Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Twighlight of the Ring

To the London Coliseum on Saturday to see the final instalment of ENO’s Ring. Having missed the first 2 instalments for personal reasons, this was only our 2nd exposure to Phyllida Lloyd’s wacky world of Wagner.


I could just about cope with Siegfried and Brunnhilde’s ‘Little House on the Prairie’ idyll during the prologue, though I was rather disturbed at the sheer dislocation between the rather twee visual signals and the magnificent music. Was Lloyd trying to tell us that the love between Siegfried and Brunnhilde was not real? This was only 1 of many instances where I felt that Lloyd was telling us a different story to Wagner; more particularly, she seemed to ignore the implications of the leitmotifs in the orchestra. Having the Gibichungs living in some sort of classy hotel spa is OK too, but why was Hagen wearing a shalwar kamiz and why was did Gutrune’s dresses have a distinctly Bollywood flavour.


By the end of Act 1 we were happy enough and still prepared to trust Lloyd, but Act 2 is the most complex of the opera and takes you to the heart of the drama. And here, Lloyd decided to depict the complicated manoeuvrings between Hagen, Gutrune, Gunther, Siegfried and Brunnhilde as some sort of Jerry Springer-like show with Hagen as the host. Not only did this completely took the drama out of the piece but it undermined the principals attempts to create coherent music drama. Lloyd’s view of the fundamental drama was further compromised by her having Brunnhilde apparently going into Gunther’s bed at the end of the act. Previously in the Act, Hagen’s dream had been complicated by his masturbatory visions of Gutrune and nothing Andrew Shore as Alberich could do would redeem the situation. A shame as Gidon Saks was a superb Hagen, when he was allowed to be.


Our appreciation was further compromised by a situation that Lloyd could not have envisaged. When the chorus were no longer required, instead of them going off stage Lloyd has them hide behind some of the scenery. But by accident (or design) they were visible and the revenge trio was accompanied by the sight of members of the chorus playing charades in silhouette!


By Act 3 we were wondering what else we were in for. Not much as it turned out as most of the act was played out on a black stage with just three girders across the floor and thin wires running up to the ceiling, almost as if someone had forgotten to add the scenery proper. Oh, and I forgot, there was also a platform for the Rhinemaidens pole-dancing poles.


It might have seemed a good idea, way back on day 1 of the cycle, to make the Rhinemaidens into pole-dancers. But Wagner did not envision this when he brought them back for their encounter with Siegfried in Act 3 and Lloyd’s conception did not do much to help the drama. We also had a very stagy bear running across the stage during the hunt, one of a number of moments when the audience laughed inappropriately.


The only coup de theatre came in the final moments of Act 3 when the girders lifted up to reveal shimmering curtains representing the Rhine, a beautiful moment; I just wish there had been more of them


Musically things have improved in the conducting and orchestral departments though I am still not convinced that Paul Daniel is a natural Wagnerian. Richard Berkeley Steele has developed into an extremely useful Siegfried, though he will probably make more impact in a slightly smaller house. And in a production where he does not have to pretend to be half his age, resulting in him coming over rather like Jeremy Clarkson. As I have said, Gidon Saks was outstanding. Claire Weston and Iain Paterson made a good impression as the Gibichungs and Weston’s soprano is definitely one to watch in this repertoire. Kathleen Broderick has developed as Brunnhilde, but she is still hyperactive on stage and needs to learn that less is more sometimes. Here account of the music was always carefully paced, she lacks the vocal resources to ever let go and it was only in the very closing moments of the Immolation Scene that she really soared. The single biggest puzzle of this Ring is why someone like Susan Bullock is not singing the role rather then Broderick, a singer whose voice would be far more suitable to doing Wagner in one of the smaller German houses rather than in the cavernous spaces of the Coliseum


You may have noticed rather a gap between our attending the opera and my posting this notice. I was so furious after the performance that it took some considerable time for me to be able to write this piece rationally. The big shame is that my partner, who was hearing the opera for the first time, has taken away a rather skewed view of the piece. I only hope that musically, at least, the Royal Opera will be able to remedy the situation.

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month