Friday, March 5, 2010

The Paris Ring: Das Rheingold



OK, now I can say a few words about the singers too. 
Globally, they were ALL very good. Kim Begley is to me the most impressive singer/actor out there,  someone who could be equally excellent Loge in any production of the Ring. He just nailed it both vocally and scenically in a way you rarely see it happen in Opera.
Ablinger-Sperrhacke is also someone that strikes you as an excellent fit for the role. OK  Mime is a short-living character in this opera, but still - for the time he's on stage you cannot miss that brilliance (I saw in the program that he'll be singing the same role in the Kriegenburgen's Ring in Munich in 2012).  
Many productions of Rhinegold fail to impress because of the poor singing/acting from Alberich. This isn't the case here. Peter Sidhom is a very strong Alberich,  although I felt he was more at ease during the final dress rehearsal. 
 Qiu Lin Zhang is a memorable Erda. Never have I heard anyone (live, DVD, CD...) singing this role better than her.  
Iain Paterson is a brilliant singer and I am grateful to whoever invited him to be a part of this show. His friend Fafner, Günther Groissböck, has a nicely sounding bass-voice, but lacks power. He's dominated by Paterson and does not fully convince in the last scenes --when he becomes a tyrant-- in spite of his remarkable acting. Part of it is maybe due to the fact that Bastille is a bi*ch place to sing in!
Concerning the Gods (!), to me, Falk Struckmann stands out. He's a strong, firm, powerful Wotan with that peculiar wagnerian voice that's always a pleasure to listen to. However, I don't believe he can be nearly as good in Die Walkure. That's a totally different beast and I guess it might be too much for our Falk (Well we'll know it in 3 months from now). In this Rheingold he is excellent!
Sophie Koch is the only French singer in the cast. This was her debut in the Ring, and she was brilliant! This is just one in a string of her memorable interpretations: last year we loved her Octavian (Rosenkavalier), very much enjoyed her Brangane (Tristan), and this year after that unbeatable Charlotte (Werther), she excels in Fricka. 
Two other Gods were very good too, as well as Freia (Ann Petersen) who --I guess-- was juuuust a little bit more afraid of the premiere than the other "God-fellas" ;)
Stein, Piccolomini and Sindram were good Rhine-maidens, but maybe a tad too nervous during the opening scene. 

Paterson, Krämer, and Begley

The second look at the Krämer's production (see my previous entry) made me more appreciate his skills. That man knows his job really well and it shows. At no moment the singers/actors are left to wander aimlessly on stage or do something that has no direct contact with dramatic action.
The reference to Germania is actually made the first time we see Wotan. Before the construction workers (represented by Fasolt & Fafner) go on strike, instead of the red flags [c.f. photo] there were white flags hanging on the poles, and you could see  "Germania" written across them.

I missed it the first time I saw the show, probably b/c it's written in white on the slightly whitER background. Since there are many --more colored-- things happening on the stage, it's easy to miss that detail. Now the finale with the boys bringing the letters GERMANIA (carrying them to the top to put them on the Valhalla) looks less isolated. Germania was the Gods' project from the outset. I like the idea and it fits well to a German director who after the end of the 20th century cannot easily dissociate Valhalla from the Welthauptstadt Germania.

The way how he [Krämer] makes Wotan surrender the Ring is well thought of too. It was actually Fricka (the "family values" figure in this production) who realized that her husband was doubting and the second she caught him off guard, she snatched the Ring and threw it to Fasolt. These are the details you start seeing better the second time you see the show... the details that makes the second viewing even more interesting ;)

Oh yes, the last segment is interesting too: The construction workers (remember, the ones who were well unionized before...) pull the huge staircase to the top of the mountain and Fafner (now in possession of the Ring) becomes a tyrant, a form of Alberich. He whips the workers to pull faster, and at the same time he's collecting the gold for himself.  Did Fafner became a tyrant only because of too much power he's got? Or it's because Fasolt is dead? A lesson in democracy, anyone?! ;)

Here you can see Fafner collecting the gold, while the pile of exhausted workers is finishing to  pull the huge Valhalla/Germania to the top of the mountain. You can also see Loge (the superbly portrayed character) sitting/relaxing on the stairs while they were pulling. If you click you can also see the helmets that the Gods will wear when marching up the stairs to enter their "Germania". The pic looks murky but it actually isn't. It's happening in the fog -- you're supposed to believe they're on the top of the tallest mountain...

There are many other interesting details. For example in this pic

the action takes place "on the mountain" and you see the Earth tied in red ropes of the Unions, i.e. of  Fafner and Fasolt who are coping with dilemma: Gold or Freia. You could also see Froh & Donner who're not wearing the sixpack-jackets; they are weak and need Freia's apples to regain the youth and strength. Later on, with Freia set free, they'll strap their muscles back on.    


There are many more details I wouldn't really spend my time blogging about, but they all make this show worth seeing.
From this and my previous entry I hope I made it clear that the production is opulent and well constructed.  

HOWEVER, to me, the production lacks audacity. It is a very "conservative" reading of the Ring -- I dare say, it is borderline obsolete for the 21st century. It is a production that is closer to the feel-good Met productions, than to the inventive, imaginative, and witty standards of the European theaters. So yes, it is well done, well sung, but there is hardly any surprise, no grain to kick you out of your comfort zone.

Philippe Jordan

I though the Orchestra was more at ease during the dress rehearsal. It's maybe because the stakes were too high for Philippe Jordan, for his reputation and his career. (You don't want to fail in your first Ring.) For the premiere he decided to play it safe, to make sure not to overdo in anything. His Rhinegold is fast paced (which is OK for me!) but he constantly tries to tame the orchestra so the singers never get drowned. That's all fine, but in the end, that becomes a problem. Not that you can complain about anything specific, but it all sounds just too tamed, too careful, too restrained... The precision is there, everything is fine, but there is no character,  "un grain de folie" is missing. He's a very young fellow, and maybe I expected too much from him (?)  In any case I'm sure the Orchestra and Jordan will improve with every next show in this run.

CC pics...

Fafner & Fasolt

Loge, Alberich, Wotan and Fricka

Froh, Donner and Mime

Wellgune, Flosshile, Weglinde

Beside the closing scene (first pic above), to me --dramatically-- the two best scenes are

"Wanna apple?!"  LOL

Alberich cursing (too bad the pic isn't better)

Have a good one everyone! 


  1. I've spent hours scouring the internet for a review, so thank you for this! I am seeing this on the 19th, and you have whetted my appetite.

  2. Hey Alice. Glad it helps. It's maybe not the most memorable Rheingold, but it's well worth the trip, I think. It's and opulent - big production; it's very well sung; well played, and the ideas in the Kramer's staging worked well with me.

    I found the production a bit too conventional, but I realize many folks in Paris were very disturbed (you can never stage a Wagner opera and have everyone happy, can you!?). Some critics didn't get the "Cabaret"-like part Kramer gave to his Loge (sensational Kim Begley!)

    But then again, the operagoers in Paris are wickedly conservative. You'll discover it yourself. :)

  3. Thank you for the very full review. I thought I wasn't going to be able to come over, but heard today that I shall have a press ticket for 25th. Now to find somewhere to stay in Paris for the night...

  4. Je te trouve beaucoup trop indulgent avec cette production ridicule et vulgaire, qui n'est que du remplissage sans la moindre idée directrice!

  5. Hi Mark! Glad you have your ticket. Don't set your expectations to high, but don't expect to be too much surprised either. Enjoy the performance and I guess you might like it. :)

  6. Naaan Rameau, STP, pas toi quand même! Déjà que Machart [que -somme tout- j'apprécie plus que le reste de la critique française] se casse la figure par sa critique nulissime, il faudrait que toi aussi coinces sur la prétendue vulgarité...

    Sur le manque des idées originales on peut discuter; pour moi le problème bcp plus grave est l'occasion ratée d'un théâtre plus audacieux, plus "culotté" [de toutes façons l'ONP tous les spectacles auraient été complets --> être complaisant était hélas un choix réfléchi].

    Se plaindre de vulgarité, en revanche, c'est se tirer la balle dans le pied. Loge est un exposant des cabarets berlinois des années 30, de ce langage satyrique brechtien [que l'on peut ne pas aimer, mais l'accuser de vulgarité 80 ans plus tard, alors soit on a hiberné pendant un siècle ou on est vraiment conservateur à mort]. Le costume qu'il [Loge] endosse pour se moquer de Wotan est le moment que j'ai le plus aimé : jusqu'à ce moment là Wotan etait enivré par son pouvoir croissant: il sautait tout se que bougeait et il y avait de pommes pour vivre éternellement. C'est là où il a la trouille pour la première fois et Loge la lit. Le costume et le coup de pommes peut être interprété à 3 façons différentes et à ce moment précis du drame me semble une solution scénique parfaite.

    Machard n'a vraisemblablement pas compris ça -- ce que ne serait pas grave s'il ne le revendiquait. C'est précisément cette atrophie intellectuelle que je reproche à la critique d'aujourd'hui en général. "On ne comprend pas ===> c'est mauvais!"

    Ceci dit: c'est très bien chanté, l'orchestre est OK (pas plus que ça), le spectacle est largement meilleur de ce qu'on a pu voir à l'ONP cette saison, mais ce n'est certainement pas un Ring mémorable.

  7. Thanks for the review!
    I just got home after seeing it, and am extremely happy with the experience. I was blown away by Alberich - the comedy, brutality, and tragedy was so well captured by Peter Sidhom. I also liked the directorship of the first scene, which was fun and ingenious. Oh, and the horns (just about) nailed the intonation in the difficult opening.

    Sadly, some members of the audience were less thrilled, and this led to a heated battle between booing and cheering at the end. If anything, it's 'vulgar' to boo after something so well sung.

  8. Hi Henrik! The booing attitude is getting worse.

    The traditionalists boo everything. The reason is that it differs from a production they saw in the 70's. The ignoramuses boo because they didn't understand (they don't like when something isn't straightforwardly staged so they can immediately understand everything --> arrogant director --> boo him).

    I thought the director should have stepped up with something more audacious. In any case the boors would boo him, soooo...

    Anyways, glad you enjoyed the show. Maybe it's not unforgettable, but it's "grand"/opulent and you spend a good evening.

  9. I attended on 16 March, too. I thought it was brilliant. For me Sophie Koch stood out among the many other outstanding performances. I wasn't really sure what the boos were about. Possibly it was the nod to the 1936 Olympics at the end with the stadium-style steps, the athletes in retro sports gear and the single Jesse Owens figure in the middle. Also, right, Germania is the Latin name for (roughly) what is now Germany, but it also the name Hitler was to give to his "Welthauptstadt".

  10. Hi "you" ;)
    People boo when they don't understand the concept. They boo when they understand it too, but they like it to be just an inch away from their grip to feel they could peck something "intellectually" too. The traditionalists will boo anyway...

    I don't believe it has to do with the Olympics. In France (most of the) people know next to nothing about Germany during its Weimar period; they only see that something is related to the Nazi period and they boo.

  11. No booing on the 19th!
    I was very taken with the performance, and after the distracting effects of Valencia and the utter obscurity of the Mariinsky, I enjoyed the simplicity of this.

    By far and away I enjoyed Loge the most. I loved his charred suit! It also amused me that when he put on his Rhinemaiden costume, he looked remarkably like a character out of "Little Britain" ..... I digress: his voice was the standout for me too. Although I could stand to hear more of Erda: she seemed to be a great favourite with the audience too. For some reason, Mime was not, he certainly didn't get a burst of applause when he came on.

    I liked the strap-on muscles and I liked Valhalla - were the Hitleryouth boys meant to get all of the letters of Germania up by the end? They didn't, and I liked the symbolism of unfinished Germania/world domination and unfinished Valhalla/world domination - but maybe they just didn't start climbing soon enough.

    I'm still digesting what I saw. Was the whole just a touch under-powered? Somehow, some of my tingle-points were missing: Loge's motif, the approach of the giants, the ascent to Valhalla - they were all there but somehow lacking in punch. Only a bit - my Walkyrie ticket is already bought, I look forward to it!


  12. Just to mention that the Olympics were in the Nazi period (1936) rather than the Wiemar period. I have never booed myself but it is a tradition of sorts and I suspect that many contemporary directors would be worried if they didn't receive any boos after a premiere. If someone boos simply because a production isn't traditional, that's pretty ignorant, but isn't it fair to boo if a production vandalizes the opera/music drama?

  13. Ah don't worry :) I don't believe it's directly related to the Olympics. It's more of a reference to Leni Riefenstahl, whose photos were also used for the Olympics and for many other propaganda stuff ---> not only in the 3rd Reich; Most of the propaganda/marketing after WW2 was enormously influenced by the work of Leni's.

    People boo because they're frustrated or didn't understand the director's intentions, because they are kicked out from their comfort zone, or because they're convinced a given opera should be produced in *their* (often traditional) way.

    When I see the people who grew up with horrid productions made in 70s and 80s (not all of them were horrible, but a large majority we could see on DVD is theatrically plain bad!) -- if those guys boo, that is often to be interpreted as: the production is not bad ;)

  14. Just thought I should let you know that my Rheingold review is finally online:

  15. Many thanks Mark. I saw your link the other day.

    I'm reading your review of the Walkure right now, which again is excellent!