Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Garden in the snow, 28 February 2018

After a heavy snowfall last night, this is how my garden looks this morning. (Taken from the safety of my doorway)

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Der Ring des Nibelungen, Bayreuth, August 2017

Marek Janowski


Bayreuther Festspielhuas, 23 - 28 August 2017

Conductor: Marek Janowski
Director: Frank Castorf
Sets: Aleksandar Denic


Wotan                                                  Iain Paterson
Donner                                                Markus Eiche
Froh                                                     Daniel Behle
Loge                                                    Roberto Sacca
Fricka                                                 Tanja Ariane Baumgartner
Freia                                                   Caroline Weinborne
Erda                                                    Nadine Weissmann
Alberich                                             Albert Dohhmen
Mime                                                  Andreas Conrad
Fasolt                                                 Gunther Groissbock
Fafner                                                 Karl-Heinz Lehner
Woglinde                                            Alexandra Steiner
Wellgunde                                          Stephanie Houtzeel
Flosshilde                                           Wiebke Lehmkuhl

Actor                                                   Patric Seibert

I have finally achieved what I have been dreaming of for fifty years (literally....I first saw the RING at Covent Garden in 1967).......I have been to Bayreuth to see the RING. I am home now, sort of, but my head is still in the Golden Motel on Route 66!  Yes, you did read that correctly! I loved this witty, quirky, fascinating and at times infuriating production by Frank Castorf, which is set in a rather sleazy motel during the oil boom. I suppose I would have to admit that it isn't a production for beginners, perhaps you do need to be an experienced Wagnerian to 'get' it, but having said that, it was well worth the effort. I did have to acclimatize myself, although I had some idea of what to expect.

t's not possible to discuss the PRODUCTION separately from the PERFORMANCE, because the visual impact here is as important as the musical performance by the orchestra and the singers..... a Gesamtkunstwerk, as Wagner envisaged.  You usually assume that the musical performances are going to be outstanding..... I would single out for special praise the subtle, enticing  and sultry Erda of Nadine Weissman, and Iain Patterson's Wotan, striking just the right balance between shiftiness and the attempt at nobility. In a production like this, you have to be able to ACT as well, and in the scene where Loge is mocking them as they age due to the absence of Freia and her apples, you see Wotan on the screen, his face contorted in a frown of worry. Robert Sacca brought a great deal of dry wit and humour to the role of Loge.

 What we see here on the right is the motel swimming pool which earlier contained the gold, which Alberich has long since stolen. In the first scene, the Rhinemaidens mock Alberich cruelly, and then they play with the gold, throwing it out of the pool, laughing hysterically until it is too late...unfortunately, I was unable to find an image of this.

The staging does convey the essence of Wagner's drama, though it may not be conventionally 'beautiful'. After all, what does an unprepossessing middle-aged man (sorry, Albert Dohmann!) really expect when he tries it on with a group of pretty girls....!!!
The layout of the staging takes place on three levels.....the stage itself, then a balcony (the whole production makes a lot of use of stairs and platforms), then a screen on which the audience can see related but not identical actions during the stage action. After the theft of the Gold, we see the Rhinemaidens drinking and partying!!

This was funny, and unexpected.......I suppose we have always imagined that they cower in the darkness at the depths of the Rhine, lamenting their fate.......but here we see them putting a brave face on things!! (Perhaps it hints that they know that in the end things will work out).

When we transition to Valhalla - or the mountain top, I suppose, since Valhalla has only just been built and they are going to have a lot of problems before they can move in - we see that Wotan (Iain Patterson) is an incurable philanderer, canoodling with Freia on the bed in Fricka's presence. Later we'll see that he can't keep his hands off Erda either......

There were some really wonderfully witty touches, such as the scene in which, when Loge and Wotan have captured Alberich, Mime takes down the Confederate Flag (yes!!) and hoists a rainbow flag instead. Unfortunately, I can't find an image of this. However, there were also less felicitous aspects of the staging. It seemed a bit perverse that Wotan and Loge had ALREADY captured Alberich (AND Mime) as soon as they descended into Nibelheim. They have put paper bags over their heads, and tie them to the petrol pumps BEFORE the scene actually starts.....Alberich wrests the Tarnhelm from Mime and uses it to make himself invisible and terrorise the Nibelungs (whom we never see or hear in this production), and only after this do Wotan and Loge arrive in Nibelheim, to be told by Mime what has happened since Alberich forged the Ring.

All in all, though, I found Castorf's production very thought-provoking, with all its faults, because he has evidently put a lot of thought into it, and it IS largely consistent with Wagner's idea of Gesamtkunstwerk. 

When Janowski came on for a curtain call, I was surprised to hear people boo, as I thought he had conducted a fine performance, especially the finale (Entry of the Gods into Valhalla)......but it transpired people thought they were booing Castorf!!! People just don't think.......certainly there were no further boos for the conductor or the performers after DAS RHEINGOLD, and I think most of us quickly came to terms with the production.


Siegmund                                 Christopher Ventris
Hunding                                   George Zeppenfeld
Wotan                                       John Lundgren
Sieglinde                                  Camilla Nylund
Brunnhilde                               Catherine Froster
Fricka                                       Tanja Ariane Baumgartner


Gerhilde                                  Caroline Wenborne
Ortrlinde                                  Dara Hobbs
Waltraute                                 Stephanie Houtzeel
Schwertleite                            Nadine Weissmann
Helmwige                               Christiane Kohl
Siegrune                                 Maerike Morr
Grimgerde                              Simone Schroeder
Rossweise                               Alexandra Petersamer

 Actor                                       Patric Seibert    

Act I          

For DIE WALKUERE, we have moved back in time, to the years just before, and just after, the Russian Revolution. Sieglinde and Hunding inhabit a farmhouse in Eastern Europe or Central Asia (in Act III it transpires that the location is Baku in Azerbaijan). The action again takes place on more than one level.....when Hunding arrives (with an enemy's head on his spear!) Sieglinde retreats to the balcony to prepare the meal......but nobody really bothers  to eat much. We then see on the screen Sieglinde preparing the drugged drink for Hunding - and on this occasion Castorf has obviously decided to follow Wagner's stage directions exactly. (There are times, as I've already indicated, where the staging does go against the text, if not necessarily contrary to what is being expressed in the MUSIC). Sieglinde has an expression of grim determination on her face......this is a Sieglinde who is angry, not sad, and is delighted that she might finally be close to getting her revenge.

Sieglinde steht eine Weile unentschieden und sinnend. Sie wendet sich langsam und zögernden Schrittes nach dem Speicher. Dort hält sie wieder an und bleibt, in Sinnen verloren, mit halb abgewandtem Gesicht stehen. Mit ruhigem Entschluss öffnet sie den Schrein, füllt ein Trinkhorn und schüttet aus einer Büchse Würze hinein. Dann wendet sich das Auge auf Siegmund, um seinem Blicke zu begegnen, den dieser fortwährend auf sie heftet. Sie gewahrt Hundings Spähen und wendet sich sogleich zum Schlafgemach..........

During the Love-Duet between Siegmund and Sieglinde, we can see Hunding writhing about in a nightmare during his drugged sleep........but this is one of the glorious musical moments when you forget about the staging and just concentrate on the glorious voices of Siegmund (Christopher Ventris) and Sieglinde (Camilla Nylund) as they reach heights of ecstasy. There are again a few ironic touches in the staging.....when Siegmund opens the door, we see a shed full of agricultural machinery, not the sun flooding in, but he does get a sword. (I thought the cage of live turkeys was a nice touch, as well).

(an image from two years ago, with Johann Botha, not Christopher Ventris, as Siegmund).

Meanwhile the screen shows a montage of early Soviet propaganda films, including the famous one of the butter churn.....and a page of PRAVDA appears on the screen.

Act II

John Lundgren takes over from Iain Patterson as Wotan in DIE WALKUERE, and has a very powerful and impressive stage presence. He tries to hold his own during the argument with  Fricka, but deep down he realises he has lost before it even starts.  I absolutely loved the portrayal of Fricka (Tanya Ariane Baumgartner) as a sort of exotic figure dressed in Tashkent silk.......reminding us that the setting is Soviet Central Asia. 
Catherine Foster's radiant 'Ho-jo-to-ho' resounded through the auditorium, she must be the best Brunnhilde of our time.  For me, the TODESVERKUENDIGUNG is one of the most poignant scenes in the Ring - the music rises to a pitch of almost unbearable tension as Siegmund asks.......

Begleitet den Bruder
die bräutliche Schwester?
Umfängt Siegmund
Sieglinde dort?

and then we hear Brunnhilde's calm reply - 'no, she can't come to Valhalla with you yet'. 
She knows what Siegmund and Sieglinde don't yet know.......that Sieglinde is to bear 
Siegmund's child.
Brunnhilde's moment of decision - to support Siegmund against her father's orders -
 was stunning in its intensity.


(Ride of the Valkyries)

And so at last we come to the oil fields of Baku......accompanied by silent film newsreels from 1942, when the Battle of Stalingrad prevented Hitler's troops from accessing the Caspian oil fields. The heroes transported by the Valkyries are carrying red flags as they collapse dead on the high platform of the oil derrick.
It is against this background that Brunnhilde sleeps, awaiting Siegfried. John Lundgren's Wotan excellently conveyed the pathos and grief hidden beneath the original anger, and his Farewell was heartrending.



Siegfried                                          Stefan Vinke
Mime                                              Andreas Conrad
Der Wanderer                                 Thomas J. Mayer
Alberich                                          Albert Dohmen
Fafner                                             Karl-Heinz Lehner
Erda                                                Nadine Weissman
Brunnhilde                                      Catherine Foster
Woodbird                                       Ana Durlovski

Actor                                              Patric Seibert

This is the replica of Mount Rushmore that the designer Aleksandar Denic created for all takes place under the eyes of the Communist icons of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. The set again makes use of various staircases and platforms so that the performers can confront each other from different perspectives.....especially effective in the Wanderer/Mime scene, with Thomas J. Mayer a commanding, sonorous Wanderer, and Andreas Conrad a cringing Mime.

I would just like to explain something about this scene, because people sometimes ask, what is the point........surely we know all this already? Well, on one level yes, but there are two reasons why it is included. In the original plan for YOUNG SIEGFRIED, Wagner did need to use it as exposition, and it is drawn from the Riddle poems in the Old Norse sources, in which a God (Odin) in disguise visits a dwarf renowned for his wisdom, and proposes a Riddle Contest in which the loser is to forfeit his head. (The dwarf loses). The second reason is that, although we no longer need the exposition, we are now learning a lot about the inner landscape of Wotan's mind.......the fact the he is able to recognise that he and Alberich are each other's alter ego....he even refers to himself as Licht-Alberich. 

Stevan Vinke has the stamina and the high notes to portray this Siegfried convincingly as an untutored (in spite of Mime's best efforts), bumptious, thoughtless teenager. He does forge a weapon, but when he kills Fafner it turns out to be a Kalashnikov.......perhaps fitting, in the circumstances.

Act I takes place in and around the caravan that was previous used by Alberich and Mime in DAS RHEINGOLD. For Act II we move to Berlin Alexanderplatz....a very accurate model of the U-Bahn station.

So no, not in the forest. Nature is conspicuously absent from the stage in this production, which is largely set in urban surroundings. There is one major exception, which I shall come to in ,GOETTERDAEMMERUNG. For Siegfried, the forest is desolate, he is alone and unhappy, so really the empty underground station is equally a place of desolation. The problem, though, is that the Forest Murmurs really convey the idea of a tranquil environment......until we hear Fafner's motif!! 

So, Siegfried is thinking.....what shall I do,......and then the Woodbird appears.

BEST.WOODBIRD.EVER. (Ana Durlovski).

The production does have her (rather than IT!) approach Siegfried in a flirtatious, sexual way, which is perhaps not quite what Wagner intended, but it worked well within the context of the production, and was very entertaining. Ana Durlovski has a light soprano voice and made the most of her scene. We all applauded her enthusiastically at the end.

Act III starts with Wotan's last attempt to avoid the inevitable, to which end he summons Erda again, to ask if her wisdom can assist him....but the attempt is doomed. She can't, or won't help him, and he tells her that her wisdom is now at an end......Dein Wissen vergeht vor meinen Willen!! 

In this production they eat a meal together - here he is stuffing pasta into his mouth, and the waiter keeps bringing them more and more wine (the waiter is the actor Patric Seibert, about whom I have not had space to say very much, but he is a continuous presence throughout the RING, playing silent characters, especially waiters.....and in Siegfried the 'bear'.....not in a bear costume, but attached to a slave collar). Nadine Weissman is again a very sultry, husky-voiced Erda  (and she doesn't look old enough to be Brunnhilde's mother!!) She reacts angrily to Wotan's demands, and finally makes a very rude gesture at the waiter when he tried to present her with the bill (Wotan having disappeared).

The orchestral passage which indicates Siegfried's climbing the mountain and going through the fire was played with exquisite beauty......I always find this so beautiful that I don't want him to break the spell by starting to sing again!!!

Catherine Foster was again the outstanding performance of the evening, her clears conveying the whole range of  Brunnhilde's experience..... awakes to a new and very different life, it's puzzling and upsetting at first, but as she gradually adjusts she relaxes.......becomes more human, as Wagner says.

The Love Duet is interrupted by the famous - or infamous - crocodiles.....this is quite funny, if somewhat distracting...while they are singing their hearts out, exulting in their love, they are fending off the crocs, Brunnhilde finally shoves a patio umbrella down the throat of the largest one.

What was the point of the crocodiles - was it just to get a cheap laugh? I spoke to someone who said she had been to a talk in which they were informed that the Zoo was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1944, and some of the animals escaped, including the crocodiles, which made their way into the underground tunnel network. Well, maybe......but I am reminded of the urban myth about the alligators in the New York sewers.......



Siegfried                                  Stefan Vinke
Gunther                                    Markus Eiche
Alberich                                   Albert Dohmen
Hagen                                      Stephen Milling
Brunnhilde                              Catherine Foster
Gutrune                                   Alison Oakes
Waltraute                                 Marina Prudenskaya
||1. Norn                                   Wiebke Lehmkuhl
2.Norn                                      Stephanie Houtzeel
Woglinde                                  Alexandra Steiner
Wellgunde                               Stephanie Houtzeel
Flosshilde                                Wiebke Lehmkuhl

Actor                                         Patric Seibert

The most memorable performance of GOETTERDAEMMERUNG that has ever taken place in Bayreuth - for various reasons.

Act 1

The Norns seem at one point to be performing something like a Voodoo ritual as they try to see the future before their rope breaks - perhaps this is in keeping with the general tone of the production. 

Catherine Foster and Stefan Vinke intone a rapturous love duet before he sets off with the horse (doll!) that she has given him. This wasn't quite as funny as the crocodiles, in fact by now some of us were beginning to tire of these little touches of humour, however welcome they may have been in DAS RHEINGOLD.  (I mean, by now we get the point!!)

When we see the Gibichung Hall, this is really a tour-de-force of theatrical design. Probably not quite what Wagner envisaged!! But a fitting background to Hagen (Stephen Milling - dark, brooding stage presence and voice) and his plans.

This is the kebab stall which does duty for the Gibichung Hall, and round the corner there is a fruit and vegetable stall. Hagen expertly manipulates Gunther and appears he is not without some affection for them,.....or at least for Gutrune......since he gives her a car!! (To reward her for agreeing to marry Siegfried).

I always wonder about Gunther and Gutrune - they are helpless, weak characters, but how far this excuses their perfect willingness to fall in with a scheme of deception and betrayal must remain open to question. I am also not sure that the staging IS particularly at variance with the music and text.....the empty exchange of courtesies between Siegfried and Gunther could take place anywhere, after all.

Marina Prudenskaya was a steady-voiced, sympathetic Waltraute, and I loved her Artemis costume (complete with bow, which you can just see in the lower image)!!

But Brunnhilde, of course, is no longer able to enter into the feelings and concerns of the Gods - as she says.....

Der Götter heiligem
bin ich Törin enttaucht:
nicht fass ich, was ich erfahre.

I am a fool who has escaped from the holy heavenly mist of the Gods.....
I don't understand what I am  hearing.

She is a mortal woman now, for good or ill.........and indeed it soon goes ill with her.


Now something completely unexpected happened. As we returned from the interval, 
an  announcement was made that Catherine Foster had injured her foot and was
 unable to actually perform.She was, however, going to sing from her wheelchair at
 the side of the stage, while a substitute mimed for her. This was a thoroughly 
professional action, and she sang as well as though she hadn't been injured, 
such exciting, soaring tones as she raged at Siegfried and Gunther.....
(but not Hagen, with whom she forms a temporary alliance).  Meanwhile the stand-in 
mimed, perfectly competently, and she was greeted with thunderous applause 
at the end of the act. 

And that is why no-one will ever forget this GOETTERDAEMMERUNG. 
But there is more to come!!
Hardly anyone realised at first, but the stand-in was actually a MAN!! 
Andreas Rosar, one of the Assistant Stage Managers. Now, most of the audience 
thought that it was a very brave thing to do -imagine being told at five minutes notice,
 'Here, put on this wig and this gold dress and go and mime Brunnhilde'. Even if he
 had  done it less competently, he still deserved the applause for agreeing to do it, but 
he  wasn't at all bad, Unbelievably, though, some idiots in the audience actually booed. 
WHY?? Should they have cancelled the performance? This was our last chance to see
 Castorf's production, obviously the production team did the right thing. But there has 
been a lot of discussion on social media -  by people who didn't see the production - 
about how awful it was, and it was a really stupid idea......
but the vast majority of the audience had nothing but praise for this ingenious
 solution  to the problem.


The Rhinemaidens think they might have found a way to get the Ring from Siegfried without too much effort, but it backfires rather badly.

In a curious twist, after he has refused to give them the ring and shown  a .fine display of defiance and indifference to fate, they don't immediately go off to find Brunnhilde, but stay around, flirting and teasing.


Siegfried is not killed during a hunt, at least that's not what appears on the doesn't matter really though, does it, because it's just a plot device to get him somewhere where he is vulnerable. The action takes place in a dark alleyway, as Hagen persuades Siegfried to tell Gunther and the Gibichungs about his youth and how he killed the dragon and then - this is the crucial point, of course - gives him the drug that reminds him of Brunnhilde - and then strikes him down. (It actually takes him several blows to achieve this). And now comes the exception to the absence of Nature that I mentioned before - during Siegfried's Funeral March, the screen concentrates on Hagen, who is walking morosely home though the forest - so you HEAR Siegfried's Funeral March, but you experience, or are privy to, Hagen's thoughts. 

And then - here we are outside the New York Stock Exchange - seat, and symbol, of corruption and greed. It is this that needs to be destroyed.

Brunnhilde's Immolation was most poignant in her last Farewell to Wotan - 'Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott'. These few words always bring me close to tears. 

And then finally the Rhinemaidens drop the Ring, not into the river (swimming pool), but into a flaming brazier. Will this purify it, as the water was supposed to do, according to Brunnhilde? We will perhaps never know.