Wagner: Der Ring des Niebelung - Siegfried
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In the words of the prestigious German weekly 'Die Zeit,' the stage production of Wagner's 'Rheingold' and 'Walküre' by La Fura dels Baus 'quite possibly shows us the path that musical theater will be taking in the future.' There's no doubt about it: the Catalan city of Valencia is setting new accents in 21st-century opera not only with its spectacular new theater designed by Santiago Calatrava, but also with its visually transfixing production of Wagner's 'Ring' staged by Carlos Padrissa and his theater group La Fura dels Baus. The Barcelona-based Fura blends music, dance, acrobatics and technology into unforgettable stage events of sometimes raw but always captivating power. The Fura made its breakthrough in the classical establishment with its production of Berlioz's 'La damnation de Faust' at the 1999 Salzburg Festival. The Fura's fertile visual fantasy and endless combinations of savvy video technology, lighting and props (often formed of human beings) are predestined for Wagner's visionary expressive world. Wagner's dream of a Gesamtkunstwerk becomes reality as this shape-shifting sequence of tableaux unfolds before our eyes: 3D computer projections that evoke computer games, organic structures built of athletic performers that recall the 'Cirque du soleil,' and much more. In this production, 'the visual codes of the digital era become elemental and dazzlingly employed means of narration' (Opernwelt). Musically, the first two parts of Wagner's tetralogy 'Das Rheingold' and 'Die Walküre' are on a par with productions from historically more prestigious opera houses. Part Three, 'Siegfried,' is scheduled for June 2008, and Part Four, 'Götterdämmerung,' for June 2009. Legendary conductor Zubin Mehta leads world-class Wagner singers such as Peter Seiffert, Petra-Maria Schnitzer and Matti Salminen, and promising young talents that include Jennifer Wilson (Brünnhilde), John Daszak (Loge) and Juha Uusitalo (Wotan), whom the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung hailed as a new 'Number One among the opera gods.' Equally outstanding is the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, an ensemble of top musicians hand-picked by Music Director Lorin Maazel.
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La Fura's staging is, well, different. The continuous movement and action surrounding the singers is a show in itself. Video projections on huge moving screens play a big role. Many bright ideas of the stage director accompany the story fairly well : the heads of the Wanderer and Mime sitting around, the human beasts around Fafner's cave, a real ring of fire at Brunnhilde`'s Rock. Maybe the best is the impressive start ot the third act witht the encounter of Wotan and Erda, and the worst the ridiculous crowd walking around as Notung is re-melted and forged at the end of act 1.
The musicians are up to the task. I would highlight Mehta's conducting and Ryan's convincing Siegfried.
I certainly wouldn't want to go back to the bad old days when a decidedly middle-aged man dressed in a bear/animal skin and over-weight to boot, but at least Melchior had the voice the stamina and the imagination to "sing" a Siegfried. Three recent (relatively) DVD's of the opera reveal that it is possible to cast this role and not have to make any apologies: Manfred Jung (Boulez/Cheareau) has been pilloried for his performance. True, the voice is hardly to be described as beautiful, but the emission of tone is even, there is no wobble (something Ryan already possesses) his diction is clear and he displays considerable committment. Siegfired Jerusalen (Kupfer/Barenboim) is a lyrical Siegfried, the voice is beautiful and while it isn't heroic in the ususal sense of the word, it is sufficiently virile to fulfill the requirements of the role. Of course it is true that both these performances were taped an act at a time which it all to the good of the listener since the singer is not put to the throes of a second and third act to deal with. And lastly the Copenhagen Ring: Stig Anderson. The tapings of these performances were that last for this production and previously the Siegmund was sung by Poul Elming. Elming became sick and Anderson leaped into the breech much as Windgassen had to at Bayreuth. Anderson also did a Ring series at the Met in the 90's, I believe. To the best of my knowledge he was not asked back. Well he is a hero in in own land and a theatre that is far more accommodating than the gargantuan Met. The production features costumes that would not be out of place on the street of any western city today. The costume for Ryan is designed for a pre history period with tatoos, rastafarian locks and he looks great as well. But Anderson's voice and performance will make me reach for the Copenhagen set (I could say the same for Boulez and Barenboim) and pause fondly over the Valencia production. Indeed if I were casting Siegfried today I would choose Robert Dean Smith or Stig Anderson. The former is younger and I do not know whether or not he even sings the role. Anderson like the earlier Dane has the stamina and the voice. If not the most romantic Siegfried he should be considered a national treasure by his countrymen.
The production as a whole carries on in much the same manner as the two previous installments except I was disappointed with the battle with the dragon. I would have assumed that this would have been more imaginatively handled, but it is no more convincing that previous sets. Hardly a deal breaker, but still....
Jennifer Wilson's Brunhilde was a thing of swings and roundabouts. I expected a more heroic sound after the wonderful opening. I began to wonder if the engineers were fiddling with too many dials. Thank God the breast plate was finally removed along with head gear.
Lastly (but certainly not leastly) the orchestra is magnificent. They have been performaning these operas now for several years, and with Mehta's conducting always alert and involved they constitute a thrilling experience even when the singing is not up to what has gone before.
This weekend Gotterdammerung.
Apart from a few lovely voices, this production has nothing to recommend it; absolutely rock-bottom more-is-more Eurotrash, only a fraction above Katerina's Meistersinger in sheer wrong-headed ineptness.
Let's start with the stage production: The back projections were a distraction, as were the giants' exoskeletons, the rheinmaidens' aquaria, the hideous costumes (from the house of Harrison Bergeron, I imagine), and who could forget Loge on a Segway. The flying acrobats from 'La Fura dels Baus' lent nothing to the opera. On the contrary, after a few minutes of watching an already cluttered stage fill with squirming bodies in leotards, I began hoping that one of the singers would accidentally kick one of them. The 'making of' film showed them outside the opera house. Perhaps they should have stayed there.
The television production was sub-par. I suppose Brian Large has spoiled us, but the jump-cuts during some of the solos were intensely irritating. Tiziano Mancini, please try harder next time. Just a Wagnerite's opinion, but showing the orchestra during the scene changes isn't quite what der Meister intended, methinks.
The orchestra was excellent, but Mehta's conducting was totally lacking in fire. Doesn't he like Wagner?
Performances? Well, some were very good, most mediocre, and some awful.
Ryan's Siegfried was awful; shouting does not make a heldentenor. There was no evidence to suggest that this was caused by fatigue - he did it right from the start.
Uusitalo's Wotan lacked presence, though his Wanderer struck a cord. We saw his excellent portrayal of Hollander at the Met. Perhaps his persona matches Weltschmertz.
Gerhard Siegel's Mime is curiously sympathetic, in a clear carry-over from his Bayreuth performance.
Jennifer Wilson's voice is better than average for Brunnhilde (these days), but Mehta's direction stifled any attempt at greatness.
Ralf Lukas' Gunter was excellent, bringing unusual depth to the role. He should go far, and hopefully next time he won't be covered with white paint and Japanese characters.
Which leaves Matti Salminen - the only reason why I gave this train-wreck two stars. There he stands, completely unrecognizable in face paint (including the Yen symbol on his forehead), belting out Hagen, and leaving the rest behind. Bravo! A splendid performance!
The obligatory 'making of' track, which shows the beauty of the Valencia opera house, and the cynicism/ineptitude of the folks who inhabit it.
If you want to see good Eurotrash, try the Copenhagen Ring - not this.
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I was there, in Valencia. I attended to the performance. I went twice. I could see Lance Ryan live.Read more
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