Tuesday, 15 May 2007

The post-nuclear Ring - Deutsche Oper Berlin

This is Götz Friedrich´s ”cold-war” Ring from 1984, still in the repertoire at Deutsche Oper Berlin. I attended a Cycle during the second week of February 2007:

The Gods have escaped into a tunnel after the nuclear war has destroyed the world. This tunnel is a constant feature in the cycle serving as backdrop of the end-game of the Gods: The end is like the beginning, and the bomb detonates once again in the end of Götterdämmerung, sending Alberich scrambling for the gold once more.

The relatively bare stage brings a certain mythologic quality to the work, although I find the whole set-up dusty and the direction of the singers uninteresting (difficult to say if this was the original intention of Götz Friedrich since he died in 2000).

I suspect that Donald Runnicles may actually be a quite competent Wagner conductor, although his style is a bit too passive and distant for my liking.There were glimpses of fine playing by the orchestra, but generally it was close to disastrous: Imprecise to an embarassing degree combined with odd changes in tempi not followed by the singers. Worst in Rheingold, gradually improving however, with Götterdämmerung the absolute highlight, after 12 hours rehearsing, I suppose. To Runnicles´ defence I must add, that it was the first time he conducted the orchestra and being a revival production, rehearsing time probably was limited. But there is no doubt, that in Wagner, the leading orchestra is at the Berlin State Opera, especially when Daniel Barenboim is on the podium.

The singers were the usual suspects: Evelyn Herlitzius (Brünnhilde)-very lively and engaging, Eva Johansson (a fine, though neurotic Sieglinde), Robert Dean Smith (quite moving as Siegmund, making excellent use of his not too large voice), Alfons Eberz (vocally a fine Siegfried, but otherwise rather stiff ). And Terje Stensvold as a vocally magnificent Wotan. Voc. Impressively how this man´s international career seems to have started at a time where most others´ end.

But the most impressive performance was Matti Salminen´s excellent Hagen, stepping in for an indisposed Hans Peter König. Moving in and out between magnifying glasses, showing his face in grotesque proportions, he was the absolute center of Götterdämmerung, personifying evil and with subtle irony as well. And vocally – no problems at all with Hagen´s Call. Incidentally, Matti Salminen also sang Hagen, when this production premiered in 1984 and is the most convincing Hagen I have seen since the late Aage Haugland in Aarhus in the late 1980´s.

This is in fact, a relatively visitor-friendly Ring Cycle scheduled in one week only. However, the Deutsche Oper is not a very attractive venue, especially when compared to competing venues such as the State Opera, not to mention the Dresden Semperoper, only 2 hours away.

Although the staging still holds a certain interest, as well as serving as a historic doument of Friedrich´s work and being an important production in the history of Ring stagings, I´d say that for artistic reasons a new Deutsche Oper Ring would not be out of place, but for monetary reasons this looks not very realistic.

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