WAGNER: Das Rheingold
The small German city Wiemar has a long and distinguished heritage. Liszt, Schiller and Goethe lived there, and over the centuries it has been a center for cultural activities. Today things have slipped more than a bit. This production of Wagner's Ring cycle is a joint effort of Deutsches Nationaltheater, Staatskapelle Weimar and Staatstheater Thüringen. Wolfgang Willaschek devised this venture, with minimal sets by Dirk Becker and costumes (often ludicrous) by Renée Listerdal. The absurdities begin even before the opera. DVD notes describe Wallaschek's misguided concept of the Ring. As the curtain opens for Das Rheingold, we see three young girls ("knowledgeable norns") with hand puppets speaking part of the Prologue to Siegfried's Death. And it goes downhill from there. The sets look cheap, and throughout the performance you will experience numerous misguided directorial decisions. During the Rhine Journey, Siegfried and Brünnhilde kiss passionately. Why? The Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla (a bare stage with a harpist on the left side) is a mockery of Wagner's intent. At the conclusion of Siegfried, the two lovers are in front of a huge wedding banquet table. Of course there is no fire for the Immolation Scene, and during it Brünnhilde washes Siegfried's face with a sponge—and he comes back to life. The opera ends as rain falls on everyone. You will notice that Die Walküre isn't listed above—I did not see it, nor do I care to. I admit I did not watch all three of these operas in their entirety. My annoyance level is quite low. The productions are not helped by the quality of singing, most of which is mediocre, although Johnny van Hall's Siegfried is promising. American conductor Carl St. Clair was music director of the Weimar Opera until last year. He has made many fine recordings, mostly of American music, including all of the symphonies of Villa-lobos. It is difficult to judge his expertise in Wagner in these mid-guided productions, and the orchestra he has to work with obviously is not large enough. Video quality is excellent, as is audio. Don't waste your time.
R.E.B. (November 2009)