Just a Ringnut

There What's Opera, Doc?has never before been a time like today where so many Rings can be seen all over the world.  Especially in Germany, the variety and differences among the concepts are remarkable.  A big THANK YOU has to go to Wolfgang Wagner because his ability to be interested in finding new views and aspects went nearly to 0 in the past three decades.  That has been the big chance for dozens of opera houses to work on the musical and philosophical aspects of the Gesamtkunstwerk.  The intellectual confrontation with the Ring seemed to me the important point of OPERNTHEATER.  This got lost in Bayreuth since Wieland died.  DRAMA without understanding the words must be a very different and difficult situation for many people.  On American operaboards it often happened that people said their ears were in pain from Wagnersingers whose priorities were the expression of the words.  Often those singers seemed to me especially good, or remarkably quite the right singers for a Drama like the Ring.  Maybe in general a Ring performance can be a wonderful example of how a singer can be very successful in creating his role without having an outstanding voice.  I am not the only German "Wagnerfan" who is tired of reading about "ugly voices", "barking", "not singing legato" etc.

I'll never forget how irritated I was nearly five years ago when the crowd of the Flagstaff Ring were enthused about a Loge who (in my opinion) wasn't able to bring across the sarcasm and the "bite" of that role.  He had the quite right voice for Don Ottavio, a "beautiful" voice and was able to sing perfect legato.  But especially Loge's voice has to switch between narrating & singing.  (Sprechgesang) He must be able to give the words different colours while changing between declaiming and singing.  That was the worst Loge I ever heard, but of course he had a "beautiful voice".   ;-) ;-)
(But that didn't help him to sing Loge right.)

The best Loge I have heard so far is now singing this role in Cologne.  Over there a new Ring by director Robert Carsen is just starting this season.  His name is Hubert Delomboye.  I remember him singing Loge already in 1990 & 1992 in the Wernicke Ring in Bruxelles and Frankfurt.  (cond. was Silvain Cambreling).  Delomboye's voice is less "Germanic" than Zednik's, more "French" coloured, and reminds me of Rene Maison's Loge in the legendary MET production from 1937 under Bodanzky.

After having seen four complete Ring cycles in 2000, NO extraordinary Loge is right now appearing in my mind.  But the Alberichs immediately come to my mind. Especially that exceptional Finnish singer Esa Ruuttunen from the Stuttgart Das Rheingold.  He was an incarnation of an actor & singer who was able to show several different and controversal aspects of that character.  I will never forget that scene where he was hung by Loge on something like a meat hook after they had returned from Nibelheim.  Indeed "aufgehaengt" and "abgehaengt" like an animal with a broken neck.  Because the Stuttgart Ring brought the perspective of four different stage directors (for each part), that important role of Alberich had shown us additional varied aspects of that character.  John Wegner in Goetterdaemmerung comes to my mind as well.  He was wearing a burid shroud and his body was like a marionette in a deathly dance while appearing to Hagen in his dreams and asking "Schlaefst Du Hagen, mein Sohn?".  (The exceptional staging was by Konwitschny.) Also impressive in creating his role was the Siegfried Alberich (Mark Munkittrick), although vocally only okay.  No memory now of an Alberich from the Mannheim Ring (July 2000).  An older German singer by the name of Oskar Hillebrandt sang all 3 Alberichs in the Chemnitz Ring.  Although the director left him alone with creating the character...he was a great Alberich, especially vocally.

What is it then exactly that makes a great WOTAN? I saw Mr.  James Morris two years ago in San Francisco as Wotan.  No doubt in his wonderful voice.  I don't know why, but while writing this, Otto Edelmann's Wotan comes to my mind.  (the 1955 MET Live production under Mitropoulos).  I am in danger of getting sentimental thinking of Edelmann's Wotan.  How he is singing to his daughter Margaret Harshaw shows a broken man.  He was not young anymore in 1955 (maybe nearly the same age as Morris two years ago?) and he was singing with a "broken voice" because he was able to suit the inner situation adequately.  Although I liked Morris' voice, he was not able to show that side of his broken heart vocally.  Of course there must be different types of Wotans, like different types of Don Giovannis.  The sonorous voice of Mr. Morris is much beloved by people whose personal image of a Wotan lacks interest in giving priority to Sprechgesang, as they possibly understand only the content, but not the words.  Vocally, the Mannheim Wotan Claudio Otelli was for some a disappointment.  Especially at the end of Die Walkuere he seemed to speak and even shouted as much as he sang.  Technically there were worlds between him and Mr. Morris.  The aspects of the DRAMA, a nearly incestuous story of a father and his beloved daughter, have to be hewn in words by a Wotan whose disaster is felt in the finely differentiated language of his Farewell.  Otelli was able to give colour to the words, prioritizing this over mere Legato.  I was so touched by this Wotan that I said spontaneously:  that was the best Wotan I ever saw.

There are a lot of examples where Legato singing can kill the content in any role in the Ring.  (Domingo!!) There is maybe one exception, Die Walkuere Act I ......and that could be the main reason that it seems to be the most popular part of the Ring.  It's not absolutely necessary to understand every word because it's clear whats going on on stage.....and Act I has a lot of "popular songs".

The exceptional moments and high points of the Rings I saw last year were the staging of Das Rheingold (Joachim Schloemer) & Goetterdaemmerung (Peter Konwitschny) in Stuttgart, in April & Octobre 2000. Especially:  
    the Alberich of Esa Ruuttunen
    the Sieglinde of Angela Denoke
    the Siegfried of J. F. West (Siegfried) &
    the Bruennhilde of L. de Vol (Goetterdaemmerung)

The best Gunther I ever saw was Hernan Ituralde in Stuttgart.  My guess is that he will have a great career.  He would be a good Wotan already.

The conducting of Lothar Zagrosek was very dramatic.  I loved it......but his concept didn't give you much time to relax in less dramatic parts.  In Germany the French Chanson singer (in the Sixties & Seventies) Gilbert Becaud had the nick name "Mr 2000 Volt".  Zagrosek's conducting reminds me of Mr. Becaud.  In many parts he is also like Toscanini (although his tempi are slower then Toscanini's) -- uncompromising and "possessed".

The attractive young Mannheim conductor Jun Maerkl was the star of that Ring there in July.  His style of conducting is "light" and linear, but full of rhythmic power and not very "Teutonic".  Wolfgang Neumann was mostly still impressive as Siegfried, Jayne Casselmann overtaxes her beautiful lyrical voice by singing all 3 Bruennhilden.  I didn't like the production in Mannheim quite in contrast to the majority of the audience.  It was a designer Ring, as easily consumed as prime time TV.

The production in Chemnitz was beloved by people who prefer a traditional staging.  Sadly I don't belong to that group.  I am always "hungry" to see new aspects of that STORY of LIFE.  But musically this was a great Ring in Chemnitz.  Janice Baird sang all 3 Bruennhilden.  For me she is the Number ONE Bruennhilde in these days.  She is a good looking young American singer who is vocally on a level with Meier, Polaski, Schnaut.  I can't add Eaglen because she is, so far, unable to sing the meaning/content of the words.  Janice Baird's voice is fresh, clear and still growing.  I already heard her three years ago in Kiel as Bruennhilde...... and everytime I have heard her since, her voice has sounded bigger, stronger and it's easy for her to hit the high notes clearly and expressively.  Her deep notes are changing and she seemed to be developing that aspect of her voice causing occasional.  (Is that the price she has to pay for weighing only 140 pounds?)

The Music Director of the Chemnitz Opera House (former Karl Marx Stadt in East Germany) is Oleg Caetani.  Much as his father, Igor Markevich, his style of conducting is the opposite of a "Kapellmeister" such as Knappertsbusch, Kraus, Keilberth, Stein, Sawallisch etc.  He mostly conducts Italian Opera and his Rheingold and Walkuere had this "Italianiata" without neglecting the symphonic architecture of Wagner's music.  Sadly, he is leaving this smaller House and didn't conduct Siegfried & Goetterdaemmerung because he was conducting the premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera at the Semper Oper in Dresden last autumn.  In my opinion this was a minor scandal because I firmly believe in the necessity of musical unity for the Ring.  It is a MUST.  Siegfried Koehler, a Kapellmeister of the more sensitive school, with a totally different way of conducting, jumped in.  The majority of the audience (again !! ;-) ........) seemed to prefer this more "German" interpretation to Caetani's.  I left Chemnitz with the feeling of having discovered a lighter, nearly "bel cantoesque" conducting of Wagner, which was new and worth listening to for me.  But I was disappointed to hear only the first two evenings that way.

Last but not least I have to mention John Treleaven, who sang Siegmund & both Siegfrieds.  He seemed to be one of the very rare tenors who is able to sing the Italian and the German Fach as well.  Although I had to get used to his "bel cantoesque" Wagner, I loved it because he seemed to understand what he was singing, and the German words sounded right and not "soft".  I have heard him several times as Tristan in Karlsruhe where he was absolutely great........and he is the only Tristan who was indeed born in Cornwall. He just sang Tristan in Amsterdam and the critiques about him were mixed.  Some people heard a "wobble" (not in Karlsruhe!!).  Maybe that has to do with the fact that his voice is not a huge one.  Amsterdam has around 2000 seats and Karlsruhe only half as much.

Altogether I have to say that the Stuttgart Ring is a MUST.  My English is too bad to write about the different concepts of directors Joachim Schloemer (Das Rheingold) // Christof Nel (Die Walkuere) // Jossi Wieler (Siegfried) // and Peter Konwitschny (Goetterdaemmerung).  But you can imagine that the different views bring out the complexity and contradictoriness of the Ring which one stage director for the whole cycle is never able to manage.  The intellectual confrontation with the Ring is unavoidable for everybody who has gone to Stuttgart.  There have been 6 cycles already and as far as I know there will be some more in the next season.

Be my wuv...There are Ring cycles in progress in different places.  Especially for curious American Wagnerians I should mention Robert Wilson's project in Zuerich, Switzerland ( ;-) ;-) Die Walkuere in May) There is another cycle in Geneva, Switzerland which I don't know.  I mentioned Robert Carsons in Cologne already because I was very impressed by his ideas in Das Rheingold.  There is also a new Ring in progress in Braunschweig (near Hannover).  Whole cycles will be presented this spring and summer in Meiningen, Mannheim, Muenster (with Christian Franz as Siegfried), Hannover, Berlin & Bonn.  BTW Meiningen, a little city near the old east-west border (on the former East German side) has its premiere on 4 consecutive days.  (April 13- 16th) There will be four cycles.  Hans von Buelow was an early conductor of this oldest professional Symphony Orchestra in Germany.  A new Ring project will start next year in Dresden.  There is also a little city in Franken (part of Bavaria) called "Bayreuth", which has a new Ring too.  Hopefully Juergen Flimm and his team will be able to form Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung to create a WHOLE.  Personally I am waiting for a new Ring in Hamburg, where the old Kraemer Ring should be followed by a new one........ (Music director Ingo Metzmacher !!!) Yes, I think Zubin Mehta in Munich is planning a new one too.  No one, however, seems to be expecting a new Ring from Vienna............ ;-) ;-)

     Best -- Wolf(j)

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Copyright:  © 2001 Wolf Janson

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