Ecological Rheingold Disappoints

SpainSpain  R. Wagner, Das Rheingold:  Liceu’s Symphony Orchestra, Josep Pons (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu, 25 & 26.4.2013 (JMI)

Production from Köln Oper.
Wotan: Albert Dohmen/Alan Held
Alberich: Andrew Shore/Oleg Bryjak
Loge: Kurt Streit/Francisco Vas
Fricka: Mihoko Fujimura/Katarina Karneus
Fasolt: Ain Anger/Friedemann Röhling
Fafner: Ante Jerkunica/Bjarni Thor Kristinsson
Erda: Ewa Podles/Nadine Weissmann
Freia: Erika Wueschner/Sonja Gornik
Donner: Ralf Lukas
Froh: Marcel Reijans/Willem Van Der Heyden
Mime: Mikhail Vekua
Woglinde:Lisette Bolle/Eva Oltivanji
Wellgunde: María Hinojosa
Flosshilde: Nadine Weissmann/Inés Moraleda

Direction: Robert Carsen
Sets and Costumes: Patrick Kinmonth
Lighting: Manfred Voss

photo credit; A Bofill
photo credit; A Bofill

Liceu, faithful to its long tradition of producing Wagner’s operas,  has once again brought The Ring of the Nibelung to Barcelona.  Sadly, however, the beginning has not lived up to initial expectations.

Robert Carsen’s production comes from Cologne, where it was premiered in 2000. I must confess that I have a special admiration for Mr. Carsen, whom I consider one of the best of today’s stage directors. His work might be widely divergent from previous interpretations, but they are always imaginative and they remain faithful to libretto and score.

This time he follows the ecological path, which will undoubtedly become more resonant in the following parts of the work. During the prelude we see on stage a number of extras walking along the shore of the Rhine, throwing their rubbish into the river, while the Daughters of the Rhine live in a dump.

The gods are the court of a military dictator, whose pomp and lust for power will lead to their ultimate destruction.

The idea seems quite sound, although some viewers will miss spears and hammers, finding instead canes and golf clubs.

Sets and costumes are by Patrick Kinmonth and are quite simple. The Rhine scene shows a bare stage with plenty of waste, while in the second scene we see several construction props. In Nibelheim the stage is again quite bare, with just Alberich’s slaves and some boxes supposedly containing the gold. In the last scene we are in the court of the gods, with the construction elements  lifted to show, at the back of the stage, an attractive panorama of snow.

As usual in Mr.Carsen’s productions, there is excellent stage direction, which worked better with the numerous workers of the giants than with Alberich’s slaves. There are times when things do not happen as hoped, and if the appearance of gold in the dump  is not convincing, far less so are the transformations of Alberich with his helm. This scene is often a test of the director’s imagination, but here things go completely wrong since Alberich never disappears from the sight of the audience – who are the only ones who have to put their imagination to work.

In the pit there was Josep Pons for the first time since his appointment as music director of the theater. I found his reading rather disappointing, flat and bland at times and never fully alive and convincing. The Rhine scene was rather routine. When it  seemed that his conducting was taking on more life, it lapsed again all too soon and I think he has to improve a lot to achieve what is demanded by the remaining operas. The orchestra also has a long way to go to live up to this great score. It’s a bit early to judge Mr. Pons work, but I expected more from him.

There were two alternative casts with same ticket prices.

The choice of  Albert Dohmen as Wotan would have been a good one a couple of years ago, but his voice has changed significantly and not for the better. The size is now rather reduced and the high notes are more problematic than ever and regrettably his excellence as Wotan is now in the past. Jason Howard canceled, and was replaced by Alan Held. His Wotan was quite  credible and he has enough power for it, though he lacks nuances in his singing. This is not a big problem in Das Rheingold, but it can be a serious handicap in Walküre or Siegfried.

British baritone Andrew Shore was a good Alberich, but not exceptional. I prefered Oleg Bryjak from the alternative cast, who was quite convincing in the character.

American tenor Kurt Streit made a remarkable Loge. His voice is a bit light, but it easily reaches the whole house. Francisco Vas has been for years an excellent comprimario in the house and now Liceu has given him the opportunity to take on what is virtually a protaganist’s role. His performance was excellent, both singing and acting. Kudos for both Loges.

Mihoko Fujimura was good in the part of Fricka, while Katarina Karneus was rather more modest.

The main difference between casts lay in the giants. Ain Anger was an excellent Fasolt in every sense, while Ante Jerkunica made a good Fafner. In the alternative cast Friedemann Röhling was good as Fasolt and Bjarni Thor Kristinsson went unnoticed as Fafner.

Ewa Podles is a true contralto with a spectacularly low register, which makes her ideally suited to play Erda. Her performance was good, singing with gusto, although the high notes lack brilliance. Nadine Weismann was also good in the other cast.

In the minor roles I should mention Mikhail Vekua as an excellent Mime in vocal terms.

Liceu had some empty seats in the more expensive rows and the house was about 80% full on both evenings. The loudest ovations went to Ain Anger, Ewa Podles, Oleg Bryjak and both Loges.

José Mª. Irurzun