Ring Returns to Roots at Dalhalla

SwedenSweden. Wagner: Das Rheingold. Soloists, Dalasinfoniettan and Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Partik Ringborg (conductor). Dalhalla 10.8.2013. Premiere (GF)

Wotan – Anders Larsson
Donner – Calle Lindén
Froh – Peter Gröning
Loge – Göran Eliasson
Alberich – Ola Eliasson
Mime – Niklas Björling Rygert
Fasolt – Michael Schmidberger
Fafner – Johan Schinkler
Fricka – Anna Larsson
Erda – Helene Ranada
Woglinde – Vivianne Holmberg
Wellgunde – Cornelia Beskow
Flosshilde – Beatrice Orler

Director: Marcus Jupither
Set Design: Monika Frelin
Costume Design: Monika Frelin
Make Up Design: Katrin Wahlberg
Stunt Choreographer: Jannica Svärd
Light Design: Peter Stockhaus
Sound Design: Bengt Park


The header may not be literally 100 per cent true – it is still the Rhine that is the artery in this production – but much of the mythological background for the enormous tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen is from old Norse sources, primarily Icelandic and Norwegian, and from another standpoint: almost twenty years ago the first operatic adventure at Dalhalla was a highly acclaimed compact production of the Ring.

The setting is in many ways a gift from Valhall (Note that “Dalhalla” is a transformation of “Valhall”) to the director: rough steep granite walls, dark wide forests surrounding the arena and the stage washed by a lake shimmering in magical green. On a clear night thousands of stars can be seen above the old limestone quarry – the whole universe is involved! On the premiere night the stars were hidden behind thick rain clouds and a few threatening drops of rain fell just before the performance started, but that was the only kind of moisture the audience were subjected to. For the participants in the music drama water was much more in the focus. The three Rhinemaidens arrived during the prelude swimming in perfect formation and then started playing in the shallow water that separates the stage from the audience, Alberich came climbing down the rock-face and splashed into the lake, Wotan and Fricka arrived on a remote-controlled raft and so on. The Nordic Rhein was indeed the artery, where both the Nibelung dwarfs (local children) and even the Ruler himself, Wotan, had a plunge. This is certainly the wettest Wagner performance so far. Since the action takes place both on earth and down in Nibelheim, Wotan and Loge have to be transported vertically by hoisting devices – also a spectacular solution. There is profusion of ideas but not ends in themselves. The production is coherent.

One problem with Dalhalla is the very large stage, which can sometimes feel desolate without a lot of props. This time the orchestra is placed at the back, fully visible behind a thin veil. But this doesn’t fully solve the other problem: the acoustics. Dalhalla has been famous for its excellent acoustics, but the new roof, designed as something from Star Wars, has obviously impaired it. The orchestra – the combined forces of Dalasinfoniettan and Gävle Symphony Orchestra – played well under Patrik Ringborg but the sound picture was dim and distant, and this also affected the voices. One has to adjust to the different perspective when listening, but even then there is a lack of punch. A real Wagnerian fortissimo should make even physical impact, but it never does. Fortunately most of the soloists had large voices that carried out well, but all in all one left the performance with a feeling of having seen a large-scale production in small-scale sound.

The quality of the performance though, musically and dramatically, was never in question. Marcus Jupither, who here made his debut as director, has chiselled out the characters masterly and with intelligent and responsive actors the end result was very satisfying. The Rheinmaidens not only swam like fishes, they also impressed with excellent singing. Swimming and singing at the same time isn’t quite my idea of a comfortable evening – and the water temperature can’t have been very high. Quite a feat! The three ladies on stage were also admirable. Anna Larsson, the world’s leading Erda, this time adopted the role of Wotan’s wife Fricka with equally satisfying result. As Erda we heard another internationally active Swedish mezzo-soprano, Helene Ranada, whose Weiche, Wotan, weiche had the right otherworldly feeling. Anneli Lindfors did well in the rather ungrateful role of Freia. Donner and Froh were well taken by Calle Lindén and debuting Peter Gröning, Niklas Björling Rygert was a convincing Mime, a role he also sang at the Stockholm Royal Opera a number of years ago. Michael Schmidberger and Johan Schinkler were imposing giants, in particular Schinkler’s thunderous Fafner. Ola Eliasson’s Alberich provoked both disgust and pity – the character is one of the most fascinating in the whole Ring. The real heroes of the evening were however Anders Larsson’s powerful Wotan and Göran Eliasson’s oily Loge. The former made a rounded portrait of a very human god, noble and visionary but also hot-tempered and cowardly. The latter only seems to be better for each year, in spite of the fact that his main occupation is artist manager with around 25 singers in his stable and artistic director of Dalhalla Opera. As Loge he challenges Graham Clark – and sings better! He owned the stage and moved about ballet-like, almost weightless.

As I have understood it the ambition is to present the remaining three Ring operas in due time and this Rheingold is an auspicious start to the complete cycle – in a setting Wagner would have envied.

Göran Forsling