Much happened since my hasty review last night, so I am trying to catch
up with errors small and great.
The most "interesting" of the mistakes was my typo of "Nibelung"
instead of "Nibelungen" in the "Ring" title - an aberration caused by
my preoccupation with distinguishing elsewhere in the copy between the
single Nibelung in the production (Alberich, of course), and the collective
Nibelungen missing from the stage in Hamburg. It's not easy - apparently
even for Germans - to figure out the difference between the singular
"NibelungEN" in the title and the plural that it stands for by itself.
Solution to the puzzle: in the title, NibelungEN is singular because of
"des"; if Wagner meant the plural in the title, it would be "Der Ring
DER NibelungEN." Oh, well, never mind...
As to the age of the opera house, my "three-year-old" reference was
"oversimplified" to a fault. The building is from 1926, the bomb-destroyed
auditorium was rebuilt in 1955 (the rest of the house saved by the metal
security curtain - whatever happened to those?), and the spectacular
lobby and many additional facilities date from 2005.
Not an error, but a confirmation - of the lead: asked this morning if
she is indeed the only woman conductor of the "Ring," Simone Young used
fingers on both hands to go through all other possibilities (Caldwell,
etc.) and concluded that there is no other... "for now."
Scaling the "Ring"
By Janos Gereben
HAMBURG - Who is the first woman to have conducted Wagner's mammoth "Der
Ring des Nibelungen"? The same who did it the second time, and now is in
the middle of her third production of the cycle. Besides being first,
second, and third - she is still the one and only.
Australia's Simone Young has led Berlin and Vienna "Ring" productions in
this decade, and now, as artistic director of Hamburg's 330-year-old
Staatsoper, she is beginning a third cycle, which will run through 2012
- coincidently, in the same timeframe with the San Francisco Opera's
Apparently, it's not enough just to produce the 16-hour marathon "Ring";
it must have an "angle" too. Come June, the San Francisco Ring - a
coproduction with The Washington (D.C.) Opera - will have scenes set
during the California Gold Rush and even in the Roaring 'Twenties. In
Hamburg, it's a dramatically, and at times grotesquely, scaled "Ring" in
which designer Christian Schmidt's hugely oversized sets dwarf the
singers in one scene, the gods trampling through inches-high mountains
in other scenes, looking out of scale again, but in the opposite
direction. It's disorienting, but in a strange way also "humanizing"
Claus Guth's stage production is full of tricks and "ideas," some vastly
entertaining, some half-baked at most. After the March 24 performance in
the company's 1955 auditorium - with stunning acoustics for a hall this
large - there were some boos, but mostly applause, the latter perhaps
occasioned more by musical values.
Young conducted a rock-solid vocal/orchestral performance, short on
brilliance, but impressively long on consistency, balance, and sustained
(if unvaried) energy. Except for occasional weaknesses in the brass, the
Hamburg Philharmonic - which serves as the Opera's orchestra, also
headed by Young - did itself proud. In the cast without "big names," the
balance among uniformly good singers served the work remarkably well.
>From the very beginning, with the three Rhinemaidens cavorting under the
"waves" of a bedspread on an enormous, slanted bed (quite without a
river), the voices of Ha Young Lee, Gabriele Rossmanith, and Ann Beth
Solvang blended perfectly - with each other, with the orchestra, the
hall providing flawless audibility for text and music, the former
augmented by supertitles.
Appearing first in some kind of chemical suit, in search of something
other than love or money (but what?), Wolfgang Koch's Alberich sustained
a fine singing-actor's performance, well-balanced in his interactions
with Mime (Jurgen Sacher) and Loge (Peter Galliard, made by the director
to do magic tricks endlessly).
Even Falk Struckmann's very human and beautifully sung Wotan fit in,
part of an all-around well-matched cast. Katja Pieweck's matronly,
tea-serving and surprisingly un-shrewish Fricka and in a brief but
powerful appearance, Deborah Humble's Erda were noteworthy. The two not
particulary large, but definitely Mafia-looking Giants were Tigran
Martirossian (Fasolt - but known to San Francisco audiences as Nerses,
Catholicos of Armenia, in the 2001 "Arshak II") and Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Between the bedded Rhinemaidens and the final scene of Loge thrusting at
the audience a hand dripping with Fasolt's blood, an eventful, but
somehow not excessively distracting time was had by all. The most
significant "director's touch" was in elminating the Nibelung altogether
- the gold-processing race of dwarves, not THE Nibelung of the cycle's
title. Alberich's slaves did their work down below, and later carried
the gold to the gods invisibly, which may mean considerable savings in
the budget for chorus (actually shriekers, that being their only part in
the score) and extras to be whipped and otherwise abused.
Again, beyond all the liberties and shticks, the Hamburg "Rheingold" is
a musically excellent, theatrically "interesting" production, which may
well turn out to be far less galling than American flapper gods, doing
the Charleston on their way to Walhalla.
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