Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Twilight of The Paris Ring

(Die) Götterdämmerung [Le crépuscule des dieux], Opéra Bastille in Paris, June 3 2011

Director ..... Günter Krämer 
Conductor ..... Philippe Jordan

Torsten Kerl ..... Siegfried
Iain Paterson ..... Gunther
Peter Sidhom ..... Alberich
Hans-Peter König ..... Hagen
Katarina Dalayman ..... Brünnhilde
Christiane Libor ..... Gutrune, 3rd Norn
Sophie Koch ..... Waltraute
Nicole Piccolomini ..... 1st Norn, Flosshilde
Caroline Stein ..... Woglinde
Daniela Sindram ..... Wellgunde

Orchestre et Choeur de l’Opéra national de Paris

And so this is the end (my only friend) of the Paris Ring. I think it is fair to say that it started much better than it ended but --all in all-- I still think this Ring is one of the better ones you could see around these days.

I saw the final dress rehearsal and the premiere of this new production, and the difference between the two was the orchestra: the fine-tuning mode before the premiere,  became a full fledged performance that brought the best of them on the night of the prima. More importantly they were good from  the beginning to the end of the 6 hours long show. Props are mostly due to Philippe Jordan. While his Rheingold was somewhat subdued, the Walküre uneven, he and his orchestra reached alevel of greatness in the second part of Siegfried, and kept that level throughout this Twilight. Good job!

Another difference between the final dress rehearsal (FDR) and the premiere was that Katarina Dalayman was saving her voice for the premiere, which I thought was a wise decision. Her voice is powerful, particularly well fitting Brünnhilde, but Brünnhilde in Le Crépuscule des dieux is a very tough role to sing, maybe even more at Opéra Bastille then elsewhere. It takes days between the shows to regroup, and so her decision to let Brigitte Pinter take the floor at the FDR was indeed wise. On the other hand Brigitte was very good herself and I would not be surprised if we get to hear about her more often in the years to come.

One of the beautiful scenes with Rhinemaidens

Since I am talking about Brünnhilde, let me make some comments about the other singers. Norns and the Rhinemaidens were absolutely splendid. They definitely elevated the overall quality level of singing. Having Daniela Sindram singing Wellgunde --and she is one of the best Composers [in Ariadne auf Naxos] that I've ever listened to--  is more than luxurious. Nicole Piccolomini, like in Berlin, was in a very good voice here too.
Sophie Koch

Sophie Koch gave her all and the crowd loved it. She had to dig deep to make her Waltraute sound tender, vulnerable, as well as enraged -- and she completed her part magnificently. I only hope her voice doesn't become too hard after her incursions into the Wagner repertoire, and remains flexible for some more of her great Charlotte's, Octavian's... and all those roles she excels in.

It is strange that Christiane Libor's voice does not appear bigger at Bastille, while she literally stuns you in a smaller auditorium. She nevertheless remains one of the healthiest-sounding Wagner voices in business today, and it is always a great pleasure for me to listen to this woman sing. Brava!

Little that he had to sing, Peter Sidhom did not particularly strike us with his Alberich like he did in the Rinegold. Iain Paterson is an excellent actor but you should wait Act 2 to actually hear his real singing-voice emerge and grab your full attention. My guess is that he was trying not to push himself too hard, knowing that his role in this opera would be too tough to sing the whole run if he'd sing it in full voice 100% of time.

Torsten Kerl

Torsten Kerl has a beautiful voice and sings the role admirably but he simply is not a helden-tenor. Maybe the power released by other singers was just too big for him to match. His beautiful singing is  not voluminous enough for Bastille. He's scenically engaging and sings great, but if only his voice was bigger the overall impression would have been better. In some smaller theater --I am sure-- his Siegfried would be amazing. Not in Bastille, I'm afraid...
Katarina Dalayman (Brünnhilde) and Sophie Koch (Waltraute)

Katarina Dalayman demonstrated once again how this role can and should be sung in a big theater. It is very difficult and she gives her 100%, and we loved it. She is maybe not as impressive as she was in the Walküre, but his Brünnhilde remains a reference for me. Brava!

Hans-Peter König (Hagen) and Peter Sidhom (Alberich)

But the winner to me --and probably the greatest Wagnerian singer today-- was Hans Peter König. Gotta love that man! Hagen is one of those roles that can kill your voice if it doesn't sit naturally with your abilities. I even think that HPK gives an extra dimension to the way Hagen usually sounds like. I very much looked forward to listening to him live, after his formidable performance in an otherwise  spectacularly bad production of the Walküre, recently live-broadcast from the Met. It is in a live performance in a big theater that you can experience the real broadness and depth of his voice.

Gibich: Gutrune (Christiane Libor), Günther (Iain Paterson), and Hagen (Hans-Peter König)

What to say about the production itself? I did not enjoy it as much as I did the previous three operas. It is not bad, but --to be honest-- it is not good either. My impression is that the Günter Krämer team just got too tired, ran out of gas, and decided to play it safe and resort to simple tricks. 

During the curtain calls after the premiere, Krämer received a cascade of boos from all parts of the vast hall of Opéra Bastille. Those boos normally mean nothing in Paris: Krämer can take them [he has been booed here before], and the Parisian crowd can be famously rude, so... Yours truly felt guilty thinking that a fraction of those boos was in fact deserved.

In the first act the storyline was well respected and the contact with Die Walküre was well established. Actually the wall from which Siegmud pulled the sword appears already in the Prelude, now attached to a circular platform that rotates and makes the Norns' heads spin. They lose the thread of their thoughts when recounting the story about Gods and Valhalla, especially when trying to predict the future. The world spins too fast for them... It's not them who lost their capacity to tell the destiny; it's the world that changes too fast for them to keep up.That's a fine idea!

The same space is then occupied by Siegfried and Brünnhilde. The platform does not spin any more, and the vertical wall  becomes a big screen -- a billboard, if you wish. Brünnhilde became bourgeois and Siegfried still kept his boyish way to look at life. He will not leave the place on Brünnhilde's horse, but on a boat. I am not sure that was a clever choice although you can justify it by reading  libretto. It looked clumsy, borderline ridiculous on the stage, with Brünnhilde pretending to row while Siegfried was pulling the boat on a dry floor, with Brünnhilde on it dazu.

Next scene was the moment when the things started going down the drain for me. When I reviewed Siegfried I made a short summary of the fil rouge of the whole cycle and guessed that Krämer would see in Götterdämmerung the crash of financial markets, leading to a real ending of the Gods. My guess was wrong although he indeed tried to bring this opera closer to our time. Like Norns --who were dressed as modern women of our time-- Siegfried is dressed like a businessman looking for a new adventure in the world of Giebich family. To define Gibichung,  Krämer's team did what I hate the most: they spooled out 100's of colorful party ribbons to make the space lively, with a bunch of girls dressed in typical Bavarian outfits, dancing something resembling polka and setting the stage to look like a biergarten. What's the point? Dunno... Just bad and unnecessary!

So dressed as a businessman, Siegfried needs a challenge in a corporate world. I believe the idea is to relate Gunther and Hagen as heads of a PR company -- those who can create "reality". Hagen is not the one who is doing the executive things. Hagen is in this production is a man attached to a wheelchair, who is pulling the strings and rules the world, craving for ever more power. You see in a pic above that he's holding a globe-like ball in his hands. At the very beginning of the show he was shown as a kid in a wheelchair playing with a same ball with his mother, who was also teaching him the tricks needed to get to the Ring. Later on a virtual character, that looked like his mother at the beginning of the show, undresses and we recognize Alberich.

One thing that works reasonably good is the way he portrays Gibichungs who are placed in 3-4 rows and sing as Hagen asks them to. A very good work with lights actually makes these guys change the color ---> reference to crony capitalism.

All values in this world are virtual and communicate with people via billboards -- large video screens. Again, that is supposed to be a critique of the post-modern publicity-driven society in which the essential values are replaced by superficial imagery. Contrary to his first three opera of this Ring, in which no video has been used, this production --especially its Act 3-- is loaded with video. Even the last scene with Brünnhilde standing in front of a huge billboard/video-screen, shows  the Gods marching up the stairs, trying to reach Valhalla, but they fail because they are all --one by one-- shot by a virtual (video-game-like) gun... I think that scene actually spurred the vehement reaction of the crowd during the curtain call.

Brünnhilde in front of the big video screen on which you see the gun shooting at a God who tries to march up the stairs of Valhalla

Once they are all shot, the big golden ball will appear --first on the screen, and then also behind it-- the same ball we saw in Das Rheingold.

The idea with large video screen actually works wonderfully well with Siegfried meeting the Rhinemaidens -- that I thought was the highlight of this production. I also liked the death of Siegfried.

There were some good ideas, some serious flaws too, and it seemed as the production team was just too  tired preparing this show. Overall I think this Ring was good, but I've seen better. No audacity, no desire to step over the line, no concept that would unveil a side of this formidable musical monument that we did not see before. With that being said, and having in mind a ultra-conservatism that currently runs at the Paris Opera, I think saying this was a good enjoyable Ring production is fair.

All the production photo (except for the last one) are ©elisa haberer
Photos below are mine and I took them during the curtain calls after the FDR (final dress rehearsal)

Hans-Peter König, Brigitte Pinter, Torsten Kerl and Iain Paterson

Peter Sidhom, Christiane Libor and Hans-Peter König

Sophie Koch and WONDERFUL norns

Philippe Jordan

After the premiere I actually took the video. Please keep in mind that there is about 23 seconds delay between the sound and image (that's always when you convert to mp4 and have no time to fix it -- sorry!) In that way you can relate the image to the avalanche of boos directed at Krämer.

A tiny video excerpt lifted from the France-3 TV website:


  1. Thank you for the report! I'll be seeing the production on Saturday, Così tomorrow night...

  2. I'll see it next week after Tristan and Les Huguenots. @CosimaWagner will be appalled.
    Why does that grand entrance to the Bastille go nowhere?

  3. Hi Mark. Do let us know about Cosi ;) I thought to skip it. Just have no stomach for yet another mothball fest. You should have perhaps opted for TCE to see new Idomeneo instead?

    Aaaaah John, I beat you each time: first I post this review before you could see the show, and I am about to post a few paragraphs I wrote about the MAGNIFICENT Tristan in Lyon. Hope you've got a good seat (not somewhere above 2nd balcony)?! If so you're in for something really special... Cheers

  4. I can see the point of a chamber bourgois production but this just seemed lost in the huge stage. All trace of the original Germania seems to have gone with no sense of recapitulation. I suppose it is impossible to match the epic orchestra on the finale but video games.
    The vocal stand out was the sublime Sophie Koch. Dalayman was grand too but it is interesting to read in En Scene that she is moving to theMezzo fach.
    And who were those skipping Trocadero ballet boyz during the Rheinfahrt?
    Tonight Otello with la Reine Renee.