Mariinsky Ring Part 4: the ups and downs continue to the end

The one consistent thing that you can say about this ring is that it is inconsistent, and that inconsistency continued to the very end.  Were any threads tied together?  Nope.  Did the production come together, in the way that Keith Warner’s Covent Garden Ring did?  Nope.  Did we expect it to?  Not really.

So, starting at the beginning:  the Norns were dressed Woodbird-style with beaded head-dresses and meadered around with those dancer-types rolling around their feet connecting what looked like garden hose with some funny-shaped implements threaded on to it.  The timings when the rope snapped were miserably handled.  “Es ris!”  Indeed it did.  Then we come to the new Brunnhilde and Siegfried, and again a mixed picture.  Larisa Gogolevskaya’s mezzo-ish vocal qualities, interesting and not unattractive in quieter and lower-lying passages, became horribly unwieldy and sounded worryingly strained in more declamatory moments.  Whilst she was an improvement on yesterday’s Brunnhilde, by the time she’d sent Siegfried on his travels I couldn’t help wondering if she would make it to the end.  Siegfried (Viktor Lutsyuk) was on a par with yesterday’s, which was a pleasant diversion from some of the other things going on around him.  What he lacked (comparatively) in acting commitment, he made up for with a slightly easier voice for the higher-lying passages, sounding more fully the Heldentenor.

Waltraute was Thursday’s Brunnhilde (!) and the comparisons between the two in their great confrontation scene were unfortunate.  Olga Savova’s narration of Wotan’s preparation for the end of Walhalla was dramatically intense and finally it felt like something was catching fire.  That sense of growing drama was built upon in the Gunther/Gutrune/Hagen scene that follows.  All three singers – Evgeny Nikitin, Elena Nebera, Mikhail Petrenko respectively – were vocally and dramatically up to the standards that the Covent Garden stage has come to expect and it made for an unexpected highpoint in what can sometimes be a rather dragging domestic drama.  And speaking of dragging, they had to put up with some quite bizarre costumes.  Basically, Hagen, Gunther and their menfolk appeared to be wearing autumnal Laura Ashley dresses [see below].  But even that couldn’t detract from some good singing and acting. 

The Nibelung's Son has something to tell his father...Brunnhilde rose reasonably well to her altercation with Siegfried in Gunther disguise (although confusingly looking just like Siegfried so maybe the Tarnhelm’s powers are fading).  In fact, she was an energetic performer which got round some of the vocal shortcomings.  As we emerged from the interval, the disappointments of the Prologue were behind us and things were set fair for a positive experience.

Nikolai Putilin has been a consistent performer throughout and got a much-deserved rousing cheer from the audience, and his scene with Hagen was indeed very effective, leading into the return of Siegfried and the summoning of the vassals.  It would be too much to expect any detailed acting or characterisation from the chorus, and sure enough they milled about, formed lines across the front of the stage to face Gergiev and sang in a lusty but not particularly accurate way.  The act continued with a tense and effectively played oath and plot to kill Siegfried, with Brunnhilde finding a dramatic thrust to compensate for some rather wild pitching and some growling declamations.  We left for the long interval in reasonably buoyant spirits.

The Rhinemaiden/Siegfried scene was efficiently done, and then the real highpoint was Siegfried’s death.  Some really classy singing, I thought, and real dramatic pathos, most particularly immediately following the stabbing.  So far, then, so good(ish).  But hereafter it all went a bit wrong.  Siegfried’s Funeral March started atmospherically and that real sense of the significance of what has happened in dramatic terms began to build.  Two things then slightly marred the experience:  Gergiev’s approach to the music became hurried and lost the sense of majesty that is needed.  All the while, there was the most flaccid meandering about going on on the stage, with bodies unceremoniously cleared off stage and Siegfried paraded around, then put into a pointy boat and paraded around again before being put in the middle for the immolation scene.  Slightly frustrating, but nothing compared to what was about to happen.  The Gutrune/Gunther/Hagen squabble was well-realised, but Brunnhilde managed to come onto the stage about two lines too late, so projected surtitles heralded that something was supposed to be being said, she arrived up the steps at the back of the stage just as the surtitles said “I’ve heard children crying over spilt milk but no laments for a hero”, the prompter audibly shouted “Kinder!” and the line was duly delivered…  oh blimey.

Whether it was out of nervousness for this mishap or she was genuinely in vocal difficulty, what followed was some of the most-wildly ill-pitched, discomfiting singing I’ve ever heard.  It was really quite disturbing.  She gathered her composure for “Flieg’ heim, ihr Raben!” and found some reserves to deliver what was actually a reasonably effective Immolation.  But to some extent the damage was done, and whether justified or not, I couldn’t shake the sense of worry and discomfort about whether she’d survive.  The conducting of the Immolation scene and close of the opera was also problematic.  I’ve previously remarked on how well played it was, and a few horn fluffs aside, playing was indeed on a consistently good level.  However, the close of Gotterdammerung exposed the conducting’s flaws.  Gergiev seems to confuse majesty and awe with sheer loudness, and this became the coarsest close to this opera that I’ve ever heard.  There was, for example, no fleeting pause between the dramatic destruction of all on stage and the theme that heralds the new beginning, so the contrast and the sense of resolution that it should deliver passed for nought. 
As for what went on on stage, don’t get me started.  This opera had actually had a bit more going for it staging-wise, with a more dramatic set of scenery and relatively effective use of levels and lighting effects.  In particular, after swearing blood brotherhood a really quite exciting lighting effect converted the rocky plinth for Brunnhilde into a red-and-white veiny surface: quite eery.  At the end though, everything was ballsed up.   Red light, then Siegfried’s coffin raised to the ceiling, then writhing men in the giant net (see Rheingold) roll clumsily on, Brunnhilde strolls off across the net, then blue light, then Hagen doesn’t appear (just his line on the surtitle board to remind us what we’re missing), then Norn-types in fluorescent dreadlocks process on to the back.  I may have missed out some different colours of lighting that we cycled through.  Dismal.
And so it all closes.  I’ll do a round-up in a separate post:  I’m still trying to process the whole thing…  Good Siegfrieds though…

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