* Notes *
The second cycle of Frank Castorf's Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Bayreuther Festspiele opened yesterday with Das Rheingold. The production is a hodgepodge of Americana that does not give the characters any place to go. The action takes place at a Texan motel and gas station, all carefully arranged on a turntable. An electronic billboard above shows both live video capture and prerecorded footage.
It was impressive how well-coordinated the performance is, but often the characters act in completely irrational ways that have nothing to do with the opera or even normal human behavior. For instance, Nibelheim is depicted as an Airstream that is dragged into the gas station by stagehands. At the top of Scene 3, Wotan and Loge have taken Alberich and Mime hostage, and tied them to posts. This is completely against the text, and makes the rest of the scene unnecessary. There are also no vocal Nibelungen, and thus part of the score is missing, as their cries and screams simply were absent.
Kirill Petrenko conducted the orchestra with a beautiful lightness. Maestro Petrenko perhaps does not instill the same sort of fear as Christian Thielemann does, and an obvious brass error was heard in Scene 4 before Fafner, Fasolt, and Freia enter. Nevertheless, the music sounded palpably fresh and dazzling. The orchestra only rarely overwhelmed the singers.
Singing is fine. The smaller roles are not terribly strong, Oleksandr Pushniak (Donner) was wheezy, while Lothar Odinius (Froh) and Burkhard Ulrich (Mime) were fairly nondescript. However, all three acted splendidly. Pushniak twirled his mustache in a charming way. Ulrich was endearing when he found that the Airstream was all his, and not only started maniacally polishing it, but cheerfully switched out the Confederate flag of the motel with a rainbow one. Mirella Hagen (Woglinde), Julia Rutigliano (Wellgunde), and Okka von der Damerau (Floßhilde) looked rather listless as the Rheintöchter but sounded pretty. The Riesen are cast distinctly, Sorin Coliban's Fafner is grumbly, while Günther Groissböck's Fasolt is almost sweet. Nadine Weissmann made for an ethereal Erda, her sound is delicate yet not too quiet. Elisabet Strid (Freia) had a much more muscular voice. Claudia Mahnke was a bit breathy as Fricka, but her voice is neither shrill nor strident.
Norbert Ernst was a unctuous enough Loge, with a nice voice. There was a little strain in his higher notes, but his acting made up for this. For me, the weakest link was Martin Winkler, whose vibrato I find disagreeable. His Alberich is made to be extremely puerile, which does not do him any favors. His voice sounds more than passable when the his music is not highly orchestrated, but does not have the brightness to cut through when it is. Wolfgang Koch, on the other hand, is an excellent Wotan. He sings with effortlessness, power, and warmth.
* Tattling *
This was the worst-behaved audience of my time in Bayreuth so far. There was an electronic sound at the beginning of the first scene. Talking was heard during the music irrespective of singing. I hushed the loud couple in Orchestra Left Row 20 Seats 25 and 26, and thankfully they whispered instead for the rest of the opera. Gallingly, the female half of the couple screamed "Bravo" at singers she had not been fully listening to.
An uptight German-speaking couple (possibly mother and son) in Orchestra Right Row 21 Seats 27 and 28 were convinced I was in one of their seats despite the fact that my ticket clearly shows that I am in Orchestra Left Row 21 Seat 27. I tried to gently remind them that 27 comes after 28, and that logically Orchestra Right Seat 27 would be to the right of Seat 28. They remained doubtful, talking to the usher on the right side of the house, then harassing a grey-haired East Asian couple, oblivious to the fact that they were not me and Axel Feldheim. By the time they made it back to the middle of the row, they refused to believe me, my companion, or the kindly person in Orchestra Left Row 21 Seat 25 that they were in the wrong.
The son demanded that we speak to the usher on the left side of Row 21, so we made everyone on the left side of the row get up to let us through. Finally, the usher explained that 27 comes before 28, so the pair's other seat is to the right of 28, since their tickets clearly read "Parkett Rechts." We marched back to the middle of the row, inconveniencing 25 people yet again. When the high-strung man explained to his mother that they were mistaken, she shooed away the European-looking (but evidently not German-speaking) man in her seat, even taking his seat cushion and sort of pushing it at him. After all this, these two did not even apologize for their various rude blunders. At least they were very quiet, the man hardly shifted in his seat, and managed not to elbow me even once.