DOB Ring – Final thoughts

Before watching the new recording of The Ring from Deutsche Oper Berlin I set out my expectations based on the bonus materials on the recording and my previous engagement with productions by Stefan Herheim.  Fifteen hours or so of watching later how do they stand up?


Cyclicality – I don’t think there’s anything to suggest that the “refugees” we see in the first three operas are from anywhere or anything in particular and they don’t appear in Götterdämmerung.  Nor does Götterdämmerung appear to produce a new crop of refuges; rather it fades to nothingness.  So no Vedic/Mayan great cycle here I think.

Nazis – This is hinted at a couple of times; in Nibelheim and in Mime’s clothing in Siegfried.  It really doesn’t go anywhere.

Symmetry – The Dark Elf/Light Elf thing is kept up throughout with both Wotan and Alberich appearing in places they don’t canonically appear and interacting more than Wagner indicated.  There’s also a neat Siegfried/Gunther symmetry going on in Götterdämmerung.

Ecology – I think this is subsumed into something bigger.  There’s a very real male/female thing going on here.  All the males lust for power.  One aspect of this is their relationship with women.  With minor exceptions this is a “rape/capture” model and Herheim’s repeated use of a large white sheet to both display and hide what’s going on is a major part of the production.  The male power lust is also corrosive in all sorts of ways.  It leads to despoliation, death and finally total destruction.  It’s the female characters who try to head this off; Erda, the Norns, the Rhinemaidens, Waltraute.  In the end it’s Brünnhilde who brings the power struggle to an end and restores natural harmony.  This is all very clearly brought out in this production.


Wagner’s piano and “All the world’s a stage” – Herheim never for one moment lets us forget that this is a piece of theatre and not a representation of reality.  From Alberich putting on his make up on stage at the beginning of Das Rheingold to a lone cleaner sweeping the stage at the end of Götterdämmerung we are clearly in a theatre with an audience; part on stage, part not.  The piano is central to this.  It’s pretty much omnipresent though in Götterdämmerung there are actually two used for slightly different purposes.  Throughout, major plot shifts are indicated by a character playing them into being, often after checking the score.  Many of the most important exits and entrances happen through the piano.  It’s the creative heart of the story telling.  Reinforcing this is the almost constant presence of an on stage audience; refugees, Gibichungs, heroes and Valkyries.  This really is theatre about theatre.  The final touch is the introduction of Wagner/Mime in Siegfried. Mime is perhaps the most pathetic character in the whole tetralogy and surely not the one Wagner would have identified with but maybe Herheim is suggesting that the work is bigger than its creator.  After all, ultimately, that’s an idea that lies behind almost all modern opera productions.


So does it “work”? – I think it does.  It brings out aspects of The Ring that I’ve never thought about much before.  The story telling is clear and the inconsistencies introduced by Herheim’s more conceptual ideas are minor.  It’s also incredibly dense and grasping it all in one viewing is a challenge.  As I was writing up the operas; especially Götterdämmerung I found myself looking at my notes and asking “what did I mean by that” and having to go back and watch a particular scene again.  I’m not sure this is a soluble problem.  Either one packs a lot in and then interpretation takes work or one opts for superficiality.  I’ll take the former.

How does it stack up against other Ring recordings? – I’m not sure this is even a useful question.  When I reflect on the six or so Rings I have seen, in one medium or another, comparisons don’t seem helpful.  It’s a work that can carry a lot of directorial freight and Herheim’s version is full of ideas and I know that’s not to everyone’s taste.  For me it works.  It’s also musically very strong with some fine singing, despite not having a Met style all-star cast, and really excellent orchestral playing.  Sir Donald Runnicles conducts as well structured and insightful a reading of the score as anyone.  It’s up there with Barenboim and Boulez in fact.  In short, it’s a Ring that stands on its own terms and is well worth watching.


This is the last of six pieces on the new Stefan Herheim production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.  The six articles are as follows:


3 thoughts on “DOB Ring – Final thoughts

  1. Pingback: DOB Ring – Götterdämmerung | operaramblings

  2. Pingback: DOB Ring – Siegfried | operaramblings

  3. Pingback: DOB Ring – Das Rheingold | operaramblings

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