"I don't want to present the spectator with a ready-made interpretation that he has to swallow in good faith, but invite him to find his own interpretation of what he sees," director Andreas Homoki notes in the program booklet.
"I think it was a mistake to assume that Wagner wanted to convey a certain political idea, one that he had put into a mythical garb which could easily be removed. Although it cannot be denied that Wagner in the Ring draws up a critical balance of his society, he does not resort to myth because it offers him attractive material, but because the mythical perspective broadens the horizon considerably. It is therefore not about the history of a particular form of society, but about humanity, indeed about the universe as a whole."
This was also the premise of super-aesthete Robert Wilson, the previous director of The Ring in Zürich, 20 years ago. Wilson still considers any externally imposed interpretation an artificial interference in the dialogue between the work of art and the audience. But unlike Wilson, Homoki manages to move his actors to more than the purely aesthetic pose. Because aesthetic is also this production. There are no clowns or Jokers in sight, the gods do not have to spend their time on stage in underwear or clothing from the thrift store but in the elegant costumes of Christian Schmidt. Homoki tells the piece as Wagner once intended and projects a subtle form of humor onto it.
The Es major chords of the prelude build up from complete darkness. Next, a house is seen with four identical rooms with meter-high wooden paneling. They are on a revolving stage which is in constant motion almost all of the time. A window and an antique cabinet act as locks to the mythical-magical universe of Wagner's world. Two doors permit the constant movement of the characters, the result being that there is never a dull moment in this production. It's a simple and genius concept. Simon Stone did the same thing with Wozzeck in Vienna. More and more directors today are seeing the potential of a revolving stage.
Exemplary of the efficiency of the chosen scenographic solution is the cat-and-mouse game between the three Rhine daughters, three archetypal blondes with Marilyn Monroe wigs and satin nightgowns, who are able to play all four rooms until the Nibelung Alberich, who has clambered in past the window, steals the Rhine gold from their jewelry case. Other scenes gain both intimacy and intensity by having only the characters involved in the room. For example, Wotan will be all alone in taking in the cautionary monologue of the blindfolded seer Erda.
Wotan, a banker type with a three-piece suit, initially appears in a Chéreau morning coat. The spear (yep!) rarely leaves his side. The not-so-savvy Froh and Donner in striped blasers with straw hats and cricket bats are reminiscent of old photographs of Claude Debussy. The magician Loge, who occasionally pulls pyrotechnic stunts, resembles Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean. For his ironic reflections on the family of gods midway through the piece, he steps out of the frame of the performance as if addressing the audience with all the lights on.
Alberich disappears into the antique closet after putting on the Tarnhelm. The Wurm is a funny-dangerous dragon blowing its hot breath from within the closet and the Kröte is an ordinary toad. Extras represent the Nibelungen in black suits with miner's glasses. Their electronic anvils sound through speakers as does the voice of the invisible Alberich and his cracking whip. He wields it like a circus animal tamer in a fur coat and tube hat like Bryn Terfel in Homoki's Der Fliegende Holländer.
Subtle jokes permeate the entire play. For example, a door falls out of its hinges after Alberich's curse to the consternation of the stage masters, and one of the giants steps through a painting. Finally, the family of gods will take a seat at a long table. To free himself from the complaining Rhine-daughters, Wotan just closes the door. Subtle humor until the end.
Christopher Purves is a fantastic Alberich. The whole part is intelligently articulated with excellent diction of German and he knows what rubato can do in the service of expression. A great debut.
Thomas Konieczny surprised me in a favorable way after his rather dull Wotan in the streams from Vienna. It also proves that you need to hear a voice live in the theatre to judge it properly. The timbre still lacks clarity and the voice also seems to fall in regularly. But when the voice has to show off she projects enormously with lots of metal. Showcases like "Vollendet das ewige werk" and "So grüss ich die Burg" were among the sensual highlights of the evening. Konieczny also has the allure for the role.
Matthias Klink can rarely really charm me, neither as a vocalist nor as an actor, but here he is seen in one of his most convincing character roles. Patricia Bardon sings a cool Fricka, beautiful in timbre and without problematic register transitions. Kiandra Howarth gives all the necessary sensuality to Freia. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke is a seasoned Mime with great nuance that will certainly come in handy in Siegfried. Anna Danik is not an alto but still sings a solid mesmerizing Erda. Omer Kabiljak (Froh) and Jordan Shanahan (Donner) and both giants, David Soar (Fasolt) and Oleg Davydov (Fafner) are adequate but not responsible for the actual success of the evening. Uliana Alexyuk, Niamh O'Sullivan and Siena Licht Miller as the Rhine daughters complete the very homogeneous cast.
Gianandrea Noseda promised to make clear, transparent orchestral sound a priority. That promise was fulfilled. From the first Es major chords to the magnificent "Einzug der Götter," Wagner's score comes to life in a very plastic way. For example, he makes the orchestra laugh like a hyena during the first scene; the tubas thunder from the ceiling during the rise of the giants. Noseda uses smooth tempi and all the orchestral tutti are overwhelming, contrary to what quite a few press commentaries have reported about the premiere. The balance with the soloists was, I felt, quasi perfect.
After the disappointing Wagner streams of the past month (Tristan und Isolde, Vienna and Der Ring des Nibelungen, Berlin) this was once again a great Wagner night. Everyone of the soloists, and you could see this, was enjoying himself. Perhaps they shared they just trusted Wagner as did the director. The fact is that Homoki managed to get the best out of all his actors and that is perhaps the greatest compliment a director can receive.
NOTE. From April 1853 to spring 1857, Wagner lived in the Vordere Escherhäuser, today Zeltweg 11-13. Here he worked on the text of his main work Der Ring des Nibelungen and then composed Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and the first act of Siegfried in a veritable creative frenzy. Wagner justified the luxurious furnishings of the apartment, with which he became heavily indebted, with the fact that he needed a special pleasant atmosphere for the composition of the Ring.