’ve seen. Underlying it all was Gergiev and the orchestra, playing with great sensitivity, and there were some sublime moments, but it did seem that things trailed off a bit towards the end. I loved the lighting, and at least the staging did not insult our intelligence, unlike the recent nonsense in Bayreuth, but the under-rehearsing was most regrettable, considering the unusually expensive Amphitheatre seats.