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?
If you have been following this saga from the beginning you have probably already concluded that Herheim’s approach is radical in some ways and very, very detail oriented. If anything, in Götterdämmerung, it gets denser and more complex with some of the central production features used in somewhat different ways. It’s also spectacular. Not least because of the contributions of lighting designer Ulrich Niepel and video designer Torge Møller. They were important contributors to the first three operas. Here they are even more crucial. This opera also has more going on across the full width of the stage more of the time so it’s actually much harder to film. So let’s get into it.
So continuing our look at Wagner’s Ring at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, directed by Stefan Herheim, we move on to Siegfried. I think it’s fair to say that all the elements referred to in my introductory post are present in Siegfried with some more thrown in for good measure. Let’s look at it act by act.
The second instalment of Deutsche Oper Berlin’s Ring directed by Stefan Herheim, Die Walküre, carries on with much the same iconography as Das Rheingold. Once again the set is largely built up of suitcases, a crowd of refugees observes the action, there’s a piano at centre stage and a white sheet in various forms plays a key role in proceedings. Also, much of the time the characters are working off a score of the piece.
So here we go with the “preliminary evening” of the Deutsche Oper Berlin’s new production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen directed by Stefan Herheim. Das Rheingold opens before the music starts with a crowd of scruffily dressed people with suitcases; presumably refugees, filling a stage which is empty except for a grand piano. One of them starts to put on clown make up. We will soon see that this is Alberich. Another “refugee” sits at the piano and conjures up the first notes of the prelude from the pit. It takes a bit longer for us to realise that this is Wotan.
There’s a new recording out of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen recorded at the Deutsche Oper Berlin last year. Now the DOB claims a special relationship with the music of Wagner (the “Winter Bayreuth”) and it is, of course, in Berlin which adds an unavoidable dimension to the performance history there. It has also had, for more than twenty years, Götz Friedrich’s famous production in its repertoire. So, a new Ring at DOB is a big thing. Given that, what I want to do in terms of engaging with the recording is to bookend reviews of the four videos of the operas in the usual fashion with two general pieces; one laying out my expectations based on the “bonus” material in the boxed set and the booklets, and one as a sort of final conclusion having watched the whole thing. This post is, of course, the first of those.
The Deutsche Oper’s production of Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg, recorded in 2019 in Berlin, is directed by Tobias Kratzer who seems to be the rising star among young German opera directors. I can see why. This is a thoughtful and clever production that really does have something to say without being unduly gimmicky.
At Roy Thomson Hall last night for the TSO playing Carl Orff’s extravaganza Carmina Burana. It was fun. I don’t think it’s a piece to over-intellectualize. Big orchestra, enormous choir (Toronto Mendelssohn Choir augmented by the Toronto Youth Choir plus the Toronto Children’s Chorus), bawdy Latin lyrics and so on. It’s big, brash and mostly quite loud though I think Donald Runnicles did a fine job of balancing orchestra and voices, especially when the soloists or the children were singing.
Last night the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre was the setting for celebrating the award of the twelth Glenn Gould prize to the great Jessye Norman. There were speeches, of course, celebrating Ms. Norman’s life as a singer rising to the top of the profession from unpromising origins as well as her lifetime of educational and philanthropic endeavours. They were decently short and to the point allowing us to get onto to the music, though not before we had heard Ms. Norman’s heartfelt and very touching acceptance speech.
I guess previous times I’ve seen Janáček’s Jenůfa I haven’t really noticed the role that the idea of “bad blood” or inherited depravity plays in the plot but it’s there almost as starkly as in certain works by Zola and Buchan. Perhaps one of the strengths of Christof Loy’s very clean 2014 production for the Deutsche Oper is that it tends to show up such details. It’s certainly a very low key setting. All the action takes place in a plain white room with minimal furnishing. Costuming is modern (sort of); maybe 1950s or so. Sometimes one gets a hint of rather more going on on the edge of the stage but Brian Large’s typically close up video direction makes it hard to be sure. So, at least on disk, it’s all about the characters and their interactions and they are drawn pretty clearly.