Sunday, November 24, 2013
Don't read on if you are going to Siegfried.
There's a lot going on down here and our stay is rushing to an end. Melbourne is in full flight with the Ring creating quite a buzz and the mammoth Melbourne Now exhibition just opened.
Here they are cleaning up in the morning after a night installation on the side wall of the National Gallery of Victoria, the wall facing the entrance to the State Theatre where the Ring is on.
Today is Sunday and this morning in the State Theatre we went to a wonderfully relaxed chat between OA Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, Stuart Siegmund Skelton, experienced Wagner Man of the World, and the Wotan cover Shane Lowrencev, young father of four carving his way into the big baritone rep. He tears up at the beauty and awe of what this music tells him, and apologised for getting emotional just talking about it. That made me feel a bit better.
On the morning of performances, Prof Heath Lees (university professor, writer, broadcaster, musicologist, founder of the Wagner Society of New Zealand) gives a pre-performance talk in the Melbourne Recital Centre. With a Steinway, slides, videos, lilting Scottish accent, sparkling eyes and wonderful wit ('the thing about German jokes is that they are no laughing matter'), he presents the best ever over and under view of this never-endingly complex masterwork.
Prof Lees has just released a DVD series which is the basis for these talks. Details and teaser clips are here. Bought.
It is two days now since Siegfried. Is it the hardest to stage? Who knows, but nothing I have seen before is a patch on what Neil Armfiled gives us in this stunning subversive theatre of the mind which dinners, lunches, walks, shopping, sleeps, drinks, and the whirl have kept me from getting fully blogged.
So speaking of teasers, imagine that everyone is/could be a dragon, if not by choice then by infliction, or by projection. Imagine every dragon is a dragon only in the eyes which behold it.
There was a marvellous show on TV (or maybe a DVD we have, I can't remember) recently about the life of the Buddha. The point it was making was that the Buddha is in everyone, waiting only to be found. When walking the streets, look at every person and ask yourself - Buddha? Buddha?
So Fafner is a Giant is a Player on the world stage. Slay a dragon, and you slay ... the human truth that it is.
Friday, November 22, 2013
The Rheingold set a very high bar and so it was pretty buzzy heading back in for Die Walküre, the most human, and so particularly the see-what-Armfield-does-with-it, of them all.
Long story short - as Rhinegold was all about Alberich, this was all about Wotan. Appropriately.
Curtain went up to find us circling a very very isolated small timber cabin in very very black night in a very very snowy snowy storm. Well, it was circling on the revolve but I was circling it so engaged was engageable I. The sense of isolation and entrapment was palpable.
And then on he came, head down pushing forward through the cold blizzard night towards a little warm square of yellow light. He was Stuart Skelton's hooded Siegmund about to discover his sister, his love and his destiny. He was in fabulous voice. You know, when you thought there was no better, there's better, with such rich lovely darkening harmonics, heaps of body, a golden glow around it, and completely under his control with masterful finesse. Miriam Gordon-Stewart's Sieglinde was fragile and vulnerable, unloved and barely consolable.
When spring came, it came from within. The snow kept falling, the night stayed black, and only in the eyes of the loved did the flakes tinge with green. It was quite beautiful and understated, and the tragedy it foretold immense.
But without the help of much needed ardency from the pit, and little sense of propulsion, this marvellous pairing was left making less impact on over-expectant me than it otherwise might.
Valhalla was an huge cold clinical white spiral of soullessness. It was empty but for a vast collection of stuffed animals (seen crated and waiting in Rheingold). Again, there is room for much thought about what this is saying: Wotan a good man as preserver in the face of extinction; Wotan acquiring rarities/antiquities as a demonstration of wealth; etc. (Personally, I find taxidermy uncomfortable. I squirm at drawers of pinned butterflies. K's aunt has a huge glass cage full of stuffed birds at the bottom of the staircase. I can hardly walk past it, let alone look at it.)
Anyway, as I was saying, here is a place empty except for trophies and the vitriol of marital decay.
Using the revolve and the helix, Armfield manipulates and positions the players in this bitter domestic break down. Up and down they subtly move, higher then lower, under then above, with unavoidable meetings in chilled silence, until Fricka's dreadful victory kiss is pressed hard onto Wotan's unwilling mouth to be wiped off in disgust with the back of his hand as she ascends in triumph. Magnificent stuff from Jacqueline Dark and Terje Stensvold.
I didn't tell you about a stunning moment in Rheingold where during an 'interlude', the ascent back from Nibelheim I think, Armfield reinforces the horror of what has been happening - Freia helplessly flung over a giant's shoulder; Rheindaughters in dispair at their loss - in chilling 'frozen moments' on the revolve in the vast blackness. This is what we're in for now I thought as the animals were slowly hoisted back up, Wotan slowly climbing up just ahead of them.
But no. The architecture stayed and the serious business of annunciation of death and man-on-man to the death therein was lost. It was for all the world like the set change just didn't happen and the plucky players went about there stuff as best they could regardless. No chills or goosebumps there then. (These thoughts are clarified below in comments.) (*)
Never mind. Here comes the fun bit, the Ride. Auspiciously, we are back to the look of the beginning of Rheingold. A mass of crumpled bodies, refugees maybe, dying in front of our eyes perhaps, ever so slowly revolving as that music it is impossible to now not associate with Vietnam started up. Now I was really missing that big European sound. Combat gear, like Brünhilde, thinks I. There's a vast black hole is the stage ceiling surrounded by white lights. They'll flash thinks I. We're in Saigon.
Feet appear, legs appear, slowly descending they come, on ... swings! Whatever this music tells you, it's not swings. Good vocals though, and now I'm wondering why it's so good, so forward. It turns out the theatre is acoustically modified (**) and I've no problem with that, I don't think. It certainly hasn't got that creepy directionless sound Adelaide can get. So for all the Ho To Ho'ing and shreiking, these combat girls drop in carefully and cautiously when I wanted risk. I wanted helicopters. Ok, one helicopter. Another million from The Wheelers would have done it. I wanted Apocalypse, Now.
The dead hauled up by the armpits I'll tell you about another time.
So it was left to Susan Bullock, impressing with some lovely controlled exchanges with daddy, and the quite magnificent tireless Terje Stensvold to pull this one off.
Now we had the vast empty black space again, and now Armfield was working some magic. So was the orchestra. It seemed like an eternity, timelessness was on the mountain, and when I thought that that Mr Armfield wasn't going to get me this time, he timed it to perfection and the long delayed contact of Father and Daughter arrived with such a cry of anguish that I broke. So did K, but you'll not hear about that.
(*) The set stayed for the next scene because it is so big it is not possible to change it with a major performance break.
(**) The Guardian reviewer has added that there is no enhancement.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Get an eye full of this. From Limelight, a great review and video clips.
Das Rheingold Melbourne 18 November 2013.
Neil Armfield's directed Ring Cycle premiered last night, finally, with Das Rheingold (cast and pictures etc there).
I loved it. Sitting in the wickedly expensive seats in the State Theatre in Melbourne, I loved it. The irony is coming thick and fast, and I'm loving it - plush red seats filled with the financially filtered sociocultural elite, variously tickety-booed-up, indulging their own good fortunes.
Disclaimer - I am a big Neil Armfiled fan and he is the only reason we are here, I think. There's a lot of reasons really - home country, a holiday in Melbourne, curiosity, the work itself of course, but really, I don't think I'd have bothered if it weren't for Mr Armfield. And, secondly, I might be about to spill the beans on some of the contents of his brilliant bag of tricks, so far, depending on how this goes. I'm still a bit emotional, but you should be used to that by now.
He comes from the place of 'poor theatre', theatre of the bare bones, where the story telling is driven by the characterisations, the illusions are in the eyes of the beholders, and the magic and suspension of disbelief dependent not on wiz-bangery but on the compelling and horrifying reality of seeing yourself on stage, just another weak ambitious gratuitously self-satisfying love trampling sucker for the razzle dazzle.
Armfield delivers a deeply human tragedy told in brutal bareness with some stunning juxtapositions which serve exactly their purpose - to underline and highlight the horror, murder, filth and trampled under class left behind in the wake of the quest for ... Not sure what to put there. Words that come to mind are: stuff, materialism, money, power, self aggrandisement, completion, adequacy, a bigger dick, meaning, relevance. Feel free to add your own.
If your not up on the background to this production, I'm not going there, except for the last turn-up, which is Warwick Fyfe getting a go at Alberich and as it happens (great character performer that he is) stealing (sic) the show, although it should all be about Alberich I know, except sometimes it isn't.
It made me tear up a few times, and sob twice (Alberich's curse, and Erda's tell it like it is).
Proper clever people reviews out there will be coming soon, and I have no intention of being complete, and every intention of raving and gushing a bit.
It's very Australian. The opening sequence is a beachy river of humanity, without pretence, all manner of the great unwashed and idle classes, lolling around, evolving into what one could probably call the 'in-crowd', or so it is for Alberich, a nerdy outsider for whom Armfield, as is his great strength, engages and holds your sympathy - an outcast, another Grimes. In a amazing portrayal, Warwick Fyfe, in great form, anchors this whole episode in what happens when the rejected manage to acquire the means to have power. And the stunning Show Girl Rhinemaidens as the unattainable objects of desire are a master stroke, brilliantly realised and sung, you lovely creatures of the flesh.
Clan Wotan are at home in a strange place - an enigmatic bland characterless beige unfurnished vacuum ludicrously decorated with the odd stuffed animal and a giraffe still in the process of being installed, suspended in the lowering cradle around its girth. Like antlers over a fireplace (neither here I can assure you) it all spoke of nothing except I have because I can. A Zarafa.
I'm not certain that is how Armfiled envisaged things. I did hear him speak about the saving of species, a great arc (of the Noah's kind) but it didn't read that way to me. I thought reckless poacher and collector, not saviour.
Behind the vacuous ode to plainness, was hanging a massive cyclorama of a traditional Valhalla - castle in the sky with a rainbow forging the valley - all in faded sepia. A conceptual sketch maybe, the architects vision perhaps, something for Fricka to stay home with and be distracted planning the fit-out for. Till suddenly the illusion (for that's what is and will be) was ripped down from behind (as illusions should be) by the reality (as reality ought) of the Giants appearing to collect. That they were in cherry pickers was about the only idea which didn't work for me. It was a bit obvious and unnecessary, but never mind. And Daniel Sumegi is getting a bit big in the vibrato department.
Nibelheim was bordering on a compressed (Fritz Lang) Metropolis like place without the buildings, automatons at work, at work for the stupid childish Nerd (though still with my sympathy) with the Power. In a brilliantly conceived theatrical device, where the genius is in the simplicity of the idea, the Tarnhelm was a magician's magic box into which Warwick Fyfe's Alberich relished the chance to fool nobody.
As some guide to how Neil Armfield thinks, Alberich, having had the Ring ripped from his hapless person takes Wotan's spear (that with the rules and covenants of propriety) and it is with this that he, Aberich, launches his curse as the two of them engage face to face, hands gripping the staff, as the little fat man cursing and spitting (which he does again shortly to Loge with stunning effect) downs a crumpling Wotan, just as the music directs. This is no triumph (as some director's would play it) this second theft. Erda puts paid to that idea soon.
Hyeseoung Kwon's Freia was a wonderful fragile little bird-like piece of tradable garbage in a gold lamé dress echoing the plundered rivers of gold, which, and you'll never capture this in a still, had filled the whole stage in shimmering brilliance. It was, I emphasise, quite brutal. Shocking. Raw. Horrible. And no special effects, and that's why.
The evening was effectively hosted by the spivvy Loge of Richard Berkeley-Steele (he goes with she who saves, in a week) until brought to a complete and gob smacking standstill by Deborah Humble's stunning Erda, she who sees nothing and knows all, singing with tremendous authority and depth, while chilling the spine as she ran her hand across Wotan's face.
The acoustics were good. Armfield gets his singers downstage. They sing to us engaging us as the other party. It is powerful and immediate.
After a cautious start, the orchestral sound seemed to grow in confidence and somewhere in Nibelheim seemed to find itself. Details are good while body and fullness (hello strings) will develop, one hopes, The alarmingly boyish Pietari Inkinen knows what he's doing.
And as everyone now knows I'm sure, the bridge to Valhalla was a gorgeous campy rainbow of Marilyn show girls, a superficial dazzling allure, luring the weak to nothing but their own destruction.
And that's just the prologue. As she said - fasten your seat belts.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Last night was his last as Chief Conductor. We met by chance (well, the waiter had something to do with it) and shook hands. The generosity of spirit is immense.
Entirely not my thoughts, but my thoughts entirely.