We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Fasolt and Fafner present the finished house to Wotan and his Family
The Ring Cycle, Richard Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk, comprises 16 hours of thrilling music and an epic mythological story covering many generations in the lives of the gods.  Could this work be condensed into two hours and be meaningful?  We were delighted to learn that the production of The Ring of the Nibelung by the Salzburg Marionette Theater was a satisfying venture, although Wagner's larger-than-life characters were performed by knee-high marionettes.

As told in this production, the story of power and greed and love (both faithful and traitorous) is almost as Wagner wrote it although there were some notable omissions and alterations.  The gods were played by beautifully articulated marionettes who had the same power as artistically done animation; after awhile, one accepts them as "real characters".  In this case, Wotan and his clan are depicted as a powerful and beautiful Hollywood family driving around in a vintage convertible; they have over-extended their credit to have a magnificent new home built by some Eastern European laborers, the giants Fasolt and Fafner who are played by real people (Christiani Wetter and Tim Oberliessen).  When they cannot pay up the giants seize Freia, goddess of youth and beauty.  To see the helpless marionette struggling in the hands of the giants is to be seized with terror.  Seriously!  Loge is depicted as a "fixer" in a red-sequined jacket; he negotiates the deal which replaces Freia with the hard-won Rheingold stolen by Alberich from the Rheinmaidens,  those beautiful swimmers seen at the beginning.

Another striking scene was Siegmund's withdrawal of Nothung from the tree trunk in Hunding's hut.  Short shrift was given to the "Du bist der Lenz" but there was cowboy Siegmund kidnapping the willing Sieglinde on his chopper.  Brünnhilde's futile plea for Siegmund's life and her sending Sieglinde off on Grane (a horse as emotionally moving as the one in War Horse) were other affecting moments.  We loved the Walkyries depicted as the high kickers of Radio City Music Hall. The scene in which Wotan removes Brünnhilde's godly status and surrounds her with a ring of fire was excellently depicted.

The youth Siegfried, born to the dying Sieglinde, is characterized as a punk-y youth in athletic attire.  No longer do we have to suspend disbelief watching a portly middle-aged heldentenor.  He forges his father's sword and abandons his step-father Mime (the part where Siegfried hears Mime's murderous thoughts is omitted); he slays the dragon and finds his aunt Brünnhilde and awakens her with a kiss and passionate embrace.  He leaves her with a kiss and a promise and makes his way to the Gibichung palace (Rhine journey omitted) where under the influence of the evil Hagen (son of Alberich) siblings Gunther and Gutrune, played by the same real actors, trick him into forgetting Brünnhilde.  He is drugged and made to fall for Gutrune and to disguise himself and win Brünnhilde for Gunter.  Hagen plots to recover the cursed ring and kills Siegfried.  Brünnhilde figures everything out and  destroys the world.  We return once again to the Rhinemaidens who are happy to have their golden treasure restored.

This story was well-told in the two hour time period with the two actors providing narration, sometimes a bit too clever in the Austrian style of humor and redundantly told in overhead titles.  There were jokes aplenty about feminism.  This was indeed a light-hearted telling.  How amazing to see the marionettes interacting with the narrators when the latter took on roles as giants or mortals.

But The Ring is not just a compelling story, it is a piece of music without equal and this is where a two-hour version can't begin to convey the majesty of Wagner's meisterwerk.  Having heard over a dozen Ring Cycles, we were able to appreciate the brief snatches of music taken from one of the best recordings available--Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic.  (Among many remarkable singers were heard George London, Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Christa Ludwig and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.)  But what was appreciated by those in the audience who came to see a puppet-show?  Did they pick up on the leitmotiven? Were they inspired to listen to the entire cycle?  We cannot say but we surely hope that their appetites were piqued.

It was a worthy undertaking and we applaud Director Carl Philip von Maldeghem and Designer Christian Floeren.  We have never seen marionettes to equal these since our last visit to Salzburg.  We further applaud the puppeteers who maneuvered the marionettes in a life-like fashion where realism was indicated and had them flying through the air or swimming according to the story.

© meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment