WAGNER: DAS RHEINGOLD “NEW” PRODUCTION
2 JUNE 2012
PERFORMING ARTS IN EXTREMIS:
Threatened Closures of State Theaters in Duisburg and Eisenach
© SAM H. SHIRAKAWA
Musikalische Leitung Dan Ettinger
Inszenierung, Bühne, Kostüme Achim Freyer
Dramaturgie Regine Elzenheimer
Wotan Thomas Jesatko
Donner Thomas Berau
Froh Xavier Moreno
Loge Jürgen Müller
Alberich Karsten Mewes
Mime Uwe Eikötter
Fasolt Hans-Peter Scheidegger
Fafner In-Sung Sim
Fricka Edna Prochnik
Freia Iris Kupke
Woglinde Ina Schlingensiepen
Wellgunde Anne-Theresa Møller
Floßhilde Andrea Szántó
But I digress. First, the opera performance that provoked the Idontwannathinkaboutit thought.
Those who saw Freyer’s production in Los Angeles two years ago, may remember that he sets the tone for his Ring with the three Rhine ladies perched on swings high above the stage floor -- somewhat like a grotesque lampoon of an opening tableau at the Follies Bergère. Given their vantage point, it’s impossible for them to even try preventing Alberich from stealing their gold.
Freyer’s staging of this scene, though, comes off as anecdotal rather than dramatic: it has no tension. Blame it on the singers? No can do. Karsten Meves as Alberich and the Rhein Maidens (Ina Schlingensiepan, Anne-Theresa Møller, and Andrea Szantó) are about as formidable a quartet as you’ll find on any stage during these seasons of Wagner Centennial celebrations. (Wagner was born in 1813). Blame it on the conducting? Sorry, wrong number: Dan Ettinger spins out magic from that E-flat pedal which begins Wagner’s tetrology, despite a gaffe or more in the brass section of the redoubtable Mannheim Orchestra.
|When a home is not a house...|
That leaves the consciousness open to appreciate the singing and orchestral playing, which, by turns, runs the gamut from quite good to outstanding. Most noteworthy in a cast with no cogs: Thomas Jesatko, who performs Wotan as though he were singing Almaviva. His voice, though not huge, is ample and warms under pressure without overheating. He also has sufficient reserves to deliver a commanding “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge...” after being on stage for most of the preceding 165 minutes.
Karsten Mewes (Alberich) reveals a vocally nasty nemesis to Wotan without lapsing into caricature. Uwe Eikötter manages to transform Mime from a standard-issue caricature into a deceptively cute curmudgeon. Thomas Berau and Xavier Moreno produce prime beefy sounds as Donner and Froh. Insung Sim makes a menacing Fafner. Not least, Jürgen Müller fleshes out a crafty Loge, replete with Lombard Street bowler hat and a pair of extra arms for the god’s sleights of hand.
The surprise attention-catcher, though, is Hans-Peter Scheidegger as Fasolt. When I heard him as a promising Wotan in a superlative Ring in Chemnitz in 2004, I believed that he was on the road to major opera houses. His path has led to residency at the Komische Oper Berlin, where I’ve heard him several times in camprimario roles. If he’s been saving his voice for Fasolt in Mannheim, he delivered the goods. The voice has grown darker but maintained its lyric translucence. Rarely have I heard the giant’s crush on Freia so persuasively sung.
And Iris Kupke was indeed crush-worthy. In place of Olympian vocal proportions she brings girlish appeal to Freia’s distress. Edna Prochnik, though, seemed vocally somewhat distressed with her Rheingold Fricka, just six days after her spot-on Walküre Fricka. Maybe just an off night.
Now, a word about money, which was brought to mind during the opening scene of this performance. As I write on this bank holiday weekend (Corpus Christi) among Europe’s Roman Catholic states, the arts in Germany are financially in extremis .
As monstrance: the opera house in Eisenach, the city that was home to Martin Luther while he translated the New Testament, J.S. Bach’s birthplace and the setting for the Song Contest in Tannhäuser. It’s probably going to close soon, unless funds can be raised privately to keep it open. Unlikely.
Similarly, the long marriage between Düsseldorf and Duisburg, which achieved decades of solid success as Deutsche Oper am Rhein, is on the brink of dissolution. Duisburg can no longer afford to pay its share to keep its opera house open, so it will shut down operations in 2014, barring a miracle. Also Unlikely.
Which leaves Düsseldorf looking for another partner. The most practical solution would merge Deutsche Oper am Rhein with Oper Cologne. But the styles of their respective productions are inimical. So too are their respective inhabitants: Düsseldorfers think the Cologners are gauche, while Cologners think Düsseldorfers are snotty. A frequently worn t-shirt reads “Besser tot in Köln als gesund in Düsseldorf!” or I’d rather be dead in Cologne than alive in Düsseldorf. I can safely predict that the Campbells will marry the McDonalds en masse before Cologne Opera and Deutsche Oper am Rhein enter matrimony. A more likely scenario would merge Cologne with Theater Bonn, an alliance that has long been discussed. Which would leave Düsseldorf still trolling.
|For the next two and a half years Oper Köln will play in a tent behind Cologne Cathedral that usually houses visiting musicals and tourning pop concerts.|
|Theater Bonn (view from the Kennedy Bridge over the Rhine)|
Production Photos: Hans Jörg Michel
Other Photos and Graphics: Sam H. Shirakawa