Monday, November 25, 2013

Melbourne Ring Cycle ...a story of lost magic

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.

1 comment:

Pookie mama said...

I am SO GLAD I'm not the only one having negative thoughts about this Melbourne Ring Cycle! Thank you so much.