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Friday, April 8, 2011

The "Road Warrior" Ring

The Rhinemaidens and their gold...and those awesome lasers.
I'm in Wagner mode again tonight. Instead of writing a long, stuffy review of another Ring on DVD (or God forbid, tackling the individual operas, I thought I'd write this as a top ten list, even as Anne Evans and Siegfried Jerusalem sing their big duet from Götterdämmerung.

This Ring Cycle was recorded and filmed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1992, in a series of filmed rehearsals. The production itself dates from the late '80s, and is set in a bleak, post-apocalyptic world that might make viewers think of Mad Max or a certain novel by Cormac McCarthy,

So here's our affectionate, (if not totally reverent)
Ten Reasons to Love the Barenboim Ring or
"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dwarf."

Trenchcoat Mafia: Anne Evans (prone) and John Tomlinson as Wotan in Die Walküre.
10) On the Road of History, Everyone Wears Trenchcoats.
From Hagen (Philip Kang's) sharp leather number to Brunnhilde's shiny PVC armor, the cycle looks like it was costumed by Morty Seinfeld. But the best is Wotan's--with a fur-lined collar that goes nicely with his cowboy hat and aviators. Makes John Tomlinson look all bad-ass.

9) The singers get good exercise.
Harry Kupfer's stage directions are interesting at times. Siegfried (Siegfried Jerusalem) uses Mime's cave like a jungle gym, and then gets a real workout fighting Fafner's giant mechanical tentacles. Plus, characters have a tendency to fall down at odd times, and getting up again is good for the leg muscles.
Mime's cave is a broken missile silo on its side. Those green things are nuclear fuel for his forge.
That's Siegfried Jerusalem hanging on the side as Siegfried. Graham Clarke (top) is Mime.
8) Wotan in Götterdämmerung?
The king of the Gods is traditionally absent from the final opera in the Ring. Here he drops in at his grandson's funeral. In Siegfried. Wotan controls the Forest Bird, a mechanical wind-up bird that dances on the end of his spear. Not to be outdone, Alberich (Gunther von Kannen) appears unexpectedly in Act I of Siegfried and in the last scene of Götterdämmerung, staring numbly at the conflagration.
7) The Giants are Really Big (and scary!)
In fact, Fasolt (Matthias Holle) and Fafner (Philip Kang) appear on giant rolling platforms twenty feet high with floppy arms, and a perspective trick that makes these dim-witted laborers look microcephalic. Fafner also appears in Siegfried, operating giant mechanical tentacles that make him look like Doctor Octopus from the Spider-Man comics.

6) Das Ende Will Be Televised.
If the world were to end tomorrow (or sometime in 2012), we'd all be glued to our tubes getting the news from some network or other. At least until the power, the Internet and the cellular networks went down. This production captures that moment, featuring Gibichungs huddled and numbly watching the final apocalypse on a number of television sets.
Anne Evans as Brunnhilde (right) and Philip Kang looking all bad-ass as Hagen
5) The Bread-Tearing Contest!
In Act I of Die Walküre, Siegmund (Poul Elming) and Hunding (Matthias Holle) express their mutual dislike and distrust of each other by tearing up chunks of baguette, while sitting at either end of a long table and glaring. (Maybe Sieglinde (Nadine Secunde) was going to stuff a turkey?) It's an unintentionally funny moment in an otherwise fine Walküre.

4) The Rhine Journey is actually staged.
Most productions of the Ring drop the curtain during the orchestral interlude that separates the prologue and first act of Götterdämmerung. Not here. Brunnhilde's rock descends majestically into the stage, revealing Siegfried and a mdel horse, travelling up a river-bed of green lasers.

3) The Singing Is Good--If Unusual.
John Tomlinson's bass is a bit rough and heavy for Wotan. Anne Evans' silvered instrument is best suited to the friendly confines of the Festspielhause. But these are important, unusual interpretations of these key roles, and should be heard by any Wagner enthusiast. Siegfried Jerusalem is at his best, playing his namesake. Graham Clarke's high-wire performance as Mime must be seen.

2) What's Happening Under the Stage?
Daniel Barenboim is at a personal peak here, leading the Ring with style, flair, and a full-throated roar of sound from the Bayreuth pit. Although tempos are a little eccentric, his style recalls his idol (and teacher) Wilhelm Furtwängler. There is no higher compliment.

1) Lasers Are Cool!
(Well, they are!) This Ring features the cunning use of lasers and smoke to represent the watery depths of the Rhine and the magic fire surrounding Brünnhilde's rock (which appears as a giant, glowing "burglar alarm." Wagner is already awesome. Lasers are awesome.
Lasers + Wagner = Double Awesome.

All images © 1992 Warner Brothers Classics
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.