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Review: Das Rheingold @ Bayreuth Festspielhaus 

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 25/08/2014 at 11:03
0 comments » - Tagged as Comedy, Festivals, Music, Stage, Travel

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Bydd yr erthygl hon yn cael ei chyfieithu o fewn deg diwrnod // This article will be translated within ten days

Bayreuth Festspiele - Das Rheingold 
Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Bavaria, Germany
Sunday 10th August 2014

I'm finally here!

It has been a dream since my teens to come to Bayreuth (pronounced By-roit) and see some of the operas of Richard Wagner. To be honest, I'm quite taken aback that they even offered me the press, such is the international and exclusive nature of the festival (like I ever need an excuse to get into black tie!). The waiting list can be 10 years and costing several hundred Euros. But golly! To have the press is an honour and a total amazement. Danke! Danke!

In a nutshell, Der Ring Des Nibelungen (The Ring Of The Nibelung) is The Lord Of The Rings in operatic form (it is based on old German, Norse and Icelandic myths). This sprawling story is set over decades and the themes remain as universal and immensely important as when Wagner wrote them: The power of love and the love of power. Taking him around 25 years to complete, he wrote all the libretto (words of the operas) and every note of music.

The Ring is in four parts:

  1. Das Rheingold (The Rheingold)
  2. Die Walküre (The Valkure)
  3. Siegfried
  4. and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)

This is over 15 hours of music for four days, people. Certainly the most exhausting commitment you can give in all of theatre. 

Das Rheingold

Dubbed the 'Preliminary Evening', Das Rheingold begins with the Rhine Maidens frolicking in their beloved river. The Nibelung, Alberich attempts to grab them, in his lustful endeavours. Horrified by his unpleasantness, they begin to tease and demean him. He gradually realises the futility of this. The Maidens then have a moment with their precious gold, foolishly telling Alberich that anyone who denounces love, can forge a ring out of the it and rule the world (big mistake). But this person would have to renounce love. Surely no one would ever do such a thing? But since Alberich has had no luck in this, he might as well. He steals the gold and darts off, to the Maidens horror. Thus begins the epic story...

The rest of this evening (no interval either) is made up of gods, giants and great pursuits for the ring. Wotan, the chief god has promised the sibling giants Fafner and Fasolt, the goddess Freia as payment for them building Vahalla, his grand new hall. Fricka, the god's wife is furious and the giants take Freia as ransom. The cunning demi-god Loge takes Wotan down to Nibelheim to retrieve the ring, the Tarnhelm (a helmet which can change you in anything) and the horde of gold as the fee for the giants. Wotan gets all this and for a short while, has the ring. 

In losing it, Alberich curses the ring and marks the doomed fate for anyone in its possession. The earth goddess, Erda urges Wotan to give up the ring. In doing so the giants bicker, with Fafner killing Fasolt. Fafner walks off with the entire lot of goods and turns himself into a dragon (we will see more of him in Siegfried). The Rhine Maidens lament their gold as Wotan realises the power of the ring's curse and Erda's wise words to him. The gods arrive into Vahalla on a rainbow of light, ending part one. Phew!

A fine cocktail of Tarantino, The Sopranos, Rebel Without A Cause, Big Brother and oodles of other pop culture

Bayreuth are never afraid to do ballsy, new productions (the gold here is in a swimming pool), yet they always maintain their great traditions. In Frank Castorf's production, the set is a diner/motel (the Golden Motel,  hehe!) in Texas (with a Cadillac car and tin caravan to boot). This shouldn't have worked as a production, but strangely it did. A fine cocktail of Tarantino, The Sopranos, Rebel Without A CauseBig Brother and oodles of other pop culture. You can get away with plenty of humour in Rheingold. Yet, the rest of The Ring is very serious. I found myself laughing plenty of times here. The biggest laugh coming from the image on screen of Alberich as a snake, slithering over golden bars. Loge tricks him into using the Tarnhelm to be a giant snake, then a tiny frog (more laughs) only to grab him and kidnap him. Freia being stacked up with gold bars on a motel bed was another comic moment, with her looks of disbelief and shock. 

The cast were a tremendous ensemble of singers. Wolfgang Koch a sturdy, not so noble Wotan. Norbert Ernst a pimpish Loge, in a bright red suit playing it cool and swift as the trickster. As for Alberich, Oleg Bryjak was the perfect choice. With a slovenly and greedy look, he created a great persona and much humour. Claudius Mahnke as Fricka with Elisabet Strid as Freia both added gravitas and feminism necessity to this most manly of musical offerings. Freia may be the smallest part in the whole Ring (at least words sung I believe) but her lietmotif (the recognisable musical theme given to a person, place, event etc.) is prim and concerning. We would later see her tarted up by the giants in a ghastly red and black PVC dress, along with an illuminating top before her carting off by them both. Some brave costume choices right here. Nadine Weissmann as a sassy and smouldering Erda, was clad in a white fur coat and cocktail dress swaggering around the hotel room, whilst the gods and giants were floundering about. A great moment. 

Markus Eiche singing Donner and Lothar Odinius as Froh (looking like the love child of Sean Penn and Christopher Walken) were very Texan and gangster film, but had a great brief presence over the bullying and momentous giants: Wilhelm Schwinghammer (Fasolt) as well as Sorin Coliban (Fafner), who both bomb around in garage overalls, then suits later on. Mime (said as Me-ma), Alberich's brother was presented with snivelling pathetic nature by Burkhard Ulrich (looking blacked up from where I was sitting, but the cameras just showed dirt and sweat on his face). A surprising yet pleasing moment came when he pulled down his brother's Confederate flag, then putting up a LGBT+ Pride flag. Finally the three Rhine Maidens: Woglinde, Wellgunde, Floßhilde (Flosshilde) played by Mirella Hagen, Julia Rutigliano and Okka von Der Damerau were bored as they had a BBQ and sun lounged, but became lusty and cheeky in their song and movement as Alberich came along. Oh and the uncredited, non singing part of the diner owner was dry humoured also. That's the whole cast of Rheingold

The revolving diner/motel feels like a film set: tacky, cheap and deeply Texan

The video work here by Andreas Deinert and Jens Crull is exemplary. As we gaze upon the giant screen, we feel as if we're watching a reality TV show, only with mythical characters. This immediate and appropriate use of video, finishes the show with a flourish. The revolving diner/motel feels like a film set: tacky, cheap and deeply Texan. This feels like a precursor to the Royal Opera House's Anna Nicole (you have been warned!). Some parts are staid though: Loge, (god of fire) playing with a lighter has been done to death, why Alberich and Mime were tied up at the start of the third scene is unclear and no definable Rhiengold or Valhalla, but the video for the end as the Maidens swim in slow motion was exquisite. 

This audience may appear highly strung and snobby, but the applause for the curtain call was the loudest and most generous I have yet to hear. Never have I been so surprised by an audiences reaction to what they just seen.

I'm filled with great joy, excitement, preparation and expectation to know how the rest of this Ring will go on. 

Die Walküre is next...

Rating: 9/10

Der Ring Der Nibelungen continues at the Bayreuth Festival in Bavaria, Germany along with performances of Tannhäuser, Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) and Lohengrin until Thursday 28th August 2014. 

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Photo Credits: Enrico Nawrath

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