Tuesday, November 19, 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.


Anonymous said...

Great account.

Once again,envy mingled with regret at my somewhat atypically financially prudent decision not to go.

I had missed the news that Fyfe was stepping in for Wegner. Neither Wegner's indisposition nor Fyfe's success come as much of a surprise. JW's difficulties in Tosca this year seemed more than mere flu and Fyfe has been going from strength to strength.

It is hard to imagine JW pulling off "nerd" as well as WF - though of course the role may well have been shaped towards his potential.

David said...

Casa Wotan looks a bit like a Richard Jones image - but I know Armfield is too much of an individualist to rip off.

Always difficult to judge a Ring from a Rheingold, but it has to be playful at times, and it looks like this one is.

harryfiddler said...

Oh goodness, I just filed a review to The Opera Critic and I am so on the same page as you that it's not funny. I swear I didn't read your review first!

wanderer said...

Good to hear Harry. I haven't been to TOC yet, and keen as I am to read you (fan boy you know) will wait till I get my last installment uploaded.

I did see your call for chats (and drinkies?) which SN retweeted. Pity about that; there's much to toss around here.