Friday, June 01, 2012


27 May 2012

© Sam H. Shirakawa

Musikalische Leitung Dan Ettinger
Inszenierung, Bühne, Kostüme Achim Freyer
Dramaturgie Regine Elzenheimer
Sieglinde Heike Wessels
Brünnhilde Judith Németh
Fricka Edna Prochnik
Helmwige Cornelia Ptassek
Gerhilde Ludmila Slepneva
Ortlinde Marina Ivanova
Waltraute Marie-Belle Sandis
Siegrune Katrin Wagner
Rossweiße Anne-Theresa Møller
Grimgerde Andrea Szántó
Schwertleite Edna Prochnik

Walküre Dreamin'
Remember Achim Freyer?  His $32 million L.A. Opera production of Wagner’s Ring generated headlines even before the tetralogy opened there in 2010.  One singer quit.  Two others took the no-no step of going public with their complaints -- cumbersome costumes, hazardous sets, and so on.  Artistic Director Plácido Domingo finally went public too, essentially telling the plaintiffs to use their big mouths for singing only.   Freyer’s Ring ultimately opened to mixed reviews, ran three (but not sold-out) cycles and closed.  Some Wagner singers openly hoped: for ever

But Achim Freyer is nothing if not a survivor, and so is his Ring.  A small chain of flukes has led to the production's revival -- in Mannheim of all places.  A planned new production of the Ring suddenly took a Rhein dunk a couple of months ago, when its designated director Christof Nel upped and withdrew.  It was much too late to organize a new creative team for such a complex project, so Mannheim's management had to go schnoring... all the way to The City of Angels.

At the moment, Mannheim is building its hand-me-down Ring with Rheingold and Walküre mounted this season, the remaining days plus three complete cycles set for spring/summer 2013.
Endrik Wottrich minus mask
Having heard so much about the notorious L.A. production, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at Walküre this past weekend.  By and large, I was pleasantly surprised, mostly, I confess, because I was expecting much worse.

From start to finish, it’s like a bad dream. But if you’re inclined to go with the flow, you really ought to follow Tommy Lee Jones’ advice in Men in Black 3: Don’t ask questions you don’t want answered.  For starters, don’t ask why there’s neither a sword to be seen in Act I nor a tree from which Siegmund would extract it.  Don’t ask why Brünnhilde nearly trips over the sleeping Sieglinde in the Todesverkündigung Scene.  And fa gawd sake, don’t inquire why the Valkyrie Errant is put to sleep in standing position.  

Freyer sustains the weirdness of it all, by placing his nebulous trauma aboard a stage-wide turntable that spins ’round and around in ultra slo-mo with sundry chatchkas dangling from a broad circular faux-iron chandelier.  The characters move about the dark open space, making tai-chi gestures reminiscent of Robert Wilson’s Met Lohengrin.  Periodically, Hunding’s herd of dogs can be spied padding across the stage, uttering a yelp now and then. 

Granted, those elements of unintended silliness in the proceedings can make you want to burst out giggling.  But if you buy into Freyer’s spaced-out spaciness, you come to that sober state of clarity in which you realize that his Ring is about nothing and... everything.
Judith Németh (Brünnhilde) plus Easter Bonnet
As for the costumes -- Freyer takes credit for designing them too -- Judith Németh (Brünnhilde) had difficulty keeping a huge black bird perched on her head.  Endrik Wottrich (Siegmund) finally ripped away an irksome mask and tossed it into the wings.  Manfred Hemm’s make-up, bulky shoulder pads and bright crimson tunic made him look like a fugitive Tampa Bay Buccaneer disguised as Spiderman.
Manfred Hemm: Buccaneer or Spiderman?
But Freyer’s production is so trance-inducing, that it’s only the occasional oddity at the musical level that becomes a tad distracting.  Heike Wessels (Sieglinde), for instance, has an enormous rich voice that makes her ideally suited to the role.  But she had intermittent rhythm problems that now and then broke the trance.

Similarly, Mannheim's General Music Director Dan Ettinger has the makings of a fine Wagner conductor, and it will be interesting to hear how he develops his view of the Ring as a whole next year.  His Walküre right now is marked and sometimes marred by tempo fluctuations that don’t always flow smoothly into one another.  That said, he drew some thrilling sounds from his orchestra. A significant number of its members is always selected to play at the Bayreuth Festival. Hearing a superior German orchestra perform Wagner is always a treat. 

The vocal standard of the whole cast is world class, down to the last Valkyrie.  Wottrich, pretty much recovered from a cold that hampered his Lohengrin in Wiesbaden a few weeks ago, delivered a muscular, deeply sympathetic Siegmund.  It’s hard to believe that Németh (Brünnhilde) started her career as a contralto.  Her alarums above the staff are of a born dramatic soprano.  Her pitch-centered plangency never tires the ear.  What Manfred Hemm (Hunding) lacks in physical size he compensated with menacing vocal steel.  Edna Prochnik was a delectably shrewish Fricka -- wonderful singing.  Tall Thomas Jesatko (Wotan), looking even taller in platform clogs, was indefatigable and compelling.  His is one of the warmest, most moving Farewells I’ve ever heard. 

About Freyer’s Rheingold.  Hmmmm... 

Production Photos: © Hans Jörg Michel

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At 7/11/2012 6:39 PM, Anonymous JP said...

This is not the LA Opera production, but a completely new one. Doesn't even look similar.


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