'THE FRANKFURT OPERA RING"
"THE COLÓN RING"
This Frankfurt Opera production of Wagner's Ring was filmed in June/July 2012. The production is by Vera Nemirova with stage designs by Jens Kilian, costumes by Ingeborg Bernerth and lighting by Olaf Winter. It apparently was highly praised at the time, for reasons I cannot fathom—and audience response on these videos is frantic. The single set is a huge circle divided into wide concentric circles that can be raised, lowered or slopped individually providing different levels—quite an engineering feat, much less so than the Met's recent monster production, and it doubtless cost only a fraction of the latter. The most effective scene is the ending of Walküre where a separate thin ring of fire descends from above. There is very little scenery, but lighting effects often work well, if sometimes rather strangely. Characters rarely respond to each other. We do not have a real assent to Valhalla, Brünnhilde doesn't ride into the funeral pyre (the only horse to be seen throughout is a miniature toy horse), and at the end of the opera she emerges from the back with most of the cast as they walk to the front of the stage and stare blankly out at the audience. The Forest Bird, sung off-stage, is mimed by a very thin dancer with 10-inch fingernails that flutter constantly as he hops about the stage in a willowy fashion, a very non-Wagnerian effect.
And then there is the singing. The only major roles sung well are those of Günther, Hagen and Hunding. Both Frank Van Aken (Siegmond) and Lance Ryan (Siegfried) cannot cope with these demanding roles. Phrases are cut short and there is a constant insecurity of pitch—not pleasant to hear. Lance Ryan was in much better vocal shape when he sang Siegfried in the remarkable Valencia/Mehta production (REVIEW). Norwegian baritone Terje Stenvold has been on the opera scene with considerable success for many years (he was born in 1943). It is unfortunate at this stage of his career his voice isn't equal to his acting. Susan Bullock is no Brünnhilde—the role is beyond her. The wobble and uneven vocal production that marred her Salome are very apparent here (REVIEW). Perhaps I was spoiled by recent historic reissues of this role sung by Kirsten Flagstad and Martha Mödl, not to mention Birgit Nilsson—but what is heard in Frankfort is far from that perfection. Bullock is not helped by the designer in her first appearance singing the famous battle cry—she looks like a punk rock star instead of a regal maiden. And her sisters, the Valkyries, although an attractive group, are not distinguished vocally and surely not helped by the director's decision to have them standing in a row, unmoving, as they sing.
Sebastian Weigle is music director of the Frankfort Opera. I found his conducting rather slack and lacking tension—this is about the most prosaic Ride of the Valkyries you'll ever hear. Video is excellent throughout, audio captures voices much better than the orchestra (although in Götterdämmerung orchestral sound improves considerably). However in all of this production the majesty and grandeur of Wagner's mighty Ring is not to be found. There are production problems on this release as well. Inexplicably Oehms provides separate tracks only for each scene in each opera making it very difficult to find what you might be looking for. And there are no tracks for the beginning of each opera. There is a 23-minute DVD about the making of this Frankfurt Opera production. Skip this one, for sure.
The other Wagner Ring set mentioned above is even more disappointing. The Colón Ring does nothing to honor the celebration of Wagner's 200th birthday. This is a highly abridged version of The Ring, lasting about 7 hours. It was created at the suggestion of Katharina Wagner, great granddaughter of the composer, who wanted Cord Garben to synopsize the four music dramas into a one-day listening experience. Why I don't understand, but it is the sort of thing she would do, considering the abominable productions of many of her great grandfather's masterpieces she has supported in Bayreuth. It must have been very difficult indeed to put this brief version together, but it was not worth the effort. Katharina exited from the production and it was completed by Valentina Carrasco, with sets by Frank P. Schlossmann and Carles Berga. Nidia Tusal is responsible for the costumes; thus we have the rhine maidens dressed as women doing laundry, many characters in dress suits. Usually the stage is drab.Odd things occur including Wotan and Loge travel up rather than down to the Nibelheim. Most of the scenery looks like a tenement back yard with hanging laundry. Sieglinde crawls around on the floor of Hunding's filthy home in the first at of Walküre. The stage is full of dead soldiers during the famous Ride of the Valkyries, and the warrior maidens are garbed as soldiers, Fafner is in a wheelchair and he has about ten healthy aids who battle Siegfried. . There are few props, and at the conclusion, Brünnhilde doesn't ride off into the fire—the "fire" is provided by a number of young ladies who arrive with candles. And as the Immolation Scene ends, the entire cast is on stage looking out at the audience (this also happened in the Frankfort production mentioned above). And, the condensation of the score entailed many major cuts inclouding, incredibly, the famous Battle Cry(!). Singing in this slimmed down Ring is generally better than in the ill-fated Frankfurt version but surely not representative of today's finest Wagnerian singers. Linda Watson, who already has recorded two complete Rings (under conductors Hartmut Haenchen and Christian Thielemann), is not at her best. This is an ill-fated venture. Wagner must be rolling over in his grave. Rheingold and Walküre are on one DVD, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung on a second, with a third disk a film by Hans Christoph Von Bock produced by Bernhard Fleischer about preparations for this mini-Ring.
R.E.B. (June 2013)