The singing and orchestration was exceptional … so why was the magic missing?
Australian Wagnerian singers were gathered from across the globe
to perform in the Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013 and they, together with
the orchestra under the baton of Pietari Inkinen, gave remarkable
performances. I would have happily paid to see them perform
unstaged. You would think that wonderful music is all you need to
produce Ring Cycle magic, but the Melbourne Ring proved otherwise for
me and it took me a little while to understand why.
As I wrote in previous posts, I very much liked Die Walküre
and Siegfried and if those had been the only two opera's
presented I would have come away with a bounce in my step.
Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung were a different
story, populated as they were with caricatures rather than
characters. All the strong women were undermined by their portrayal.
Fricka, in her unflattering beige dress and granny shoes was a frump
(although Jacqueline Dark gave a fine performance); Erda, also in
beige, was simply an old blind lady with a stick who developed into a
wheelchair bound woman with the carer singing the role – there was
not much mezzo Deborah Humble could do with that. Brünnhilde was
feisty and fun in Die Walküre but by Götterdämmerung,
she was bound in an
unbecoming wedding dress and denied her final majestic flourish,
forced to simply stand next to the dead (but standing) Siegfried in a
circle of plastic wrapped flowers like those you buy at Aldi, as the
structure of the house they stood in flamed and the fluffy-feathered
Rhinemaidens removed the ring from Siegfried's finger. Brünnhilde as
heroine was gone; instead we had Wagner as show-time revue.
Vulnerable Freya was the only woman not dressed in beige with granny
shoes or army greens. Sung by Hyeseoung Kwon, she the only Asian in
the cast of Das Rheingold and was dressed in golden sparkly dress and high heeled
shoes. You had to wince.
The strong women were emasculated (if I may use that term for
women), but the male characters lost their complexity as well. Wotan
was cranky from the start, Fasolt and Faffner were interchangeable
(both treated Freya with disdain) and Siegfried, instead of being a
spoilt brat was likable and fun, turning Götterdämmerung
into a boy and girl thing, a bit of hanky-panky that went astray with
naughty Hagen shooting the likable lad.
The music was similarly caricatured. If the music indicated Wotan
was lurking, you would see him lurking, when the sword leitmotif
appeared the sword swirled around with the turning stage to
distraction. During music intended for scene changes where one often
enters a meditative state, streams of extras poured onto the stage
and enacted iconic Aussie scenes, horse racing carnivals or swimming
competitions that made the audience titter. It was as if we had to be
reminded that we were in Australia every so often. When the singers
or actors beat time to the music with their hands or their feathers,
well I just had to close my eyes.
The glorious singing and playing was so undermined by presentation
that I came out of the final opera feeling cross and dispossessed.
What a shame, what a shame, what a shame.