There’s relatively little I can add to the general chorus of celebration surrounding the Ring Cycle led by Daniel Barenboim at the Proms last week. Essentially, all the superlatives have been taken, and there are none left for me at this point. Some brief observations, then… (more…)
I’ve waited until the end of the entire first Cycle before compiling jottings on the Royal Opera’s revival of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Keith Warner’s fussy, random, distracting collection of bits’n’pieces. What you might call a Gesamtkunstwerk of jottings. I see it again for the third cycle and might give it the blow-by-blow treatment then. (more…)
A rather sudden trip to Hamburg this weekend, for a family event, provided an opportunity to drop in to the Hamburgischer Staatsoper for the last instalment of Wagner’s Ring in the emerging production by Klaus Guth. A kitchen-sink drama of generally consistent quality, in spite of a few hiccups here and there. (more…)
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.
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.