Wednesday, December 25, 2013


A week exactly after Rheingold we were fronting up for Götterdämmerung. Knowing we'd be late at an after-party, we were already packed for a quick get-away the next morning. It was like it had ended before it had started, as is so often with Götterdämmerung - a late finish and an early start the next day to move on. Somewhere else. Leave it behind. Except I took a lot of this with me this time.

I'd link to the cast but in a brilliant stroke of genius, Opera Australia have removed all details of the Ring Performances and the Ring Festival from their website. Which is bloody irritating. On the Sunday morning we coughed up and went to a talk (there's one on each Sunday of each of the three cycles, but each with different participants) between OA chief Lyndon Terracini and Stuart Skelton (Siegmund) and the Wotan cover Shane Lowrencev.

Audience questions kept coming back to the production which Mr Terracini declined to comment on because he was interviewing director Neil Armfield on a subsequent Sunday (and a subsequent cycle) and couldn't preempt that. But, after prompting, he agreed to put the transcripts of that interview on-line, to the audible relief of those who, obviously, couldn't be there. And during an interval at Götterdämmerung I was given a firm assurance that it would happen. Well, if it did happen, it didn't happen for long. Thanks Lyndon.

So left with the published programme which has some brief Director's notes (along with four excellent essays about things Wagnerian and Ringy), here's the best I can give you of what Armfield has to say about his ideas:

* Love is exchnaged for wealth, and this is no arbitrary exchange

* The Ring is the story of a man "who recognises that the world is being destroyed by greed but is so compromised" by his own situation that he is unable to change anything, as are we all in one way or another.

* And "'it is essential'" wrote Wagner to August Röckel "'that everyone can recognise himself in Wotan'".

* Finally, the thematic message:
"But ours is a world in which species of animals and plants are being lost as they are being discovered. It's a world shaped by the mass movement of people escaping war or persecution or destruction of habitat. A world of miraculous developments of technology sitting on the most glaring inequalities of wealth and opportunity: the third world enslaved by the first.

One hundred and fifty years ago Wagner wrote The Ring as an incitement to both artistic and social revolution. He wanted the self-destructing world to be cleansed and to start over again. As we face deluge and conflagration in the 21st century, Wagner's götterdammerung is perhaps only a matter of time. He asks the essential question: is our love strong enough to save us?"

There's a short trailer which gives a look at the general feel of the staging - the Norns struggling to repair a fading tapestry of life; the Gibichungs in their noveau riche home gymnasium, the designer wedding in the marquee, the rifle club and the murder.

What was really starting to have an impact on me was how appropriate the casting was to the meaningfulness of this production. All were consistently in character in direction (and Neil Armfield is a genius at letting the actor evolve his own characterisation, under the 'gentle guidance', which is why it seems so from 'within') but also in voice. To that extent, this was one of if not the most satisfying of Ring experiences. I might well have heard some of the roles better sung, but there's more to it than that. Sometimes vocal imperfections (against an idealised perfect) are the more revealing.

I loved
the bitterness in Fyfe's Alberich,
the weary masculinity of Stensvold Wotan,
the glorious accomplishment of Skelton's Siegmund,
the wounds in Gordon-Stewart's Sieglinde,
the depths in Humble's Erda,
the persistence in Dark's Fricka,
the boundless confidence in Vinke's Siegfried,
the hapless sexlessness in Macfarlane's Mime,
the startled brightness in Fribig's Woodbird,
the weaknesses in Ryan's Gunter
and last but not least, and this is her opera - the determined, nuggety and ultimately very moving Brünnhilde of Susan Bullock.

She's interesting on stage, very committed, and uses her vocal resources with great intelligence and integrity. She was quite wonderful I thought, with that sense of struggle and battling through thick and thin, and her vocal resources matched that completely and her midrange was splendid and almost Shakespearean in its impact, on me, in those vital exchanges, we know what they are.

The first sms I received the next morning was "how was it - bleak or redemptive?" which is of course the real question, not how was the trill, or the high Cs, as much as I like trills and high Cs. I could only answer that the music was, as written and as wonderfully played, beautifully redemptive but the staging was uncertain, and pointing to the other way. K had tears running down his cheeks, and likewise. The final effect was overpowering, with this sense of something having been set in motion and while everyone knows that something must be done to avert calamity, no one yet has, or can access, the where-with-all to know what.

It was the final moments that pulled all these thoughts together: Siegfried death throes witnessed with the horror of what have we done; the gentle lifting of the body in loving embrace of fellowship; the washing of the feet and death mask ...

... the bizarre but riveting standing corpse drapped in black; the people piling up flowers in a Diana-moment; Brünnhilde's taking of some white lillies and joining her dead beloved in a perspective that looked as ridiculous as dolls on a wedding cake but as tragic as anything I have seen as they revolved slowly in the conflagration watched in strange detachment by the people. The people. This was all about people.

And that tinge of despair was what I took away all the while knowing there is another way. There is another way. The music tells us that, but who will listen. And can those who do, do anything.


Susan Scheid said...

Wanderer: You write so beautifully about The Ring and about this production. I've come to feel that I knew too little to continue to comment with any sense, but I've followed along with great appreciation and am grateful for the spur that you, along with David, provided to experience this opera live myself, even if in a less well realized production. I hope you had a very happy Christmas, and with best wishes for the New Year.

David said...

So intrigued to know more: what was the final image, the one up top? How evil was Hagen? Did it all join up? I have to say I'm surprised about Vinke, who used to make the ugliest sounds known to tenor. He must have evolved and looks amazingly convincing as a red-headed teenager. Above all your images make me really want to see a fully-staged Ring again, after years of disenchantment.

wanderer said...

Sue, happy Christmas and Festive Everything to you and yours too, and sincerest wishes for a wonderful and satisfying 2014 full of contentment.

I think if I were to spur you on to anything Ring related, and I'm pretty sure David would agree, then seek out the Chéreau Ring.

As for commenting or not, I spend most visits to your blog reduced to silence by the wonder of it all. Anyway, I'm not so fussed about comments, and if anyone visits, lingers, even enjoys, then I'm more than grateful.

wanderer said...

David, the final image was the last picture posted above - the two 'wedding cake' dolls slowly revolving in the burning building as the 'world' watches with a good deal of ambiguity - are they/we being shown some preview of what will happen if we don't change?

The Rheindaughter photo -dejected, dispirited (like a drag queen the morning after) - I thought especially apt, and hence ran it as my header.

I was strangely unaffected by Hagen and consciously didn't make mention above. I felt Daniel Sumegi's voice dry and uninteresting but he is a big man and has quite a presence. As I saw his Hagen, it was less hyper-evil KGB type, as seems to be the norm these days, with Russian casting to boot, and not even quite pyscho, but Asperger's comes to mind - a complete misfit unable to deal with himself and others - and certainly totally under the influence of his father. (And I don't mean that in any way to be a definition of Asperger's or suggest a propensity to violence.) To that extent, he was, like all this Ring's characters, completely believable.

It did all come together. I know the Guardian suggested otherwise. But it was very antipodean - spare and subversive. On the night perhaps to a lesser extent, but afterwards I couldn't let it go (unlike some other recent Rings) and the more I dwelt on it the more it seemed to gel.

There's a good review by an expat living here which I'll send you.

Happy New Year to all. We are about to be consumed in an orgy of fireworks,

Susan Scheid said...

Wanderer: the Chereau Ring is on my wish list, ever since you first noted it (and I do suspect David would agree) along with the Lees DVDs. On the subject of Chereau, unbeknownst to me at the time, I saw a great Chereau production of Janacek's From the House of the Dead a couple years back. I knew I was seeing something wonderful, but, a little like my first live baseball game, the first no-hitter in Wrigley Field in 9 years with Kenny Holtzman pitching for the Cubs, I didn't fully comprehend its significance, which, in the case of the baseball game, was this: "Holtzman notably had no strikeouts in his gem, which was the first no-hitter ever thrown by a Cub left-hander at Wrigley Field. It was also the second no-hitter ever thrown without a strikeout (Sad Sam Jones on September 4, 1923), a feat that has not been equaled since."

Now, the difference, for me, between the two events is this: in the case of the opera, I became a fan of Janacek's, look forward to seeing future Janacek operas, and look forward to obtaining the Chereau Ring. In the case of the baseball game, nothing ever measured up, and I quickly lost what little interest I'd had in the game.

Hope you enjoyed the fireworks, and here's to a happy New Year!

wanderer said...

Sue the Chéreau From the House of the Dead is sitting here still sealed along with a stack of others waiting for, for ... longer nights I suppose.

Off the the big smoke now, mit Hund, for the razzle dazzle.

Happy New Year.