Sunday, July 5, 2009


I think I'd actually forgotten, or under appreciated, the scale of Gotterdammerung. There’s the sheer length of it and the density of the drama let alone the music and the attention it demands. This was especially the case here in Aix in a production of exemplary detail, dramatic and particularly musical. We’ve been wrecked and emotionally drained for 24 hours now and the heat isn’t helping, although the pool is. I can’t imagine how the Japanese man from Tokyo who sat next to me is doing. He sat slightly forward the whole time, his back never touching the seat, hands clenched on his knees (school photo), rocking slightly back and forth, the only break in his rhythm was to wipe his eyes from time to time.

                                             Gratuitous pool pic (for M)

There is a prologue. Way back when, about 5 years ago, I chanced on a rumour that the Berlin Philly was undertaking its first Ring since H von K. Considerable searching and correspondence later, there came a 2 am phone call from La Boutique du Festival d’ Aix-en-Provence offering row A seats to Rhinegold (2006). Anything to decide?  Nothing - the gods have blessed this, we are going. 

The Rhinegold was in the Théâtre de l'Archevêché, the courtyard of the archbishop's palace, with the audience and most of the pit in the balmy night air in front of a smallish stage, and where nothing starts till dark, 10pm. (We will be back there tonight for a giggle.) It was an uncertain beginning.

The next year, 2007, Die Walküre opened the new Grand Théatre de Provence, a 1350 seat new (dual purpose) theatre, with a lively acoustic, bright though not as immediate as (say) the new Budapest Palace of Arts.

In opera mode, the divider (see photo below) between the pit and audience is not completely opaque and the orchestral sound is huge, especially with these Germans making their WAAAAH sound.

Something like this alone would make a significant difference to the squeezed sound coming from the Sydney Opera House pit. 

This Grand Theatre sits slighty downhill on the edge of the old town, circular inside and out, and is entered via a sunken stone amphitheatre-like pit, which in summer, (and it is summer, believe me) radiates the Provencal day back in onto itself. Someone selling Tarnhelms at the top of the stairs would make a fortune.

The Walkure had much more musical impetus, driving forward the fabulous sound the the Berliners, and the stage was very much dominated by the strong and shining Sieglinde of Eva-Maria Westbroek. 

Last year's (2008) Siegfried was a lifetime experience, riding again on the mighty Berlin Philharmonic, and dominated by 3 phenomenal performances, a superbly acidic Mime by Ulrich Burkhard , Katarina Dalayman's gleaming radiant Brünnhilde and Ben Heppner's first Siegfried. This big burly man looked as much like a young boisterous youth as Sutherland did a wee lassie, yet he so inhabited the part vocally, that, like Sutherland, listening completely transposed the visual image, and I was transfixed by the sweetness, tenderness, and the beauty of his tenor, superbly paced, nowhere more moving than when he sang to the woodbird, gently caressing it in his hands, singing to his unknown mother, his guide, as she, Sieglinde, appeared myseriously in the bare woods behind. I was blubbering in the 3rd row. K was embarrassed. At the final curtain, the whole auditorium took to its feet in one mighty roar, the likes of which I've not seen before over here. (It happened after Die Walkure in the Asher Fisch Ring).

There's an archbishop's palace courtyard to get to soon, so Gotterdammerung thoughts will have to wait till tomorrow, assuming there is one. We laughed about this sort of thing with R (a Sydney quack now working for Government) and other Sydney friends at dinner in Paris. Do you think I'll be dead in a fortnight I asked R. Well, at lot of people will be, he shot back.

More soon.


marcellous said...

I'm a bit confused about what you say about the non-opaque divider and whether something similar could be done for the SOH.

I thought they had already taken out about as much divider as they could in Sydney (and indeed this did bring some improvement: remember, it used to be worse. Hence the fliers distributed from time to time when the orchestra's dignity gets offended by seeing the soles of people's shoes, reminding (or asking) front-row patrons to keep their feet off the rail.

and I remain envious....very...

WANDERER said...

More likely that I am confused. I do remember worse and was aware of pit 'alterations' but didn't know about the 'see-through' divide, fliers etc, so rely on you to bring me up to date there, which in fact you've just done. So what can be done has been done then..alas.