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Wagner, Götterdämmerung: soloists, orchestra and chorus of the Staatstheater Wiesbaden/Marc Piollet, conductor. Premiere on 13.11.1005 (SM)

 

 

Siegfried: Alfons Eberz

Gunther: Joachim Sepp

Alberich: Carlo Hartmann

Hagen: Christoph Stephinger

Bruennhilde: Barbara Schneider-Hofstetter

Gutrune: Ute Doering

Waltraute: Andrea Baker

1st Norn: Andrea Baker

2nd Norn: Ute Doering

3rd Norn: Annette Luig

Woglinde: Emma Pearson

Wellgunde: Sharon Kempton

Flosshilde: Sandra Firrincieli

 

 

 

How many times in a lifetime can one director sensibly take on the huge challenges represented by the Ring? John Dew, who tackled the sprawling four-opera masterpiece in Krefeld in the 1980s to some critical acclaim, this week completed his second stab at the cycle, this time in Wiesbaden.

To be honest, even Dew himself admits that the new project is more a "reconstruction" of the Krefeld staging than a brand-new take. But for those of us who weren't around to catch the previous production, Dew's reading, which he has cleverly updated to great effect, remains as relevant as it was back then. The anti-nuclear theme of the 1980s when CND had its heyday is still there in Rheingold, where Walhalla is a nuclear power station, and Loge is Albert Einstein. And in Götterdämmerung, Dew widens the scope to the catastrophic effects of global warming when the Welt-Esche is nothing but a stump of a giant tree, symbolizing the destruction of the rain forests.

Admittedly, in the current era of Regietheater, Dew's updating of Götterdämmerung to the 21st century feels as if it has been done hundreds of times before. Siegfried and Brünnhilde are yuppies who live in an expensive sky-rise apartment full of the latest designer goods (I spied an Alessi kettle and espresso machine). The Gibichungs are powerful bankers or corporate executives, with Gutrune leafing distractedly through the latest edition of Vogue, while Gunther wheels and deals via mobile phone and laptop computer. Grane is not a horse but some sort of swishy sports car, only hinted at when Brünnhilde hands over the keys (complete with horse key-ring) to Siegfried so that he can set off on his Rhine Journey. Nothung is similarly reduced to the size of a slick, designer penknife. And the hall of the Gibichung itself is one of the glittering skyscrapers in the financial district of downtown Frankfurt, Germany's financial capital.




That may all sound terribly gimmicky. But the strength of Dew's direction, as in the earlier parts of the tetralogy, lies in the personal interaction between the characters and the utterly credible acting by what is -- for such a small, provincial theatre -- a very respectable cast of singers.

Siegfried (Alfons Eberz) is arrogant and smooth-talking, almost slimy, in his pin-stripe suit, completely at ease in the power-lunching world of the Gibichungs. Eberz has improved immensely since he sang Siegmund in Wiesbaden's Die Walküre in 2004. There are still traces of the bark that set my teeth on edge back then and in his Parsifal in Bayreuth this year. But he has learned to scale down the volume and soften some of his tenor's harsh metallic glare. It is still by no means a beautiful voice. But he can hit even the highest notes with almost disarming ease and he revealed an intelligence in acting that I previously failed to credit him with.

 



Joachim Seipp's dark-timbred Gunther is a well-mannered thug, completely believable as he gets increasingly out of his depth in Hagen's deadly game plan. Ute Doering's light, bright soprano is well-suited to Gutrune. And Hagen himself (Christoph Stephinger) is sinisterly evil, plotting the gods' downfall from his bare, windowless bunker.

In Barbara Schneider-Hofstetter, Wiesbaden has found a Brünnhilde who is up to the superhuman demands of the part without sounding forced or shrill and even finds room for careful shading of her voice before the final cataclysm. Andrea Baker was an urgent, driven Waltraute. And Carlo Hartmann's Alberich was excellent, a real seed-bag of a tramp.


In one serious miscalculation, Dew brings Brünnhilde and Wotan (The Wanderer) together in a distractingly teary-eyed reconciliation during Siegfried's funeral march, only to fall out again for ever when Wotan tries to wrest the ring from the hand of the slain Siegfried. And I'm sceptical about setting the final catastrophe so concretely in Frankfurt, with a (real) fireball that sears the city's skyline marking the gods' final downfall. Is Rheingold now going to have to be renamed "Maingold" after the river that runs through Germany's financial capital? But the final picture as the curtain comes down of a new sapling growing out of the stump of the Welt-Esche is as effective as it is simple.

Perhaps the real key to the success of Dew's production is musical -- Wiesbaden's new GMD, Marc Piollet, is working wonders in the pit. After just one season, the orchestra, which tended to sound so rough-and-ready under Piollet's predecessor Toshiyuki Kamioka, is now a joy to hear, infinitely securer in intonation, more concentrated, with much more delicate and luscious string-playing and some excellent woodwinds. Apart from a few missed notes in the horns, it sounds like a completely different orchestra to the one that played in Das Rheingold when Wiesbaden first embarked on its new Ring in 2003.

Now that all four parts have been staged, the Staatstheater is preparing to put on two complete Ring cycles next year. Dew's Wiesbaden production might not be the Ring to end all Rings -- plenty of boos and whistles greeted him and his team at the curtain call. But it's intelligent and carefully thought-through and I, for one, will be queuing up to see all four evenings next spring.

 

 

Simon Morgan

 

  

Photographs © Staatstheater Wiesbaden.

 




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