As Mike Ashman’s notes say, Valencia’s extraordinary Ring ‘proved controversial with both purists and those attached to complex intellectual production concepts’. Indeed, it controversially questions whether such concepts are intellectual, necessarily, or just tired old Brechtian posturing.
Its brilliant use of computer graphic backgrounds and acrobatic mimes shows one can stage a truly modern, theatrically adventurous Ring without distorting its genuinely central concepts – Wagner’s.
Not that producer Carlos Padrilla, of the Catalan theatre group La Fura Dels Baus, doesn’t stray into Brechtian territory. In these latter operas he even indulges his own Konzept – ‘the degradation of Nature by technological man’, pretty ironic in such a high-tech staging. His debris-choked Rhine and wicked capitalist Gibichungs – we know this because they are covered in currency signs! – are far less effective than the earlier operas’ primal imagery.
But that imagery still dominates through the elemental vividness of the backgrounds, which are projected onto shifting units, mirrored in the stage floor. Often they represent states of mind – Mime’s cascade of sinister machinery – or natural states and forces – the dragon’s inner fires, awesome mountain heights. They lend scenes cosmic significance, as when the sleeping Brünnhilde appears literally at the heart of the turning world.
Acrobats amplify the imagery, sometimes dangling from sculptural shapes; Brünnhilde’s revulsion at ‘Gunther’ submerges her in squirming bodies. It’s spectacular, but the spectacle is nearly always at Wagner’s service, even to the point of leaving the final conflagration rather restrained.
Spectacle would be empty, though, without sound musical performance. Zubin Mehta is not the subtlest Wagnerian, inclined to confuse expansiveness with expression, but his sweep and power are involving enough, particularly in Götterdämmerung. Juha Uusitalo seems slightly less comfortable in the Wanderer’s lower tessitura, but remains powerful and tragic.
Jennifer Wilson’s voice has Brünnhilde’s incisiveness and, mostly, power, but she lacks sufficient character and, sadly, physique du role; she strikes more sparks in Götterdämmerung, not least scrapping with Catherine Wyn-Rogers’s passionate Waltraute (also a stately Erda). Lance Ryan’s dreadlocked Siegfried is arresting – tall and athletic, with a fine steely voice, occasionally slightly adenoidal; unfortunately he’s too thuggishly characterised.
Veteran Matti Salminen remains an amazingly resonant Hagen, but lumbering rather than dangerous. As before, Siegel’s creepy Mime, Kapellmann’s superannuated Alberich, Gibichungs, Norns and Rhinemaidens are acceptable to excellent; and a bright Woodbird, bravely airborne.
So, though it doesn’t always convince, this remains highly recommended, a refreshing antidote to leaden Teutonic representations. Wagner responds best to Romantic imagery, but this gives it a vividly original twist. Michael Scott Rohan