WAGNER: Das Rheingol
WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman Overture. A Faust Overture.
Rienzi's Prayer and overture from Rienzi. Prelude to Act I
and Lohengrin's Grail Narration from Lohengrin.
Overture and Rome Narrative from Tannhäuser. HENZE: Fraternté Air
pour l'orchestre (1999).
Daniel Barenboim recently presented Wagner's Ring at La Scala which some have called "a Ring for the 21st Century." The first three operas have thus far been issued on DVD. Here we have Das Rheingold and Siegfried. The new production is the ill-advised concept of Guy Cassier, with sets and lighting by Enrico Bagnoli, costumes by Tim van Steenbergen. It remains a mystery to me why major opera houses allow directors to mutilate masterpieces. This Rheingold has been "updated." Many characters are in modern dress, all women displaying ample bodice. Cassier has decided to have a dancer act out emotions of each character. The Rhine maidens splash around in inches of water, as do most other characters. Projected backgrounds are often effective; sometimes the stage is a blaze of color. But not always when it should be: the Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla, is zilch. There is there is no Valhalla nor a bridge to it and Wotan and his family don't walk anywhere. The decent into Nibelung is represented by some quivering dancers. Don't expect any grandiose Wagnerian moments—there aren't any. I find the dancers obtrusive, annoying and inappropriate. Audience reaction is quite unenthusiastic , and Cassier, perhaps wisely, does not take a curtain call—at least not on the video.
Siegfried is more of the same, although more interesting visually. The stage often is a blaze of color movement, sadly lacking in Rheingold, but we still have the dancers for most characters who impress most when under a metallic cloak representing Fafner. Visually the final scene is brilliant, but vocally it disappoints. Nina Stemme is at her best, surely the finest Brünnhilde on the current operatic scene. Sure, Siegfried is an incredibly difficult role and few tenors attempt it. Canadian Lance Ryan has sung it frequently and videos are available of his Siegfrieds from Valencia and Frankfort in both of which he is inadequate (Frankfort REVIEW / Valencia (REVIEW). Here he is worse, wobbly, sometimes off-pitch and unable to sustain notes. The final scene is gorgeous indeed visually, but throughout both of these operas home viewers see what the video director chooses; we cannot be sure just what the audience saw. The La Scala Orchestra (large, including 4 harps!) plays very well, but they have not been particularly well recorded. After this performance, Cassier, Bagnoli and Steenbergen do appear on stage, with unenthusiastic response. I haven't see the La Scala Walküre, and don't particularly wish to.
This Wagner DVD offers a concert the eve of the composer's bicentennial (May 21, 2013) to commemorate the Staatskapelle Dresden's long commitment to Wagner's music. Their principal conductor, Christian Thielemann, directed and the soloist was tenor Jonas Kaufmann. It is a wonderful concert in every way offering arias and scenes from three operas (Rienzi, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser) sing with consummate artistry by the remarkable tenor—it is unfortunate he wasn't singing Siegfried in the La Scala Ring.. We also have orchestral works listed above and, as always with Thielemann, there is impeccable attention to detail. The orchestra is magnificent, camera work could not be bettered, and audio completely captures Wagner's rich orchestration. Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) has the title of Capell-Comositeur of the Dresden Staatskapelle. The distinguished composer always enjoyed a close association with the orchestra and planned to write a work called Isolde's Tod for the bicentennal concert, but did not complete it. In its place, Thielemann chose Fraternité, a 12-minute work that, tto me seems to have little to do with Wagner; the audience listened politely, but I imagine they would have preferred more Wagner. Overall, the audience was mesmerized, and rightfully so. Kaufmann leapt to the conductor's podium for his bows, as always a showman. A splendid issue for the Wagner Bicentennial.
R.E.B. (January 2014)