Saturday, July 27, 2013

Bayreuth Festival, Die Walküre

Festspielhaus, Bayreuth
July 27th, 2013

Siegmund - Johan Botha
Hunding - Franz-Josef Selig
Wotan - Wolfgang Koch
Sieglinde - Anja Kampe
Brünnhilde - Catherine Foster
Fricka - Claudia Mahnke

Gerhilde - Allison Oakes
Ortlinde - Dara Hobbs
Waltraute - Claudia Mahnke
Schwertleite - Nadine Weissmann
Helmwige - Christiane Kohl
Siegrune - Julia Rutigliano
Grimgerde - Geneviève King
Rossweisse - Alexandra Petersamer

Conductor - Kirill Petrenko
Director - Frank Castorf
Sets - Aleksandar Denic
Costumes - Adriana Braga Peretzki
Lighting - Rainer Caspar
Video - Andreas Deinert, Jens Crull

Bayreuth Festival Orchestra

Following a Rheingold that was full-to-bursting with exciting new ideas, Frank Castorf obviously decided to go for a few long, cold beers during Die Walküre.

The singers were practically left to fend for themselves, particularly in Act 2, in another breathtakingly opulent set by Aleksandar Denic -- this time a wooden-framed oil rig in Baku, Azerbaijan at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Not that a Siegmund of Johan Botha's size and stature can do much moving around onstage, anyway, let alone run through a forest in a storm, flee with Sieglinde and then fight to the death with Hunding.

But there was so much singing at the ramp that -- were it not for Denic's magnificent set -- we might not have been in Wagner's Holy of Holies at all, but watching a tired and dusty repertoire production anywhere in the world.

OK, there was Castorf's now all-too-familiar use of live video projection to reveal what is going on somewhere deep inside the set.
We see Sieglinde slipping sleeping potion into Hunding's drink and then their abortive love-making before Hunding nods off and Sieglinde sneaks down to Siegmund.

There are also faux newsreels of Russia during Stalin's time. 

For some reason, we also see a woman eating a cream cake, first daintily with a spoon, then with her bare fingers and finally greedily gorging herself on it. 
A dress is also delivered to her as a gift.
But quite who she is, or why we should care never really becomes apparent.

She wanders onto the stage during Wotan's scene with Fricka  in Act 2, to be angrily waved away by him.
Is she simply one of his infidelities and floozies, the reason for the breakdown of his marriage?

Nevertheless, the use of video  is nowhere near as intrusive as in Rheingold.

There, it was easy to get distracted from the music.
Here, the relative lack of action finally allowed us to sit back and listen to the music and appreciate the sensitivity and elasticity of Kirill Petrenko's conducting
Here seems to be a great Ring conductor in the making, a  musician with a fine sense for the overall architecture of the score, but one who also really listens to the singers and lets them breathe, never allowing the orchestra to drown them. 

It's just a shame that Bayreuth hasn't been able to line up a better cast to do him justice.

No matter how generous I try to be and even allowing for premiere nerves, Wolfgang Koch is no Wotan, at least not one worthy of Bayreuth, just as Claudia Mahnke isn't suited to Fricka.

With a gripping pair of actor-singers, such as I heard in Bryn Terfel and Sarah Connolly in London's recent Ring, who have the necessary scope and nobility of tone, the breakdown of their marriage at the start of Act 2 can be heart-breaking.

But here, Textverständlichkeit was far from optimal and Koch, in particular, seemed more concerned with merely getting to the end than coaxing any particular meaning out of the words.
Wotan's monologue was every bit as boring as people frequently complain it can be and -- without any supporting direction from Castorf -- dragged interminably.

Bayreuth's new
British Brünnhilde Catherine Foster is much more lyrical than we're used to in this role.
Hers is a lovely voice and the ease with which she sang her opening Hojotohos was impressive and boded well. 
But she remained so underpowered in Act 2 that she was -- unjustly -- booed at the intermission.
Neverthless, it soon became apparent that she had  been saving herself, because she switched on the drama in the final act without ever sounding squally or overtaxed.

Act 1 is, of course, everyone's favourite part of the Ring and Botha, Anja Kampe and Franz-Josef Selig magnificently did it justice. With singing like that, the lack of personenregie didn't really matter.
The Valkyries were all fine, too, and it was here in Act 3 that the stage came to life, finally. 

Rheingold must be the easiest part of the Ring to stage because there is so actually a story to tell, while Die Walküre and Siegfried have less to offer in the way of real action.
But after the almost over-busy Vorabend, it really felt as if Castorf had got bored and gone AWOL.

So it will be intriguing to see how he handles the next instalment on Monday or whether he skives off again here, too.


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