Controversial Colón Ring

ArgentinaArgentina  Wagner (adapted by Cord Garben), Colón Ring: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Colón. Conductor: Roberto Paternostro, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 30.11.2012. (JSJ)

Director: Valentina Carrasco
Sets: Carles Berga (based on original design by Frank Schlössmann)
Costumes: Nidia Tusal
Lighting: Peter Van Praet
Chorus: Peter Burian

Brunnhilde: Linda Watson
Wotan: Jukka Rasilainen
Siegmund: Stig Andersen
Siegfried: Leonid Zakhozhaev
Alberich: Andrew Shore
ieglinde: Marion Ammann
Fricka: Simone Schröder
Mime: Kevin Conners
Helmwige – Gutrune: Sabine Hogrefe
Gunther: Gerard Kim
Freia – Gerhilde: Sonja Mühleck-Witte
Fasolt – Hunding – Hagen: Daniel Sumegi
Fafner: Gary Jankowski
Loge: Stefan Heibach
Woglinde – Ortlinde – Woglinde: Silja Schindler
Wellgunde – Grimgerde: Uta Christina Georg
Flosshilde – Schwertleite: Bernadett Fodor
Helmwige: Sabine Hogrefe
Waltraute: Susanne Geb
Rossweise: Manuela Bress
Siegrune: Adriana Mastrángelo

Alberich and the Rhinemaidens. (Photo Teatro Colón)

“I like it because I love the music,” said an acquaintance during one of the intervals of the so called Colón Ring – and this nicely sums up this controversial, and as it turned out troublestruck, work – an adaptation of Wagner’s monumental Der Ring des Nibelungen by the German pianist, conductor and recording executive Cord Garben of some 7 hours in length for a single performance.

It is not clear where or with whom the idea of such a compacted Ring originated, but it was done with the support of Katharina Wagner, great granddaughter of the composer and co-director of the Bayreuth Festival, who was due to direct it. That was until her sudden withdrawal in mid-October – she claiming – and vigorously denied – that the Colón was not sufficiently advanced with the scenery and dress (but subsequently it turned out, she also having made other commitments). In her place Argentine Valentina Carrasco from La Fura dels Baus was secured.

In the meantime also, two of the four planned performances had been cancelled, apparently due to a City government budget cut.

Gorben’s intention, as he outlined it at a press conference a year ago, was to eliminate the long discussions, repetitions and other fragments with little impact on the narrative – and in fact the final version was different from that outlined at the time, which had it opening with the second act of Die Walküre with Das Rheingold and the first act conflated as a flashback.

What we were presented with was the four parts of the Ring, each reduced by somewhat more than half, presented in sequence, with three extended intervals with refreshments in each – the show starting at 2.30 pm and ending close to 11.30 pm, with almost seven hours of music.

To achieve this obviously required fairly extensive cuts and they were many and frequent, and include not only “narrative” but also music. For example much of the prelude of Siegfried was cut as was that of Götterdämmerung, and as can be seen from the cast list, Donner and Froh were written out of Rheingold, as was Erda, and the Norns from Götterdämmerung.

So much for the work itself, and what about the production? La Fura dels Baus has an avant-garde approach and though this was a Carrasco production (scenographer Berga is also from that group, although the sets were based on the designs of Frank Schlössmann from Katharina Wagner’s team), its heritage was clear. Although it started promisingly enough with a water projection, the curtain opened to a modern two storey building, which with a tiered platform and a mini obelisk on a revolving stage served each successive scene. No Rhinemaidens but washerwomen, Alberich a normal person, Fafner wheelchair bound, Sieglinde enslaved with a rope around her neck and apparently long not having stood up straight, Siegfried despatched by Hagen with a golf club, the projections of a boat during Siegfried’s Rhine journey and the succession of images of people such as Mother Theresa and Che Guevara during his funeral march…

And with the exception of Wotan in a military costume – suggested by some to represent Juan Domingo Perón – most of the rest appeared to be mostly in their clothes of the day.

Fortunately the situation was better on the musical front with Roberto Paternostro – also a fairly late replacement for Julien Salemkour – conducting the 95 strong orchestra – and 85 alternates – with a consistently well measured pace and stamina over the long length of the production.

The principals were also mostly of a high standard, with Linda Watson as Brunnhilde singing with consistently strong line. Jukka Rasilainen was a somewhat bland Wotan, and Leonid Zakhozhaev was an arrogant and boorish Siegfried. Stig Andersen was musical in his much reduced Siegmund although Marion Ammann seemed hesitant as Sieglinde. Other notable performances were the raincoat and bespectacled Loge of Stefan Heibach, the athletic Mime of Kevin Conners, and the dark bassed Daniel Sumegi successively as Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen.

However, of surprise was that even with the Colón’s apparent preference for foreign singers, even all but one of the Walkyres should be foreign, with the single local singer Adriana Mastrangelo as Siegrune.

Whither the Colón Ring now? It had been hoped that other theatres would take it up but so far this hasn’t happened, and a recording is believed to be becoming available. One can see how, in this 21st century fast moving, short attention span age it might be thought to have appeal, but it goes against the grain of artistic integrity. Also, for theatres that might baulk at a full Ring cycle even over an extended period, it would still be a demanding undertaking, given both the musical and audience requirements.

With the way the production was presented, it felt like what it was – a performance of the four works in cut form, with no attempt to unify them any further. And while it served to feature so much of Wagner’s wonderful music from this work, close followers of the storyline would have noticed gaps and the lingering sense is of something missing.

Jonathan Spencer Jones