Alemania

The Ring in Berlin Part 2: Doubt, Duty and Desire

Jesse Simon
martes, 5 de julio de 2016
Berlin, domingo, 12 de junio de 2016. Schiller Theater. Wagner: Die Walküre (Die Ring des Nibelungen: 1. Abend). Guy Cassiers, director. Simon O’Neill (Siegmund), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), Falk Struckmann (Hunding), Iain Paterson (Wotan), Iréne Theorin (Brünnhilde), Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka), Sonja Mühleck (Gerhilde), Vida Miknevičiūtè (Helmwige), Anja Schlosser (Waltraute), Anna Danik (Schwertleite), Anna Samuil (Ortlinde), Julia Rutigliano (Siegrune), Anna Lapkovskaja (Grimgerde), and Simone Schröder (Rossweisse). Staatskapelle Berlin. Daniel Barenboim, conductor
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Of the four productions that make up Guy Cassiers’ Ring cycle, Die Walküre is quite possibly the strongest. At its emotional and chronological centre is the meeting of Siegmund and Brünnhilde amidst a forest of tall green shafts which turn white at the arrival of the Valkyrie; even without the extra intensity provided by Daniel Barenboim’s majestically slow pace, it was a visually striking, dramatically potent moment. If no other scenes achieved as quite as perfect a union between sound, action and visual texture, many came close. Hunding’s grim dwelling split apart to reveal a luminous spring night; the bright red strands of light hanging above the mostly bare stage provided a minimal backdrop for the final confrontation between Brünnhilde and Wotan.

Leaving behind the unfocused maximalism of Rheingold, Walküre possessed a far greater sense of restraint. There were no dancers; the use of shadows was less intrusive; the video projections were limited mostly to colour and texture (only in the first half of the third act did the video, with its elusive constructions of slowly writhing equine and human forms, grow distracting). The stage was never empty or untended, but what did appear seemed less contrived. Without sacrificing the essence of his vision, Mr Cassiers used broad abstractions of form, colour and texture to create a series of compelling spaces in which the drama of Walküre could unfold.

And drama remained paramount throughout the evening. With minimal sets and fewer marks to hit, the singers were given a measure of freedom to flesh out their characters. This worked especially to the advantage of Iain Paterson, whose Wotan was a consistent high point of the evening. Mr Paterson had spent much of Rheingold seeming underused, a god who remained on the sidelines while Loge, Alberich or Fasolt took centre stage. Here he was a commanding figure torn between desires and obligations. The triumphant tone of his initial exhortation to Brünnhilde in the second act began to erode with the arrival of Fricka and the ensuing negotiation between the two.

Wagner: Die Walküre. Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Guy Cassiers, director.  Berlin, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, June 2016 Wagner: Die Walküre. Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Guy Cassiers, director. Berlin, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, June 2016 © Monika Rittershaus, 2016

The scene was magnificent. If one sometimes struggled to find the emotional through-line in Ekaterina Gubanova’s Fricka – she was not classically mean-spirited, but neither did she appear to be taking a stand against her husband’s scheming and infidelities – one could hardly find fault with the passion and eloquence of her arguments. Yet it was the subtle gradations in Mr Paterson’s Wotan that gave the scene its charge. From Fricka’s arrival to Wotan’s resigned ‘Nimm mein Eid’ one could hear him being worn down, not just by his wife but by the weight of the events he had unwittingly set into motion. The success of Mr Paterson’s performance was his ability to weave the overpowering emotions of his subsequent scenes – his shame, his despair, his fury at Brünnhilde and the eventual fondness of his farewell – into a consistently credible character.

Iréne Theorin did a fine job of suggesting a headstrong warrior maiden in her first appearance, but it was only when she appeared before Siegmund that one began to get a sense of the Brünnhilde she would become. That scene, easily the finest of the evening and one of the two or three most intense in the entire cycle, derived its tension almost solely from the doubt that began to appear in Ms Theorin’s voice in the face of Siegmund’s unlikely resolve. The excitable orchestra came close to drowning out her expression of ‘Sieglinde lebe und Siegmund lebe mit ihr’ but the sense of awoken emotion was palpable.

Wagner: Die Walküre. Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Guy Cassiers, director.  Berlin, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, June 2016 Wagner: Die Walküre. Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Guy Cassiers, director. Berlin, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, June 2016 © Monika Rittershaus, 2016

Siegmund’s proclaimed devotion to Sieglinde in that scene was only slightly undercut by the lack of chemistry the two had displayed in the first act. Anja Kampe was, to be sure, a strong Sieglinde whose performance continued to grow in stature as the opera progressed. Yet while there was much to enjoy in her first act appearance – not least of which was a gripping narration about the mystery guest at her wedding – her exclamation ‘Du bist der Lenz’, which can be a turning point in some performances, never quite summoned a sense of joyful surrender. Her exhaustion and madness in the second act was far more convincing, and her brief scene in the third act, with its sudden, desperate ‘Rette mein Kind’ was superb.

Wagner: Die Walküre. Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Guy Cassiers, director.  Berlin, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, June 2016 Wagner: Die Walküre. Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Guy Cassiers, director. Berlin, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, June 2016 © Monika Rittershaus, 2016

As Siegmund, Simon O’Neill’s voice took some getting used to. Although one could not fault his phrasing – the articulation of consonants was, at times, almost excessively crisp – his tone seemed to grow colder and steelier as his volume increased; yet the gentlest and most overtly melodic passages – including the ‘Winterstürme’ section of the first act, but also his initial questions to Brünnhilde – were full, rounded and surprisingly delicate. Falk Struckmann’s Hunding had a lean tone, incisive delivery and sinister physical presence that made the character seem genuinely dangerous; and the assembled cast of Valkyries was generally strong, even if the energy of their singing was thrown somewhat off balance by the relative stasis of the staging.

As with the previous evening, the Staatskapelle played with exceptional focus; their secret weapon on this evening, however, was the trombone section who delivered a performance of the highest quality. They smouldered gently behind Siegmund, evoking distant memories of Walhalla as he related his tale of woe in the first act. They were no less impressive announcing Brünnhilde’s arrival in the second act or preparing for the arrival of the magic fire at the end. Daniel Barenboim’s taut lucid direction ensured that the orchestra contributed as much to the unfolding drama as the singers. Although both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung would have their share of extraordinary moments in the days to come, it was Die Walküre that would ultimately stand as the musical high-point of the cycle.

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