Mariinsky Ring Part 2: faltering start, glimmers of hope

And so to Die Walküre… 

If I weren’t so easy-going temperamentally, I’d have left after Act 1 and not darkened the door of the opera house again whilst the Mariinsky company were on the premises.  This most glorious section of the Ring was dire.  There were no sparks of anything passionate on stage, big dramatic moments were fluffed and, after a exciting orchestral storm at the start, the conversational early parts of the Act were deadly dull.

The staging was a continuation of that described for Rheingold.  I’m not sure how many more configurations of those giant statues we can have, but only time will tell.  I didn’t mention the lighting, which is bright, colourful, ever-changing and omnipresent, and which leads to swift changes of mood for big moments, but also tends to create bright emotion-less spaces for large chunks of the piece. 

Not that emotion is a significant part of the work.  Sieglinde was dramatic – almost hyperactive – but played to a Siegmund about which it would be better to say nothing.  Suffice to say that he failed to achieve dramatic or vocal connection with the role.  If a Siegmund fluffs ‘Siegmund heiss’ ich‘ then you pack up and go home.  A special mention must be made of the withdrawing of the sword, which was inconspicuously stuck in the “tree” for most of the act as though someone had shoved an umbrella into a whole in the statue.  Its withdrawal was preceded by an audible click as Siegmund switched on a light within it.  Maybe having to work with such rudimentary effects contributed to the end of that first act being the single biggest disappointment of this endeavour thus far.  I left for the long interval rehearsing letters of complaint in my mind.

A glass or two of wine later, and we’re into the second act.  Things look up.  This Wotan (Mikhail Kit) looks and behaves more recognisably Wotan.  Brünnhilde launched the act with a very credible and hope-stirring Hojotoho! and on we go from there.  Her costume was the most interesting thing to have been seen on this stage for the last two days: a sort of burlesque goth look, with nods to Morticia Addams.  The confrontation between Fricka (still with vase atop her head) and Wotan was the absolute highpoint thus far.  Diadkova was once again the standout vocal star, acting with both voice and physique.  Kit was slightly underpowered as Wotan, but nonetheless gave a credible, nuanced performace.  Oh, for nuance! 

Sieglinde stood out again in the second act, if anything getting even stronger and integrating acting and singing more effectively for her disturbed scene with Siegmund.  The staging rose reasonably credibly to the challenge of the fight scene – except for Hunding wandering aimlessly about for periods of time – but maybe my views are coloured by the fact that this scene heralded the merciful despatching of Siegmund.

Act 3 started wonderfully.  We seemingly couldn’t find so incisive, vocally bold and individual a set of Valkyries for the Covent Garden Ring, and the staging gave them something more effective to work with than prancing about with horse skulls.  Men, presumably fallen heroes, descended and ascended the height of the stage to be cared for on the ground and then sent off to Valhalla.  This stage picture was only marred by one of them getting stuck at the top, repeatedly being left dangling, before descending again for more ‘caressing’.

The dramatic intensity built through the confrontation between Brunnhilde and her sisters over the question of ‘what to do with Sieglinde’ and we were launched into the Brunnhilde-Wotan scene.  It was at this point that I started realising what is wrong with Gergiev’s approach:  long passages of conversation just sag compared to these fiercely dramatic orchestral outbursts that herald storms and big declamatory moments.  It’s almost as if he gets bored, but the effect for us in the audience is that they seem to start to ramble and become disjointed from the whole.  Nonetheless, Olga Savova as Brunnhilde added some dramatic impetus and Kit made for an effectively insular Wotan, with the cares of the universe on his shoulders. 

The fire-surrounded rock was one of those statues lying up stage with a neat little hollow into which Brunnhilde rested herself, but then the stage just went red as Loge was summoned.  Oddly, most of act 2 had been played on a large square rock that lit up red from within, which would have made a much better fire-surrounded rock in act 3.  Oh well.

Some horn fluffs aside, orchestral playing continued to be the single most impressive aspect of the endeavour (perhaps a concert version next time?).

Siegfried beckons and tends to be (for me) the most difficult bit of the Ring, where it lapses into longeurs periodically.  Wish me luck…

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