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Richard WAGNER (1813 -1883) Der Ring des Nibelungen: Siegfried
Siegfried: Jon Fredric West
Mime: Heinz Göhrig
Der Wanderer: Wolfgang Schöne
Alberich: Björn Waag
Fafner: Attila Jun
Erda: Helene Ranada
Brünnhilde: Lisa Gasteen
Der Waldvogel: Gabriela Herrera
Staatsorchester Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek
Stage Direction and Dramaturgy: Jossi Wieler, Sergio Morabito
Stage and Costume Designer: Anna Viebrock
TV and Video Direction: Hans Hulscher
Recorded at the Staatsoper Stuttgart, 1st October 2002 and 5th January 2003
EUROARTS TDK 10 5208 9 DV-OPRDNS (2 discs) [221 minutes]



Stuttgart Staatstheater

Staatsoper Stuttgart’s 2002 ‘Ring’ was based on the ‘innovative’ idea of having different directors and casts for each part of the tetralogy and is now being released on DVD. I assume that the Stuttgart Intendant, Klaus Zehelein thought initially that combining four different views of Wagner’s drama would reveal more aspects of its plot and characters than any single production might do, so that the independent interpretations could coalesce into an original and overarching Konzept of the work as a whole. On the strength of this Siegfried though, the notion seems to have misfired badly for this is a one dimensional interpretation which presents the work as a comic-book with music.

The music is done pretty well however and the singing is of a generally high standard. Lothar Zagrosek may not be an incandescent Wagnerian but he is never less than satisfactory and the music moves along nicely with proper regard for its drama and lyricism. No great risks are taken with the score under Zagrosek’s direction but nothing goes very wrong either. It is middle of the road, but is enjoyable.

In similar vein, most of the singers give very competent performances. John Fredric West as Siegfried manages the forging song very well even though he is not the heldentenor to light the world up exactly. His voice holds up perfectly adequately even when partnered by Lisa Gasteen’s powerful and dramatic Brünnhilde and Heinz Göhrig’s tuneful Mime. These singers, together with Attila Jun’s Fafner, Helene Ranada’s Erda and Gabriela Herrera’s Woodbird offer very pleasurable listening to which no one could take exception. The principals are a strong vocal team, let down only by Björn Waag’s rather lightweight Alberich and Wolfgang Schöne’s vibrato smitten Wanderer.

Music is one thing but production is another, and Gerhard R. Koch’s booklet essay gives an instant flavour of this one. Siegfried is an ‘über-oaf,’ Koch says, given to ‘truly infantile tantrums’ who has the words ‘Sieg’ and ‘Fried’ written separately on his tee-shirt ‘which shows that he comes from: not the forest, not myth, but a comic.’

Koch goes on to say that ‘Jossi Wieler’s direction … exercises an unprecedented power to draw from Siegfried the glummest of all comedies, making laughter die in the throat, and presenting only one negative figure: the Wanderer, Wotan’. Here the god is ‘a schizoid: the CEO of Walhall Inc. who has lost his power base’ and has become ‘an elegant old rocker in jeans, leather jacket and shades, impotent but still enjoying sadistic little games like the quiz in which Mime’s head is the prize.’

Now, in case anyone thinks that I’m an unreconstructed traditionalist when it comes to opera production, I should mention here that I liked Robert Wilson’s Royal Opera Aida (review) when most other reviewers hated it, and that I’ve seen an enjoyable Ring where the Valkyries rode about on mountain bikes carrying the bandaged body parts of dead heroes on their handlebars. So what I’m puzzled about here is not that this production is post-modern; rather it is that the producer / directors think that spelling out everything comic-book fashion somehow illuminates the subtleties of Wagner’s text. Less is quite often no more, unless you happen to be Roy Lichtenstein.


Heinz Göhrig (Mime) and Jon Fredric West (Siegfried)


Sets and costumes are certainly glum though. Act I is set in Mime’s dingy all- purpose backyard kitchen/dining-room/ workshop which has peeling plaster and broken windows where Mime beats out the Nibelung anvil rhythm on the side of a bowl in which he peels potatoes. Siegfried enters dressed in a fur hat and coat over his tee-shirt, jeans and trainers (Adidas not Nike, I’d suggest) and threatens Mime with a pair of fur covered paddles on poles. When CEO Wotan arrives on the scene, he points a pistol at Mime while challenging him to the riddles, and good taste forbids me saying what Mime does next. Siegfried fires up the forge with a foot pump, before smashing some more windows and then rhythmically wafts extra draught through the room with its door.

Attila Jun (Fafner) and Jon Fredric West (Siegfried)

Act II is glummer still. The woodbird is a ‘little blind boy: not a being of pristine nature at all but a tool in a rigged game driven only by erotic urges.’ (Would that be the bird or the rigged game, I wonder.) Fafner sits inside a ‘military exclusion zone’ on a chair with his back to the audience and also has the words ‘Sieg’ and ‘Fried’ on his shirt but in mirror writing so that ‘the killer is already inscribed deterministically on the victim.’ A witty ‘No Horns Allowed’ sign hangs on the wire perimeter. There’s very little ‘Ho, Hi’ here at all: just ‘Ho, Hum’ when Fafner gives up without a fight.

 


Helene Renada as Erda

In Act III, Erda, who ‘is not a mythical old woman but rather a socialite with whom Wotan dances the last tango,’ according to Herr Koch, is found in another gloomy room with mandatory peeling wallpaper. The room is almost entirely devoid of furnishing apart from something that looks like a steriliser, a series of trestle cradles over which are draped either some diapers or her smalls, and a cracked wash basin in which she has presumably hand-rinsed the aforesaid items. She wears an unbecoming shiny pink nightie and inexplicably (and it certainly beats me) she has thoughtfully parked a pair of garden shears behind the basin’s pipe-work.

The large dark rectangle above Erda’s wash basin eventually glows white to become a portal to Brünnhilde’s rock. This turns out to be the brightly lit and clinical bedroom from Kubrick’s ‘2001’, where Brünnhilde lies sleeping at her dressing table, despite the enormous double bed nearby. She is dressed in yet another unbecoming nightdress over which she is wearing (guess what) a riding hat and a hacking jacket. Und so weiter, und weiter, und so……….

 

Lisa Gasteen (Brünnhilde) and Jon Fredric West (Siegfried)

The comedy really kicks in (not) during Brünnhilde’s awakening though. To illustrate ‘Das ist kein Mann,’ Siegfried puts his hand up Brünnhilde’s skirt and having learned fear at last hides terrified in a wardrobe. Brünnhilde coaxes him out again in a proper wifely fashion by tidying Nothung and the horn away in a bedside drawer and then hanging up her jacket neatly like Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard in Under Milk Wood (….Tell me your tasks, Mr. Ogmore…… I must put my pyjamas in the drawer marked pyjamas...)

With everything to her satisfaction and ganz organiziert, Brünnhilde does a heavy come-on for Siegfried by lying on the bed and patting it seductively. Then she turns all virginal again and runs screaming from him into a corner. After this, she applies a phenomenal amount of make-up and yields womanfully at last (and on the floor too, on account of her overwhelming passion you see) because it is her FATE to do so. Got it now have we, everyone? Oh, do pay attention, George.

The abiding impression left by this production is that the producers’ attempts to make everything obsessively explicit are just symptomatic of present day reductionist thinking, in which ambiguity and uncertainty (and therefore richness in narrative) somehow cannot be tolerated. But Wagner, who clearly anticipated psychoanalysis by half a century, knew far better than that, surely. And since some analysts say that laughter can be a psychological defence against anxiety, we might profitably wonder what Wieler and Morabito are really worried about. Wagner would have done.

In summary then, these discs (which are technically excellent) can be recommended to those who are interested in new Wagner productions for their own sakes but would probably not please everyone.

Bill Kenny

 



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