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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Das Rheingold (1869)
Wolfgang Probst (bass-baritone) – Wotan; Motti Kastón (baritone) – Donner; Bernhard Schneider (tenor) – Froh; Esa Ruuttonen (baritone) – Alberich; Eberhard Francesco Lorenz (tenor) – Mime; Roland Bracht (bass) – Fasolt; Phillip Ens (bass) – Fafner; Michaela Schuster (mezzo) – Fricka; Helga Rós Indridadóttir (soprano) – Freia; Mette Ejsing (contralto) – Erda;  Catriona Smith (soprano) – Woglinde; Maria Theresa Ullrich (mezzo) – Wellgunde; Margarete Joswig (contralto) – Flosshilde
Staatsorchester Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek
Directed for stage by Joachim Schlömer; Stage Design and Costumes by Jens Kilian
rec. live, Staatsoper Stuttgart, 28 September, 29 December 2002
Picture format: NTSG 16:9; Sound formats: PCM Stereo; DD 5.1; DTS 5.1
EUROARTS 2052068 [152:00]

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – not only Stanley Kramer’s but the world at large, or even worse: the world of the gods in Valhalla. Or so it seems when the preliminary evening of Der Ring des Nibelungen is projected through the glasses of Joachim Schlömer.
We are not quite prepared since the DVD opens with an idyllic picture of the Staatsoper Stuttgart, basking in sunlight. However as soon as the curtain slowly rises during the first bars of the prelude we leave the idyll for what with hindsight might be regarded as a mental asylum. A luxurious one to be sure, not one for the common peoples. It’s a big room with a water-filled round basin in the middle – The Rhine in the first scene. At the back there’s a balcony which can be reached through hidden staircases. We can also identify an elevator door. Scattered all over the premises are persons, mostly immobile to begin with or, when they start to move, zombie-like, drugged?

When the first scene starts not only the Rhinemaidens and Alberich remain on stage but most of the others too, sometimes only resting, self-absorbed, but often interested on-lookers, reacting to the action, even interfering. This continues throughout the performance and we begin to realise that what we are witnessing is something taking place among, and between, deranged people – an absurd comedy that develops into a pitch-black nightmare, filled with greed, hate, humiliation, violence, power. Everyone is obsessed and everyone is a victim in one sense or other: Alberich with the gold, Wotan with his power, Donner is a violence-inclined psychopath, clenching his little hammer, Froh, all white, seems in a dream-world of his own, Fricka in Bette Davis hairstyle and formal suit, carrying large books, is the perfect business woman who manipulates her partner Wotan, Loge is the smug know-all. The only character who doesn’t seem obsessed at all is Freia, who hardly changes her facial expressions during the course of the play – which of course can also be seen as an obsession. On the other hand, she is the only one who after the brutal murder of Fasolt really bothers, who sits down by the side of the corpse, mourning. The hostage has lead to deeper feelings, not only on behalf of Fasolt, but also the victim.
Costumes and hairstyles point to 20th century. Wotan has no spear – how could he? – while the warders obviously failed to confiscate Donner’s hammer. There is a lot of brutality, even quite repulsive scenes. One rarely feels any compassion for Alberich and Esa Ruuttonen makes him more lecherous, more slobbery than ever, but the way Wotan and Loge treat him is really too much to stomach.
I hope I have warned readers that it requires steely nerves to digest this performance and I started to feel ticks myself towards the end. On the other hand this mythical tale can be refurbished in many ways and this is Joachim Schlömer’s way to relate it to the present time. He is well served by the actors, who obviously have been chosen as much for their visual impact as for their vocal resources. The Rhinemaidens for example certainly sing just as well as many others I have heard but they also cut slim elegant figures on stage and look like sisters. Wotan is stern and unrelenting, expressive with words but as a singer he seems due for retirement. Fricka is a bitch with an ingratiating smile and she sings well. Robert Künzli is oily with pomaded combed-back hair and quite the best singer of the gods. The giants are formidable with Roland Bracht a thunderous Fasolt with at least a glimpse of humanity and warmth whereas Phillip Ens’ Fafner is all evil. Mette Ejsing displays a warm rounded contralto in her short appearance as Erda and Helga Rós Indridadóttir has a fresh voice but little to sing as Freia.

I have left the Nibelungs until last – not only because they represent the evil forces; in this play the evil is seemingly democratically allocated – but to point out that here is possibly the cream of the very good crop. Eberhard Francesco Lorenz with bristling hair is a lithe Mime, whom I would have liked to see in the much larger role as Mime in Siegfried. He has a youthful incisive voice. Dominating the proceedings, for better or worse, is Esa Ruuttonen’s Alberich. He is asked to do the most abominable things, smearing his face with blood, being hanged on the wall by Loge, being pushed and kicked and beaten, even diving headlong into the basin when stealing the gold. He accepts all this without blinking and his body-language and facial expressions are so telling, so on the spot – he is a great actor. Having seen him both as a humorous Wotan and – in a semi-staged concert performance of Das Rheingold in Stockholm – as a more ‘normal’ Alberich, as well as on other occasions I am quite familiar with his eloquence but this portrait is one to top everything else. As a singer he is also impressive.
Not all the singing on this issue is in that class and when I want to hear this opera I will probably choose another version. When I want to see it I will probably also choose another one, e.g. the Barenboim-Kupfer version which also is better sung, but this Stuttgart production has its own merits – if one can stand the concept.
Göran Forsling


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