Tuesday 14 June 2005

Images of the Rhinegold

I am currently listening to a complete Ring cycle for a review; something of a novelty for me, as I rarely listen to the entire Ring in anything like one go. The curious thing about the Ring on disc is how strongly, for me, Wagner’s music evokes the images of past productions that I have seen so that you are listening whilst watching a video compilation of your own making.

For the opening of Rhinegold the image evoked is always the opening of the first Götz Friedrich Ring at Covent Garden which we saw in its last revival in, I think, 1984. Just a bare stage, almost filled be a huge rectangular playing area. Then you think, did it move? Surely it moved. And slowly, as the music builds the rectangle spins faster and faster. The Rhinemaidens scene was less successful, as seen from the rear Amphtheatre. The playing area lifted up to reveal huge mirrors beneath, these reflected the Rhinemaidens, playing beneath the stage. This must have been highly effective in the stalls, as you would just see the mirrors with their wavy images. But we saw the mechanics as well, being high enough up to see the real singers as well.

The best Rhinemaidens that I have seen was probably at Hungarian State Opera where they used lasers for the Rhine and the Rhinemaidens frolicked in a stunning wash of laser light.

It was the Hungarians who gave us a memorable descent into Nibelheim as this scene utilised the whole of their fine stage facilities. The set for Valhalla simply rose, to reveal the set for Nibelheim beneath, so that Wotan and Loge’s descent actually kept them in the same place on stage as the set moved upwards. The only drawback was the faint whirr of the stage machinery acting as a background to Wagner’s music!

For the final scene, memory returns to Covent Garden in 1984. I’m not sure why Götz Friedrich’s stage picture was so evocative, but it has stayed in the memory. The rectangular playing area has converted to a set of steps leading up from the front of the stage to the distant image of Valhalla at the rear. As the Gods climb up, stepping over the Fasolt’s body, they walk in a stylised manner. It might have been the age of the set, or it might have been Friedrich’s intention, but it seemed somehow appropriate that the Valhalla was a rather dusty and not at all the gleaming halls of the imagination.

I’ve just started listening to Valkyrie, so no doubt more images will be occurring to me.

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