Friday, June 11, 2010

Before I forget (guest edition): La Scala's Rheingold

Not too far in time but rather more distant than usual in place, a reader sent this guest review from Milan on last month's La Scala Rheingold.

As this appears to have been a trial run for Pape in Wotan, perhaps his vocal success in the part means we'll see him do it here in the not-too-distant future.

*     *     *

Das Rheingold, Teatro alla Scala, May 26, 2010

One good decision in Guy Cassiers' production of Das Rheingold at La Scala was to have Alberich just be an unkempt, ordinary middle aged guy. Without the usual troll costume, this Alberich, especially as well sung and as dynamically acted by Johannes Martin Kraenzle, was the most sympathetic and interesting depiction of that character I have seen and heard. He was buffo enough to get laughs from the audience and the Rhinemaidens, but not a cartoon-ish character. Renounce love for riches? Sure, if those are the kind of bitches one runs into at the Rheinhessen, why not?!

There were other nice touches such as a cynical and dandy-ish Loge dancing in the water as everyone ascends to Valhalla at the opera's end, but Cassiers is such a literal director that he ruins the night by having ballet dancers on-stage for most of the opera miming and gyrating next to the singers, even during Wagner's evocative subterranean music for the descent to the Nibelheim. It's like Cassiers and his choreographer, Sidi Libi Cherkaoui, read a bunch of opera books which say that Rheingold is the gloomiest and least lyrical chapter of the Ring, and they believed it and needed to overcompensate by treating it like an overwrought ballet.

The worst was Cassiers' concept of Wotan as a self-effacing dead-beat which only made me wish that Rene Pape's first outing in this role was at the Met's now retired Otto Schenk production, which has the rare virtue of letting Wotan be a god. It is hard to imagine Pape getting upstaged throughout the night, but in this production, he is. His actions on stage were stiff and static, and a semi-naked hairy male dancer shadows his moves while he is arguing with Fricka. I was hoping he would kill many of the dancers with his spear, but alas, no.

Dressed in a dirty suit, this Wotan was too mortal to command any authority or awe, and perhaps too cognizant that stealing the Ring is a bad decision. It's unfortunate because Pape's Wotan is beautifully sung, and a most bel canto treatment of the part, but if he's not allowed to be a god or even threatening, he might as well be singing Rigoletto.

The bass that stole the show was Kwangchul Youn as Fasolt, who sang forcefully and with real menace. A much more dignified fellow than Wotan, his was a Fasolt of brute elegance and authority. Unfortunately, Timo Riihonen as Fafner was too light for the role.

The tenors in this production were all good, especially Stephan Ruegamer's lyrical and charismatic Loge who moved around the stage like a demented pixie. He was lucky to have no dancer assigned to him. Anna Larsson's Erda makes her entrance like a tree sprouting up from the stage, and although she was good, I wished for more authority and steeliness in her singing of this role. I had last heard Anna Samuil as Musetta at the Met in 2006 and she was an appealing and dynamic Freia worth fighting over.

Daniel Barenboim and the La Scala Orchestra gave a mostly skillful rendition and sounded great during the last the ten minutes which made one almost forget all the bad direction of the show so far. Only the opening music seemed rushed and unmagical, like Barenboim wanted to get those notes over with. Maybe waiting for the protesting stagehands (lecturing the audience) to get off the stage made him antsy.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.