The Colón Ring: Wagner in Buenos Aires
A film by Hans Christoph von Bock (2013) [93.00]
Sound Format DTS-HD MA 5.0 surround / PCM Stereo
Picture Format 16:9, 1080i
Subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean
C MAJOR 712904
It really was not necessary to provide spurious drama and a linking narration to this slice of recent operatic history. I want to thank director Christoph von Bock for just letting the participants speak for themselves throughout this film. Modern documentary makers, certainly those working for British television, seem unable to avoid celebrity involvement and televisual clichés. Von Bock avoids both and his film is all the more gripping for it. It is hard to imagine a more nerve-wracking situation than that faced by the team in Buenos Aires' Teatro Colón and the film director himself. This when their internationally known director Katarina Wagner walked out on a production which had not even got off the ground, and had declared the working conditions to be impossible. Five weeks later, with a new director, the seven-hour Ring was performed to acclaim in the packed opera house.
This unlikely scenario needs a bit of detail. Katarina Wagner, co-director of Bayreuth and the composer's great-granddaughter, wanted to mount a production of Cord Garben's reduced Ring. This reduction cuts the score from circa 16 hours to circa 7 hours music and allows performance of the work in one long day. The first half covers Rheingold and Valkyrie and after a dinner interval there’s a second half covering Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods. Garben is a well-established figure in the classical world having worked as a producer for DG in its heyday with Karajan, Giulini and the like, as a writer on music and also as a pianist and conductor in his own right.
That Katarina Wagner took his work seriously suffices to alleviate one's doubts as to the viability of this 'Readers' Digest Ring' as a musical and dramatic concept. So confident was she of success in this Argentinean adventure that she asked Christoph von Bock to film the production process for German TV. However, when she arrived in Buenos Aires all was not as she wished, as she openly states in this film. In a fairly short time she returned to Germany leaving the team open-mouthed, literally and figuratively. They can hardly be described as undaunted, but nonetheless they faced a situation where a cast and orchestra had been booked and tickets sold. They had just five weeks to move from half finished scenery and an ill-prepared orchestra, to a proper first-night. A new director was found, the almost embarrassingly self-effacing Valentina Carrasco, and round-the-clock work began. Carrasco has an impressive c.v. in film and opera in Europe as well her native country, Argentina. She must also have iron nerves. The conductor storms out of a rehearsal, a lead singer falls ill, the orchestral parts turn out to be full of mistakes - you could not invent such a series of events. It is all true and all thrillingly presented in this 93 minute film. I could not stop watching. We have extensive interviews with many participants, such as Linda Watson who sings Brunnhilde, Jukka Rasilainen who sings Wotan, with Carrasco, Katarina Wagner and the conductor Roberto Paternostro.
The sense of relief when the opening performance actually happens left me wanting to cheer along with the cast and audience. If there were a prize for operatic catastrophe avoidance, this would have to win outright.