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Wagner The Ring Cycle

Director - Pierre Audi

Musical Director - Hartmut Haenschen

Residentie Orchestra, The Hague / Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra / Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

Recorded at The Muziektheater, Amsterdam , 1999

 

Das Rheingold - Opus Arte OA 0946 D - 2 DVD set 206 minutes

Die Walkure - Opus Arte OA 0947 D - 3 DVD set 260 minutes

Siegfried - Opus Arte OA 0948 D - 3 DVD set 273 minutes

Gotterdammerung - Opus Arte OA 0949 D - 3 DVD set 269 minutes

 

Set Design George Tsypin

Costume Design Eiko Ishioka

Lighting Wolfgang Goggel

TV Directors Misjel Vermeiren & Hans Hulscher

 

Wotan / The Wanderer John Brocheler

Brunnhilde Jeannine Altmeyer

Siegfried Heinz Kruse

Hunding / Hagen Kurt Rydl

Alberich Henk Smit

Mime Graham Clark

Siegmund John Keyes

Sieglinde Nadine Secunde

Gunther Wolfgang Schone

Gutrune Eva-Maria Bundschuh

Fafner Carsten Stabell

Fricka Reinhild Runkel

Erda / Waltraute Anne Gjevang

Rhinemaidens Gabriela Fontana, Hanna Schaer, Catherine Keen

 

Generous measure here, added to the fourteen hours of music drama that form Wagner's Ring cycle , are almost two hours of commentary and documentary about this ground breaking 1999 Amsterdam production, which is a sometimes uneasy mix of big spectacle and intimate human drama.

 

Director Pierre Audi believes that there should be at least one big technical moment in each piece, and with the vast arena of the Muziektheater, and its well resourced technical department he has every piece of modern wizardry at his disposal. The snake and dragon are enormous, and the action is accompanied by explosions and real flames springing up all over the place. For the live audience these episodes must have been truly awesome, and I use that adjective sparingly, but the sheer scale of the effects makes them hard to capture within the confines of a TV screen.

 

There are no formal sets, just a series of spaces, theatres within theatres, which bring the orchestra into the sphere of the drama. The stage is a circle surrounding the orchestra in a conventional pit for Das Rheingold and Gotterdammerung, but raised to stage level for Die Walkure and Siegfried. That leads to all sorts of problems with sound balance, and synchronisation. In Siegfried the conductor's back is to the stage, he can't see the singers and they can only see him via a monitor, with a very slight time delay.

 

But the layout does provide the opportunity of bringing the singers very close to their audience, sometimes almost within touching distance. There are no masks or heavy make up, and apart from the faceless Gibichungs, the singers expressions are very visible and important. It's directed that way, as an intimate story with strong personal emotions not as a remote epic. This aspect comes over very strongly on film, and makes this a production that I will want to return to often.

 

Not all the singers respond with equal enthusiasm to the proximity of their audience. Charles Clark (Mime) clearly relishes the opportunity and produces vivid account of his complex character, and Henk Smit (Alberich) runs him a close second.

 

There are numerous other instances of great singing and strong portrayals. Reinheld Runkel's Fricka, is a chilling matriarch moving, spiderlike, with the help of elegant rams-head walking canes, and she sings with similar icy clarity. Some lovely, honeyed siren song comes from the Rhinemaidens (Gabriele Fontana, Hanna Schaer and Catherine Keen) despite costumes that are unflattering in the extreme, and some ungainly antics on a slippery looking expanse of plastic water. Carsten Stabell and Peter Mikulas are solidly voiced and physically menacing as the giants.

 

John Keys is a clear voiced and very personable Siegmund, though sadly Nadine Secunde's Sieglinde appears completely devoid of warmth. The Valkyries are business like with gleaming metallised helmets and unbending wings. Gunther (Wolfgang Schone) and Gutrune (Eva-Maria Bundschuh) are gullible, but always dignified . Kurt Rydl (Hunding and Hagen) dominates the stage with ease, with swashbuckling malice and an effortlessly thrilling dark-toned voice.

 

It is the three principals who tend to disappoint. John Brochler (Wotan and the Wanderer) never really has the vocal power nor physical presence of a leader let alone a god. Jeannine Altmeyer (Brunhilde) expresses her reservations about the stage geometry and looks tense and pressurised throughout, and contending with the volume of an orchestra on stage takes its toll.

 

Heinz Kruse (Siegfried) has all the vocal armoury to sing the role convincingly, but he can scarcely be considered to cut a dashing figure. In one of the commentaries Peter-Jan Wagemans makes a very telling point about the paradox of Siegfried's character here is a man that everyone one on stage is immediately drawn to and regard as a super-hero, yet for the audience he does little if anything to demonstrate these qualities. His heroic deeds, forging his father's sword and slaying the dragon, appear to be more the result of ill temper than valour. Certainly the production seems to point us in this direction, without addressing the anachronism.

 

All three orchestras involved play well for Hartmut Haenschen and the chorus is superb; their entry is one of the great moments of this production.

 

© Serena Fenwick

 

see also SF on Wagner – The Ring (Billy/Barcelona)