(Unfortunately one other thing, namely the conducting, was happy to remain calm and quiet as well.)
Wagner, Das Rheingold. Bayerische Staatsoper Ring Zyklus B, 7/10/2012. cond. Kent Nagano, dir. Andreas Kriegenburg, sets by Harald B. Thor; costumes by Andrea Schraad Licht by Stefan Bolliger, Choreographie by Zenta Haerter.I have stated ad nauseum my belief that a Ring director needs to have some big, clear ideas regarding the Ring’s meaning and why it matters to us now. Without some interpretive substance the audience is in for a lot of meandering hours. Kriegenburg seems reluctant so far to provide anything this sweeping and this Rheingold at least is ideologically neutral. For something this austere to hold our attention the storytelling has to be first rate. But its mellow tone is so far quite effective and sympathetic, and makes its pitch for relevance mostly through the actions of its characters. I can’t think of another attempt at a small-scale, emotionally intimate chamber Ring (though I’m sure there have been some of which I am unaware) and while it’s a counter-intuitive, one might say anti-Wagnerian* idea, I am intrigued, and curious as to how it will work out over the course of the cycle.
Wotan Johan Reuter
Donner Levente Molnár
Froh Thomas Blondelle
Loge Stefan Margita
Alberich Wolfgang Koch
Mime Ulrich Reß
Fasolt Thorsten Grümbel
Fafner Phillip Ens
Fricka Sophie Koch
Freia Aga Mikolaj
Erda Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Woglinde Eri Nakamura
Wellgunde Angela Brower
Floßhilde Okka von der Damerau
The costumes for the main characters are modern to varying degrees, Fricka’s black dress and Alberich’s slave-driver suit looking the most like ordinary clothes. The gods all sport matching platinum hair. The Personenregie is engaging in a sensitive straight theater sense, steering far away from grand gestures and clichés of characterization. For once the gods’ human moments are representative of their basic humanity, not played for laughs as an ice-breaking, tension-releasing punch line. But Kriegenburg’s virtue is the action's clarity and natural, human quality, not its interpretive innovation. The actual relationships, while shown with more clarity and nuance, aren’t too different from what you’d see in Otto Schenk. Alberich is still slimy, Wotan still overly proud, and Fricka still belligerent, and so on. There are resonances in Alberich the slave driver and Fricka the housewife, but they're vague.
There’s something beautifully elegant and poetic about the whole thing, mythic while still human and real, and while we know exactly how it works but we have never seen it done quite like that before. There were dull patches, though, which might partly be due to a) the fact that I usually find dull patches in Rheingold, which is a lot of talky exposition and a few bit set pieces and relatively little actual action or b) because the direction did turn static at times but really I think the fault is c) Kent Nagano’s limp conducting. I was warned to prepare for extreme slowness but I think the tempos were fairly average. The thing is he just feels very, very slow. And dull. Wagner this un-commanding, this relaxed, is not something I can sign on with. The orchestra played, I think, well enough, but rarely made their presence definitively known. Maybe he took the production’s modesty too much to heart.
Sophie Koch is pushing her voice singing Fricka but sounds convincing if sometimes one-dimensional, luckily her sensitive acting gives her some nuance. Her stage presence is also less tank-like than the norm, and Fricka is perhaps the most revised of the characterizations here, almost becoming a Betty Draper. You think it is bad that I haven’t mentioned Wotan yet but it’s not quite that bad. Johan Reuter is on the lyric side and sings the role cleanly without making an enormous impression one way or another. (He is not in the other installments.)
The giants benefit from walking around normally (only sometimes standing on blocks made of human bodies and appearing with enormous coats and hands), which seemed appropriate because neither Philip Ens’s Fafner nor Thorsten Grümbel’s Fasolt were terribly imposing vocally. Aga Mikolaj was a somewhat dry-voiced Freia.
I don’t think this is a Ring that has revealed its plan yet, and I’m excited to see how (and in the case of the conducting, really hoping it does), develop.
Note: I posted this after seeing the second part, but I wrote the entire section on the staging before I saw Walküre and did not retrofit it (though I could have…).
*Whether it is anti-Wagnerian or not is a rather fraught question that you could write a book about. More to the point, of all people I believe that Wagner is not one to whom we would wisely swear absolute fealty? But that’s just me, a lot of the time.Prelude (warning: mostly naked people)
Photos copyright Wilfried Hösl.
Photos copyright Wilfried Hösl.