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The Chéreau Ring Cycle - Das Rheingold

available at Amazon
Centennial Ring, Das Rheingold,
Chéreau / Boulez

Rheingold. The first (and to some mercifully shortest) of the Ring operas has the three Rhinemaidens (if you know Anna Russell’s take on The Ring, you start snickering by now) appear on top of a hydroelectric dam under the direction of Patrice Chéreau. They are dressed in clothing of the mid-19th century, from around the time Wagner started working on The Ring. Flirting, tempting maidens that they are, they are dressed exactly as a member of their trade would have, then. Norma Sharp (Woglinde), Ilse Gramatzki (Wellgunde), and Marga Schuml (Flosshilde) are these three (very attractive!) prostitutes. Hermann Becht’s excellent Alberich approaches them from beneath (as according to the text) and is teased as mercilessly as explicitly by the wild-haired, skirt-waving lasses.

Scene two is ‘upstairs’ with the Gods, the just-finished Walhalla behind them. Walhalla itself is a hodgepodge of architectural styles of the time, with the verticals accentuated. A pilaster here, a neoclassical Corinthian pillar there, features of the industrial palaces of its time… The gods are power-hungry, decadent slackers decked out in silk and brocade (not unlike Wagner liked to dress). A passed-out Wotan — Donald McIntyre — is wakened by Hanna Schwartz’s Fricka. (Hanna Schwartz is a multipurpose Ring singer, contributing to every modern Ring cycle of importance, except Barenboim's. Apart from her Fricka here, she’s Waltraute for Levine, Flosshilde for Janowski, and Erda for Sawallisch.) Carmen Reppel is a vocally supercharged Freia with ample natural assets of love, befitting her position among the gods and justifying Fafner and especially Fasolt’s coveting her. Matti Salminnen’s Fasolt is all that one could ask for, Fritz Hübner’s Fafner not far behind. That they are about eight times the size of their human and godly counterparts makes them impressive and slyly humorous as well. They must walk on the shoulders of others and have huge arms that they can use with very modest precision. (Note Freia’s unacted look of surprise when Fasolt’s hand goes prematurely for her golden apples!)

Also on Ionarts:

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Götterdämmerung (September 21, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Siegfried (September 15, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Die Walküre (September 14, 2005)

Patrice Chéreau's New Film at the Mostra (September 8, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle — Das Rheingold (September 7, 2005)

Boulez Comes Down from the Green Hill for Good (September 5, 2005)

The Chéreau Ring Cycle - The Making of... (September 2, 2005)
Demigod Loge meanwhile is vocally magnificently portrayed and characterized as well as superbly acted out by Heinz Zednik. Quite different than in other productions, Loge, probably my favorite character in the Ring, is not the aloof seer but rather a Wotan-toadying weasel. But he’s the brains of the Walhalla-god operation and the only one (together with Wotan, to an extent) of the immortal men that has his wits together. To get an idea of Loge/Zednik imagine two-thirds Gene Wilder as the sheep-loving physician in Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sex… but Were Afraid to Ask, part Scrooge, and a good dose of Terry Gilliam from Monty Python. He’s clearly the outcast among the gods, not prone to frolicking with Donner or Froh, both of whom are on-the-money airheads acted and sung by Martin Egel and Siegfried Jerusalem, respectively. If they, too, seem awfully familiar, check Louis and Oswald from the Drew Carey Show. Loge’s dress is a shabby, black, and more modest silk suit; his shirt lace is in perpetual disarray. The weakened gods’ stumbling (after the giants made away with the golden-apple-of-youth-supplying Freia) is a mix between Brueghel’s Blind Leading the Blind and a scene from Fellini’s Satyricon.

Scene three takes place in the coal mine-like shaft of Alberich’s realm, where his enslaved Nieblungs and Mime, his equally enslaved brother, are busy at work retrieving more gold from the mountain. Wagner seems to have had Helmut Pampuch in mind when he created the role. He hasn’t the most impressive projection to be found among voices, but his acting with voice and body are dramatically so convincing as to leave no doubt about his unique suitability. (Listening to him in that role in Sawallisch’s Ring is a particular joy, and on Barenboim’s just about as much.) Alberich’s capture further highlights the acting bonanza that is the cast under Chéreau, showing the theater director in him who brings out the best in what are no longer acting singers but singing actors. Donald McIntyre’s veteran Wotan is respectable and more, and if he is overshadowed by Loge and Alberich, it is because of their strength, not any weakness on his part. His dramatic abilities are unquestionable, anyway.

After Wotan has been warned by Erda (Ortrun Wenkel), Freia freed, and the wailing Rhinemaidens insulted, the gods ascend into Walhalla and Loge draws the curtain – literally – to the excellently sonorous and deep sound of the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra playing the brassy last notes of Das Rheingold. I listened to it in impressive PCM Stereo – DTS 5.1 is available and must be better an experience yet.) Pierre Boulez may take down some phrases to chamber-like transparency (or so it is said and repeated all the time) but there’s no lack of heft in the playing when called for. I know the complete set has its detractors – but just coming off the high of watching this performance, I cannot imagine how anyone could find another version of Das Rheingold better – much less object to it on some grounds (Gwyneth Jones hasn’t even appeared yet…).

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