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CLASSICAL  March 2008

CLASSICAL March 2008

Subject:

Scaling the "Ring" in Hamburg

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 25 Mar 2008 15:38:13 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (79 lines)


HAMBURG - Who is the first woman to have conducted Wagner's mammoth "Der
Ring des Nibelung"? 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 2011
- coincidently, in the same timeframe with the San Francisco Opera's
"American `Ring'."

Apparently, it's not enough just to produce the 16-hour marathon the
"Ring" is; it must have to have an "angle." 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 sharply and at times grotesquely scaled
<em>Ring</em> in which characters range from oversized sets dwarfing the
singers, only to have designer Christian Schmidt place gods trampling
through inches-high mountains, looking out of scale again, but in the
opposite direction.

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 ancient company's three-year-old house - 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) and Alexander
Tsymbalyuk (Fafner).

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 (singular) Nibelung whose
name appears in the cycle's title. Alberich's slaves did their work down
below, and later in carrying 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
turn out to be far less galling than American flapper gods, doing the
Charleston on their way to Walhalla.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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