Friday, 4 November 2011

Vienna's Thielemann Ring: Das Rheingold

Wiener Staatsoper, 01/11/2011

Albert Dohmen | Wotan
Adrian Eröd | Loge
Tomasz Konieczny | Alberich
Wolfgang Schmidt | Mime
Janina Baechle | Fricka
Anna Larsson | Erda
Markus Eiche | Donner
Herbert Lippert | Froh
Alexandra Reinprecht | Freia
Wolfgang Schmidt | Mime
Lars Woldt | Fasolt
Ain Anger | Fafner
Ileana Tonca | Woglinde
Ulrike Helzel | Wellgunde
Zoryana Kushpler | Flosshilde

Christian Thielemann | Conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf | Director

Christian Thielemann’s first Vienna Ring has been hyped to the heavens. It’s unclear why the Staatsoper's press office – hardly a hive of activity – went to such promotional lengths, considering that the cycle sold out on the first day of sale and the Viennese critics aren’t much more neutral than the hordes of Thielemann loyalists in the audience (referred to by non-groupies here, curiously, as the ‘T-Freaks’). But despite the thunderous ovation which greeted Thielemann's curtain call, I don’t think this performance will go down as one of his better Rheingolds (and from the microphones in the pit it appears there may well be audio and possibly video evidence in the offing).

The main problem besides spotty casting was that Thielemann got lumped with the Staatsopernorchester and unlike at Traviata, it wasn’t even the young and hungry with hopes of admission to the Philharmoniker. I couldn’t hear much evidence of the extra rehearsals promised by Dominique Meyer – the Vorspiel was shakier than Adam Fischer’s in April and there were some awkward tempi changes, particularly in the Verwandlungsmusik. The only playing that left an impression was a burnished Valhalla motif of the kind that comes from conducting a lot of Bruckner, and six minutes of some very special music-making indeed for the entry of the gods into Valhalla. The best thing going for the rest was good balance with the singers.

The only stand-out performances were, worryingly, given by the two singers we won’t be seeing again. Encasing Lars Woldt in a cumbersome Michelin Man costume put a welcome curb on his overacting, and there was no trace of the Brian Blessed act I was expecting with the singing. He not only sounded a great deal more lyrical than I've heard him recently but also gave more thought to the text and music than most of the cast. ‘Was du bist, bist du nur durch Verträge’ communicated something subtler than dumb-giant-outsmarts-god, and I hope the cameras got a close-up of his naive, heartfelt longing for Freia (‘ein Weib zu gewinnen, das wonnig und mild bei uns Armen wohne’), played so poignantly. Loge is the main vessel for director Sven-Eric Bechtolf's Carry On up the Rhine Konzept, but Adrian Eröd was more watchable than in April and made up for the silliness with an incisively sung ‘Immer ist Undank Loges Lohn’ – nowhere near as glib as last time. There was also a great what-the-Fach moment with his firm and ringing ‘das Gold dem Wasser wieder gebest, und ewig es bliebe ihr Eigen’.

Albert Dohmen's voice is too far gone for such stunts. But at least I could admire his ‘So grüß' ich die Burg’ – better a futile effort than none at all. Elsewhere he barely tried. Acting was flat and he did remarkably little with the music for someone who spent ten years studying the part. I think he intended to cut a jaded and worn-out figure, but it was more dreary than world-weary.

Janina Baechle had some good moments, but she doesn’t move so comfortably within her range and vibrato was uneven. Tomasz Konieczny also had a mixed evening, sounding thinner than usual and making some rather forced efforts with the text. He produced a firmer, fuller sound for the curse, only to crack on the crucial note and, in a moment of unintended irony, flee the stage prematurely while singing ‘fliehest du nicht’. Poor guy.

Wolfgang Schmidt’s Ernst Busch turn wasn’t quite as bad as the last time around, but I’ll report more after Siegfried. Donner and Froh were fine, though Markus Eiche more so than Herbert Lippert. Alexandra Reinprecht’s vibrato was as weakly controlled as Janina Baechle’s, and without as much tone to fall back on.

Die Walküre is on Sunday, and with Waltraud Meier, Christopher Ventris and a much-needed Brünnhilde upgrade in the form of Katarina Dalayman, things may improve. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Image credit: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

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