Archive for the ‘Wagner Ring Shanghai 2010’ Category

Die Walküre

October 23, 2010

Shanghai, 17 and 22 September.

Die Walküre is the most popular episode of the Ring. More than the others, it can stand on its own as almost a romantic opera.

That’s how I first heard it, in effect, as an instalment in the then Australian Opera’s cut-off-at-the-knees cycle, which was done with cut-down orchestrations prepared by Stuart Challender.

That production was the occasion of a rather charming (even if just a little self-serving) anecdote offered by Simone Young in her recent interview (no longer available directly) with Norman Lebrecht. Simone was called in at short notice to play (she says she was sightreading) the first act of Die Walküre, which, apparently (ie, according to her), she did triumphantly. Challender was the conductor (which suggests it was not the opening season, unless he himself was assisting Cillario). Afterwards, Challender said to her “The last person to do that was me. I think I hate you.” A mere transcription does not capture the slightly camp inflection but simultaneously entirely friendly tone which Simone gave to the last sentence. (I just mention that because of the subsequent drama which Challender endured as a result of his forced coming out in public when the press moved to publicise his HIV-positive status in 1991.) After this Young was engaged as Challender’s assistant or as a repetiteur (I forget the exact details), and Challender offered her his support and encouragement, taking her off to second-hand record shops (my guess: Ashwoods) to scout out recordings by great conductors of times gone by and ultimately encouraging her to head to Europe to further her experience.

I can still remember the excitement of the opening of the Vorspiel/first act of that performance, which was probably also an early time when I got to sit relatively close to the orchestra.

I also have favourable memories of the Sydney Symphony’s concert performance of 1997 conducted by Edo de Waart and including the mighty Alessandra Marc as Sieglinde.

Since then, I saw it as part of the whole cycle in Beijing in 2005 (I am a completist: I have seen all the Chinese performances of the Ring cycle) but at least until I recently reread Andrew Byrnes’ (abridged) account, bore few particularly specific memories, apart from the failure of Wotan’s spear to ignite the fire round Brunnhilde in the last act. Of course, as my first Ring cycle the whole occasion remains wreathed in a first-time glow. Cheryl Studer was Sieglinde.

During the first run of Das Rheingold in the Shanghai Grand Theatre I felt that I was missing out on the detail of the string articulation. From Die W onwards I sat on a riser of sorts (a rolled-up towel if you must know) and whether or not that really made a difference, I found the situation much improved.

Oddly, in the first performance of Das Rheingold there had been constantly audible prompting. This did not recur subsequently.

The curtain rose on Hunding’s hunting party rushing about and then finally returning to his snow-swept camp, which looked as though it was somewhere on the Eastern Front in the winter of 1943 or 44. This was one of a number of occasions where the production chose to “bulk up” the stage picture by the addition of non-singing characters, including one a distinctly unfearsome and scarcely grown german shepherd dog. The meal when served was heated up military rations.

There was some pantomime-ish comedy when Siegmund searched for a weapon in various spots, even finding a gun at one stage. (Hunding of course was armed with a gun which lead to the usual anachronistic ridiculousness of sword versus gun when it came to their showdown.) To the right of the stage, a large log was draped with a piece of cloth of sort. I wanted to shout out (this is the pantomime-aspect) “Over there!” or “Look behind you.” as Siegmund looked everywhere but the right spot, even if, at that point, the odds were that he might only find a golf putter or cane a la Donner and Wotan’s implements.

Spring, when it came with love, was a distinctly muted affair. Snow falling at the back of the stage was obscured by a fire-curtain; no gate blew open or tree sprouted.

Up in Valhalla (now, furnished, even more Berchtesgadenish) Wotan and Fricka’s domestic was a cracker. Given that it appeared that Wotan presumed to keep framed pictures of all his bastard Walsungen on the coffee table, Fricka’s indignation was either surprising or justified, depending on how you look at things. Fricka had some devastating business with lipstick and handbag at the end of the argument which made the outcome of the argument clear to the returning Brunnhilde. Catherine Foster as Brunnhilde displayed the mannish side of her nature by tossing (overarm, not underarm) apples of eternal life whilst hoi-o-ho-ing. Fortunately, some Miss-Piggy-ish faux-shy-girlish mannerisms were toned down by the second run.

On the run, Siegmund and Sieglinde rested in an abandoned and shot-up jeep, still somewhere on the snow-swept notional (my notion) retreat from Stalingrad (satisfying flurries of snow from the leaf blowers in the wings – obviously if so it couldn’t actually be a Jeep per se). I didn’t feel Wotan was quite fearsome enough when he appeared: Greer Grimsley is better at suave than angry – there was nothing to match the baritronic sneer with which I still recall John Wegner dispatching Hunding in the SSO concert performance (“Geh hin, Knecht! Knie vor Fricka”), for example.

In the last act, the Valkyries (who can never fail to please) assembled on a battlefield, selecting from a stage full of the fallen (more bulking up of the stage action) heroes for Valhalla, who then rose and ascended the ladders at the back of the stage or, as time ran short, wandered off into the wings. Not all were chosen and some corpses remained. At the end Wotan (apparently a non-smoker) searched through their pockets to find a lighter to set of the fire around Brunnhilde, by now draped with his military greatcoat for her long slumber. This is the way the world ends, I thought, not with a bang but a Zippo. The fire itself was real and right across the back of the stage.

Nidus revisited

October 22, 2010

I have written before about the judgment of Justice Owen in the case brought by the liquidator of The Bell Group Limited and numerous subsidiaries against two syndicates of about 20 banks in total who in 1989-1990 took security over practically the entirety of those companies’ assets. The trial ran for 404 days. The judge, Justice Owen, was confronted with a massive task in writing his judgment. It was a task which threatened to overwhelm him. It took him 2 years.

One strategy he adopted as a means of coping was to sprinkle his (very lengthy) judgment with obscure words. It was more a matter of judicial whimsy as a survival strategy than judicial humour as it is usually exhibited (with compulsory deferential chuckles by all counsel present).

“Nidus” was one such word, as in the following paragraph:

708 A nidus in the plaintiffs’ case is the allegation that at the commencement of, and during, the Scheme Period the main companies in the Bell group were insolvent. Lack of solvency is an element of almost all of the causes of action contended for by the plaintiffs.

All of which is by way of a shout out to my fellow blogger and Shanghai-Wagnerite, Wanderer, who has had excruciating cause to contemplate the nidus of his recently diagnosed kidney stones. He suspects dehydration during his time in Shanghai (which is not a city where anybody drinks the water straight from the tap). It would be fitting if the first stone formed at the moment that Alberich cursed love at the beginning of Das Rheingold.

Helpfully, perhaps as a result of diversionary therapy embarked upon by sufferers from the condition, Wikipedia provides a lengthy (but, given the percentages, only scratching the surface) list of famous kidney stone sufferers. This includes the following:

Opera singer Birgit Nilsson painfully passed a kidney stone following a concert in Göteborg, Sweden.

I haven’t chased up the reference there to see if the program for the concert can be identified, but it does raise the possibility that it was Wagner rather than Shanghai that is to blame for Wanderer’s plight. Who can embark upon Das Rheingold (which has no interval) or the longer acts of Siegfried or Götterdämmerung in a fully hydrated state?

If, in addition to the relief that any helpful substances may provide, Ms Nilsson’s example can serve as any consolation to him, I hope it does.

Das Rheingold

October 10, 2010

At the Shanghai Grand Theatre, 16 and 21 September 2010.

Das Rheingold opened with the the famous low E flat – not as striking as sometimes as the orchestra, constrained by the pit, was a bit light on strings and especially on basses.

Extras and chorus members walked with increasing speed (as the music sped up) across an industrial and other rubbish strewn river bed, tossing more litter behind them as they went. Alberich (looking a bit like Bill Hunter) found the gold in a water-filled tyre.

Up to Valhalla: the rubbish-strewn river bed had been swiftly drawn away (probably on a large carpet, one of my companions suggested. Valhalla was a building site; the gods’ effects were stacked up ready to move in; building materials swung in various builders’ hoists and lifts on cables from the flies. Fasolt and Fafner arrived with orange-overall CFMEU-ish-clad entourage of workers. When Wotan (no suggestion of any missing eye) started to argue the toss, it was, like, “Right lads! All out!” Loge arrived on a bicycle looking like a cross between a butler and a von-Ribbentrop-sh commercial traveller (uniforms cast a slightly Berchtesgadenish atmosphere, consonant with the period of the dress). Wotan’s spear was a cane or possibly a putter; Donner wielded a golf club.

There was some faint pretence of a descent from Valhalla through a trap-door at the end of the scene and Wotan and Loge climbed down ladders at the back corner of the set (you can just make them out at the back of my picture of Brünnhilde’s final bow) to Nibelheim in the next, which so far as scenery was concerned was almost entirely a matter of lighting. The anvil music was insipid and I wonder if there were any anvils. The treasure was in army-disposalsish looking crates. Alberich had the traditional gold netting tarnhelm; his transformation to a dragon called for more than the usual suspension of disbelief, though as a toad he was more convincing.

Back in Valhalla, none of Alberich’s minions came up to deliver the treasure, despite express references in the libretto to this. The interplay between the giants and the gods (and Loge’s narrative, arousing their interest by its very quietness) was well done. Fasolt’s death was a sombre moment. Donner broke the thunderclouds with a golf stroke “Fore” and a once-again unimpressive clang; the gods changed into evening dress and waltzed to the Rhinemaiden’s lament. There was no serious suggestion of any rainbow bridge or ramparts. Two rather than six harps struggled to give the finale quite the sparkle I had hoped for.

At the end of the first performance, I was mildly underwhelmed, though I was content to allow the concept more time to establish itself. From where I sat, all those busy violin figurations were slightly lost over the lip of the pit. Greer Grimsley didn’t seem fearsome enough to be Wotan and Carsten Süß as Loge felt undercharacterised. Weight-for-part, I thought the best singers were Martin Koch, a youngish Mime, and Samuel Youn, as Donner. Funnily enough, by the second time around I was quite reconciled to both Grimsley and Süß. Kurt Rydl, who has what one might as an Australian joke about as a Donald-Shanks-memorial wobble, was also a singer who had grown on me.

Curtain calls

October 3, 2010

For Götterdämmerung. Shanghai, 19 September 2010.

From left to right:

Astrid Weber as Gutrune (also Sieglinde) [for some reason just a bit inclined to sing sharp when forte on g″ – a tendency quite particular to this note], Gunther (also Donner), Brünnhilde, Markus Stenz, conductor, Siegfried, Hagen, Dalia Schachter as Waltraute (also Fricka, first Norn).

The same Siegfried (Lance Ryan) and Gutrune in this video of the same production.

Gurzenich orchestra in background:

Below: Greer Grimsley and cast at end of Die Walküre, 17 September 2010. Lance Ryan here as Siegmund and Astrid Weber as Sieglinde (in pants) plus Fricka, the Walkyries (Br. obscured) and Rydl as Hunding.


October 3, 2010

Kurt Rydl, Cologne/Shanghai/2010. He also sang Fasolt and Hunding.


October 3, 2010

Catherine Foster, last night of Götterdämmerung, first cycle, Cologne/Shanghai/2010.

She was better than she is in this video, from the Deutsches Nationaltheater, Weimar (where, incidentally, I long ago [1992 or 1995, when staying nearby in Thuringen] saw productions of Parsifal [choir invisible] and Moses und Aaron [enormous choir; joint production with Leipzig opera]) in 2008. She is a still youngish singer whose star is at present, I would say, in the ascendant. That is, she is still getting better. She improved, at least in terms of stage mannerisms (an eventually lost faux-girlish hand to the head in vestigial immitation of a girlish hair flick, probably intended to signify virginity, one way or another), in the course of these two cycles.