Russian Federation Wagner: Das Rheingold, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (conductor), Mariinsky II, St. Petersburg, 4.3.2015 (JMI)
Wotan: Yevgeny Nikitin
Alberich: Edem Umerov
Fricka: Ekaterina Gubanova
Loge: Mikhail Vekua
Fasolt: Edward Tsanga
Fafner: Mikhail Petrenko
Freia: Anastasia Kalagina
Mime: Andrei Popov
Donner: Yevgeny Ulanov
Froh: Alexander Timchenko
Woglinde: Zhanna Dombrovskaya
Wellgunde: Yulia Matochkina
Flosshilde: Yekaterina Sergeyeva
Production: Mariinsky Theatre
Production Concept: Valery Gergiev and George Tsypin
Sets: George Tsypin
Costumes: Tatiana Noginova
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky
Revival Director and Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk
These performances of The Ring of the Nibelung are taking place in the new Mariinsky II, located next to the traditional Mariinsky Theatre. Opened two years ago, the new building is a vast space with many staging possibilities and good acoustics. Both Mariinsky theatres operate at the same time (on 4 March in the old house it was Massenet’s Don Quichotte), and there is a third theatre, known as Concert Hall, that also hosts part of the Mariinsky company. Every day there are concerts or opera performances, and it’s clear that St. Petersburg is a must for the opera lover.
This production of The Ring is by the team of Valery Gergiev and George Tsypin. In the first opera, there is a bare stage with four huge, almost megalithic, figures hanging from the top and a number of small figures, more or less in human form, around the stage. I would guess that the big ones represent the gods, while the small ones are the Nibelungs. There are some props in the scene of the Rhine and a large golden ball representing the Rheingold. The costumes are rather functional: white tunics for Wotan and Fricka and coloured ones for gods and demigods. The giants move about encased in large blocks with only their heads visible. Lighting is very important at times, especially in the scene of the transformations of Alberich.
The stage direction by Marina Mishuk is not particularly convincing. It’s rather weak and the actors are too static on stage. That might be effective initially, but I fear that these huge figures will become very repetitive over four days.
The city of St. Petersburg owes much to Valery Gergiev. His artistry and indefatigable activity have made the Mariinsky recognized all over the world through their frequent tours. I doubt that without Valery Gergiev the Mariinsky could have reached this high level. Gergiev’s quality as conductor is beyond any discussion, as has been proved many times and in many opera houses. The biggest problem lies in the fact that his incessant activity means performances are not always perfectly rehearsed. This time Marina Mishuk was also responsible for the musical preparation.
Here Gergiev’s conducting had two quite different parts. Both in the scene of the Rhine and in the first scene of the gods, it seemed to me that his leadership was below expectation and lacked the excellence we have enjoyed from him so many times. With the descent to Nibelheim things changed for the better, and it became a brighter musical version, maybe not all that could be expected but remarkable in any case. The Orchestra of the Mariinsky was the superb group we’ve heard so many times.
The cast was made up of members of the company, some of whom have distinguished careers in the international opera circuit.
Yevgeny Nikitin was Wotan and he offered a powerful, attractive and well-pitched voice, perfectly suited to the character. He was a good Wotan, although I missed a more compelling stage performance from him.
Baritone Edem Umerov was a disappointing Alberich, particularly in the scene of the Rhine, where he did not convince me as singer or actor: he was very passive on stage and had difficulty making his voice reach the audience. Things improved, but not enough.
There was a good performance by Ekaterina Gubanova in the part of Fricka. This mezzo soprano has an attractive voice and knows how to use it, but I always find her a little impersonal.
Tenor Mikhail Vekua was a good interpreter of Loge, in terms both of singing and acting. His voice is more heroic than usual in the character.
The giants were well covered by Edward Tsanga (Fasolt) and Mikhail Petrenko (Fafner), whose voices were very similar in timbre.
Anastasia Kalagina offered a brilliant voice in the character of Freia who, unfortunately in this case, has not much to sing. Andrei Popov was an excellent Mime, which makes me think that we will enjoy him in Siegfried. Zlata Bulycheva did really well as Erda. Yevgeny Ulanov was a sonorous and rather coarse Donner, while Alexander Timchenko was a modest Froh. It is worth mentioning the Daughters of the Rhine, where the most interesting voice came from Flosshilde, sung by Yekaterina Sergeyeva. Her sisters were Yulia Matochkina (Wellgunde) and Zhanna Dombrovskaya (Woglinde), the latter a bit tight at the top.
The Mariinsky was sold out. The audience was warm with the artists, although there was not great enthusiasm.
José Mª Irurzun