giovedì 28 agosto 2014

Nature and Sentiment in Music and Vision 29 luglio

Nature and Sentiment

Wagner's 'Ring' at the Tyroler Festspiele Erl

Whilst every summer a crowd of Wagnerians ascends the 'holy hill' of Bayreuth in Northern Bavaria, an equally important group of Wagnerians descends from the heights of the Alps to the green valley of Erl in that small part of Austria entering Southern Bavaria along the River Inn. There, the Tyrol Festival, created and animated by Gustav Kuhn, challenges Bayreuth with about one tenth of the public money provided to the 'holy hill'. M&V has been reporting on the Tyrol Festival almost every year because of its innovative approach and the lessons other theatres may learn.
This year, the most important feature of the Tyrol Festival is the production of three cycles of Richard Wagner's daunting Der Ring des Nibelungen. One of the cycles is a 'twenty-four hour Ring' — actually a thirty hour Ring — where the four operas are performed over a day and half, giving audience, orchestra and singers only a few hours (from 3.30am until 10.30am) to rest before the final fall of the Gods (Götterdämmerung).
An analysis of the four operas — a prologue of two and a half hours and three 'days' of five hours each — would require more space than M&V readers might bear. Over the last few years, we have often reported on many productions of Der Ring and its individual operas, especially on the bicentenary of Wagner's birth in 2013. Thus, in this review, I only highlight the main features of the production seen on 18, 19, 25 and 26 July 2014.
Firstly, Gustav Kuhn (also responsible for stage direction and lighting) does not follow the now almost customary approach of giving Der Ring the socio-political overtones of the underdogs' fight against the upper class (as seen, eg, in Berlin, Milan, Palermo and Cologne, with the significant exception of Robert Lepage's Metropolitan Opera production). Wagner was a serious Lutheran and Kuhn is a Roman Catholic. This Ring is seen as part of a stream flowing from Lohengrin to Parsifal, and deals with the struggle of the old pagan German gods with a new ethics and a new religion. The 'old' is fighting only for power and money, whilst the 'new' (Siegmund, Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and Siegfried) have a new vision of the purpose of life and death. After Brünnhilde's holocaust and the downfall of the old gods, this vision is winning and brings about a new humanity.

A scene from Wagner's 'Das Rheingold' at Tiroler Festspiele Erl. Photo © 2014 Franz Neumayr. Click on the image for higher resolution
Secondly, to make the meaning stronger, this Ring takes place in today's setting. Due to the peculiarity of Erl's theatre, the orchestra is in full view on six different levels at the back of the stage while the action is up front. Thus, only a few props are needed for the different places where the action evolves, or to make special effects. For instance, Hunting's hut is a worker's flat and the magic fire is obtained by surrounding Brünnhilde with six harpists wearing long red dresses. Wotan wears a tuxedo, and Fricka an elegant long robe for a soirée in Berlin. Loge looks like a too-clever-by-half financial advisor. Gutrune has a smart robe and a Chanel tailleur. The two Giants are a baseball and a hockey player, the Valkyries ride mountain bikes. The huge auditorium's staircase becomes the river where Siefgried's boat sails. These are only a few examples of many brilliant ideas molded with a sprinkle of humor.

Vladimir Baykov as Wotan and the Valkyries in Wagner's 'Die Walküre' at Tiroler Festspiele Erl. Photo © 2014 Franz Neumayr. Click on the image for higher resolution
Thirdly, Herbert von Karajan considered Kuhn the best among his students and thought that he would be his successor. Kuhn follows the score meticulously with an orchestra of almost one-hundred-and-fifty players, almost all of them young and many trained in Kuhn's Montegral Academy in Italy. Unlike Sinopoli or Barenboim, he is not interested in a philosophical Ring, and neither does he seem to aim at a Solti-like manicured Ring. If he has a model, it is von Karajan's recording of a symphonic Ring full of musical colors, both those of nature and of sentiments (of gods and human beings alike). This is the reason for the care given both to the lighting (on the orchestra as a whole as well as on various sections) and to the acting.

Vladimir Baykov as Wotan and Hermine Haselböck as Fricka in Wagner's 'Die Walküre' at Tiroler Festspiele Erl. Photo © 2014 Franz Neumayr. Click on the image for higher resolution
Fourthly, Der Ring requires over thirty principals. They are mostly young and hardly known outside the German-speaking world, with a few 'old hands' such as Franz Hawlata in 'cameo' roles. It's hard to forget Vladimir Baykov's intense Wotan, the passionate Siegmund and Sieglinde from Andrew Sritheran and Marianna Szivkova, Gianluca Zampieri's heroic Siegfried, Andrea Silvestrelli as a devious Hagen and especially Mona Somm's impressive Brünnhilde. The polyphonic touch of three Japanese Rhine maidens — Yukiko Aragaki, Michiko Watanabe and Misaki Ono — deserves a special mention.

From left to right: Thomas Gazheli as Alberich, Michiko Watanabe as Wellgunde, Yukiko Aragaki as Woglinde and Misaki Ono as Flosshilde in Wagner's 'Das Rheingold' at Tiroler Festspiele Erl. Photo © 2014 Franz Neumayr. Click on the image for higher resolution
The audience was enthralled, with extended ovation after each of the four operas, including more than ten minutes after Götterdämmerung's five and a half hours. More important is the request to repeat three cycles in July 2015. Reservations are already being made.
Copyright © 29 July 2014 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy
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