Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Copenhagen Ring - Rheingold

This post is part of a series of posts on The Copenhagen Ring, consisting of:
The Copenhagen Ring - overview and concept.
The Copenhagen Ring - Rheingold.
The Copenhagen Ring - Walküre.
The Copenhagen Ring - Siegfried.
The Copenhagen Ring - Götterdämmerung

Reviews of The Copenhagen Ring DVD to be found here.

Das Rheingold. Premiere 2003. Part of The Copenhagen Ring Cycle 2006. Royal Danish Opera. Michael Schønwandt, conductor. Kasper Bech Holten, director.

Cast on The Copenhagen Ring DVD (scheduled release July 2008): Johan Reuter (Wotan), Randi Stene (Fricka), Sten Byriel (Alberich), Michael Kristensen (Loge), Anne Margrethe Dahl (Freia), Bengt-Ola Morgny (Mime), Stephen Milling (Fasolt), Christian Christiansen (Fafner).
Further cast information here.

To the first tones of the prelude, Brünnhilde enters the attic of her family´s home and strikes a match, rummaging through the family archives to understand her past. Upon reaching the final part of Götterdämmerung, we learn that this in fact takes place while Gunther and Hagen goes out to kill Siegfried, making the The Copenhagen Ring a flash-back of Brünnhildes life-story. Though this, in my opinion is a somewhat depressing view of Wagner work, as I´ve mentioned previously in a general post on The Copenhagen Ring, this is basically all we see of this Feminine angle in Rheingold.

Set in the 1920-30´s we move from the Charleston-clad Rhinemaids to Wotan´s tent camp outside Valhalla, mimicking an archeology camp in Egypt, complete with Loge, the photographing journalist and representative of the free press, in many ways the key figure in this production. Constantly looking for his lighter (!). Can Wotan accept his presence once he has moved into Valhalla? Of course not.

The Nibelheim scenes and the violent acquisition of the Ring by Wotan cutting off Alberich´s arm are among the highlights of the entire cycle. Since this IS a Feminine Ring, Wotan is not perceived as being central to the tetralogy (as opposed to Brünnhilde) and the character seems slightly underdeveloped. The main problem with this approach of course being, that Wotan IS the center of the Rheingold, both vocally and dramatically, participating in all the scenes except the first one. In this staging he (Wotan) is portrayed as cynical, a bit superficial, not overly sympathetic, but nevertheless charming.

The production is highly entertaining with plenty interesting points, such as:
Wotan´s slaying of Loge, who has seen too much. Fasolt´s tender relationship with Freia (though not a new idea, still interesting). Wotan cutting off Alberich´s arm to get the gold in a torture scene worthy of Dr. Mengele. The Nibelheim scene is (for once) well done, with Alberich entering a rotating metal cylinder reappearing as a toad and dragon, respectively. Wotan´s eye is not covered, but mutilated (except for one performance where the mutilated eye was broken and a black cover had to be applied over James Johnson´s eye..).

James Johnson was very fine as this subtly underplayed Wotan figure with plenty of irony and humour. He alternated the part with the young Danish barytone Johan Reuter, who was also fine and who will appear on the upcoming DVD release as Rheingold-Wotan. Poul Elming initially was a superb Loge, however due to illness he did not sing in the complete cycles, where Loge was done by the also fine Michael Kristensen.

Sten Byriel was Alberich, for once not portrayed as an idiot, but rather approaching a more interesting position as a worthy adversary of Wotan. Randi Stene and Susanne Resmark alternated as Fricka, Stene the more elegant, Resmark the more forceful. Randi Stene will appear on the DVD. Susanne Resmark will be seen as Erda. Michael Schönwandts light, almost transparent approach to the work, was at the most successful here in Rheingold.

The staging step by step with photographs:
We are at the bottom of an empty swimming-pool. The water is outside. Clad in 1920´s Charleston dress we see the Rhinemaids. The Rhinegold is symbolized by a naked young man swimming outside and visible through a glass window in the background. Alberich´s acquisition of the Rhinegold is violent and bloody, as he simply tears out the young mans heart:

Wotan with Fricka, as they have set up camp outside Valhalla:

Loge, the ever-photographing journalist:

Fafner, leader of the two-person construction company:

In Nibelheim:

Wotan cuts the Ring off Alberichs arm in one of the strongest scenes in the entire cycle:

Wotan, Lord of the Ring:

Wotan with Erda, as she persuades him to let the Ring go:

Loge, the journalist documenting everything, suddenly knows too much. So in the end Wotan has to kill him:

Now, the Gods may finally move into Valhalla:

All photos from the Royal Danish Opera and the website of The Copenhagen Ring

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