Wagner: The Colón Ring
Argentina’s vast Teatro Colón, famous for its dingy magnificence, has recently been beautifully refurbished, although its dusty cavernous backstage looks much as I remember it. Its long Wagner tradition, though, has been galvanised. Accompanist Cord Garben, believing that Wagner needlessly extended the Ring, prepared a seven-hour stitch-up version. Declaring with ominous self-assurance that he could ‘cut whole hours and nobody would notice’, he swept away scenes and characters, including most of Fricka, the Wanderer and the Norns. The Colón invited Katharina Wagner, stage director and great granddaughter of the composer, to produce. The excellent and riveting documentary included illuminates the resulting near-debacle. Six weeks before opening Katharina abruptly walked out. But her replacement Valentina Carrasco, hyperactive and cheerfully foul-mouthed, turned out to be a dynamic saviour for the production.
Cuts aside, it still won’t please everyone. It’s yet another dirty-overcoat update, to 1970s and 1980s-ish Argentina of dictatorship, desaparecidos and Falklands invasion. This gives the themes of power and corruption tremendous emotional impact for the native audience. Brits, though, may well be as disgusted as I was at depicting the Valkyries as headhunting Gurkhas. Considered dispassionately, the parallel is often horribly laboured, with Wotan and Fricka as Peron and Evita. But it’s also ingenious: the ‘gold’ Alberich steals is a baby, his treasure more children, returned finally not to the Rhine but a flood of relieved parents. It’s all still cod-Brechtian distortion, but as heartfelt and vivid as Katharina Wagner’s stagings aren’t.
Conductor Robert Paternostro and the orchestra salvage a spacious performance. The cast is reasonably strong, though Jukka Rasilainen is a lightweight Wotan and Stig Anderson’s Siegmund aged. Marion Ammann, Daniel Sumegi and Stefan Heibach impress. Leonid Zakhozhaev’s middle-weight Siegfried comes from the Mariinsky, but the strongest – Linda Watson’s matronly but steely Brünnhilde, our own Andrew Shore’s Alberich – arrive via Bayreuth. Despite some solid singing, though, this cut version is constantly self-defeating, musically and dramatically. People do notice the jarring discontinuities, even newcomers; habitués feel constantly jolted, as if they keep missing steps. It’s the music we don’t hear that affects us most...
Michael Scott Rohan