Having for the last
half-year been under the spell of Stockholm’s deeply satisfying
and enormously well-sung Das Rheingold (see review, Seen
and Heard), set in Wagner’s own time and presented as a
kind of fairy-tale, I was at first taken aback by this seven-year-old
production from Amsterdam. It took me some time to adjust to
Pierre Audi’s and George Tsypin’s concept. One feature is the
orchestra, fully visible and placed so to speak centre-stage,
half immersed in a kind of pit but surrounded by the stage with
only a narrow cat-walk separating the orchestra from the auditorium.
Part of the action takes place on this equivalent of the Shakespearean
apron. The sets are not real sets, rather constructions in metal
and glass with various floors folded down for specific purposes.
There is a lot of walking and crawling on sloping surfaces,
which presumably must have been rather trying for the actors.
The whole staging is more of an engineer’s workshop and some
of the constructions look like scaffolding.
The first scene,
on the bottom of the Rhine, plays on a sloping glass-and-metal
construction, lit from underneath. This metal construction is
then transformed into “real” scaffolding, illustrating the newly
erected Valhall in scene 2. The visit to Alberich’s Nibelheim,
takes us to a fanciful subterranean factory with fire and smoke
and in the last scene the Gods make their way to Valhall, not
via the rainbow but on a high and seemingly frail bridge, making
them look more like four Bellinian sleepwalkers.
The light design
plays an important part in this production and I won’t spoil
the pleasure (or dismay) for the prospective buyers to explore
the fanciful costumes by describing them in detail. Suffice
to say that the Rhinemaidens’ tights, may have been a good idea
in theory, but since few opera singers are sylphs the effect
registers as parody and, I would say, is degrading to the actors.
Sexual allure? OK, but the Stockholm maidens’ modest 19th
century long dresses don’t make them less alluring, leaving
something to the viewers’ imagination.
The director’s aim
with this production is surely to invite the onlookers to give
their own interpretations of Wagner’s many-faceted drama. He
can’t give any answers, he says in the documentary, but he helps
Wagner to ask the questions – questions of the importance: of
love and the evil powers of money. In a way he uses Brecht’s
methods of breaking the illusion of reality by never presenting
a believable world. Placing the orchestra in the centre of the
action rather emphasises the importance of the music in relation
to the words and, clearly well-rehearsed, they play impressively.
There are drawbacks, not least the balance between singers and
orchestra. Hartmut Haenchen conducts a fairly transparent and
lean version, but of course Wagner’s score needs to be heard
in all its glory. He can’t always avoid over-powering the soloists.
Which brings me
to the cast. It takes some good actors in good shape to fulfil
the director’s intentions and most of them are excellent. Maybe
the best of the bunch is Graham Clark as a lively and expressive
Mime, his facial expressions mirroring every facet of this complex
character. He also sings well. His Nibelung partner, Alberich,
is portrayed in all his evil, all his greed and all his sorrow
by the excellent Henk Smit. On the godly side – well, half-godly
anyway – Chris Merritt is a convincingly oily Loge. In the centre
of the action John Bröcheler’s Wotan is appropriately stern.
Vocally he has a certain authority, though he lacks the wide
palette of colours some Wotans have mustered in the past. He
feels rather monochrome. Still he has the powers to ‘ride’ the
orchestra without having to press the voice beyond its natural
limits; a problem with most of these singers. There is hardly
a voice that is free from strain and this strain more often
than not results in wobbling – to various degrees. Anne Gjevang
as Erda is relatively free from it. The two giants, impersonated
by Peter Mikuláš and Carsten Stabell, are both equipped with
sonorous bass voices with enough power to make them stand out
was recorded in surround sound, but I listened to it in 2-channel
stereo and it sounded excellent. The video direction allows
the watcher to experience both the full stage in all its disguises
and to creep into the action in close-ups. As a visual and theatrical
experience this became rather thrilling but for superior singing
one has to look elsewhere. Why not the Barenboim set from Bayreuth,
which is due for review before long and which I so far know
from the sound-only version; there the singing at least is in
a quite different class.
The booklet has
some interesting essays on the drama and the music and the documentary
gives some further insight into the production. Although there
is a list of “chapter points” in the booklet “for ease of access”
they are not numbered, which is a bit annoying. And once again
I have to air my hobby-horse about small white print on black
background. Fortunately the essays are conventionally printed
(black on white) and I guess we have to be grateful as long
as the designers haven’t reversed the printing process completely.
I wish the Stockholm
production could be filmed - if it hasn’t already been done
- and released on DVD; that would be a smash hit! I would also
like one day to see a production where the director dares to
follow Wagner’s detailed instructions literally. When
there is so much care devoted to musically authentic
performances, why couldn’t there be a corresponding scenic
To sum things up:
As a visual and theatrical experience this became rather thrilling
but for superior singing one has to look elsewhere.
see also Review
by Anne Ozorio