Every year in Bayreuth, anyone who believed that culture-loving people were more civilized than those who avoid opera houses will be proven wrong.
This time it was particularly bad. When “Ring” director Valentin Schwarz and his team step in front of the curtain after “Götterdämmerung”, including outfitter Andrea Cozzi and costume designer Andy Visit, such a foul-mouthed storm of protest breaks out that one gets scared and anxious.
It’s fine when art stirs things up, but a tightly packed, bawling, angry, soon to be 2,000-strong mob? It goes on like this for almost 20 minutes, the few applauding people don’t stand a chance. Individual singers are also booed: It’s true, Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde sang incomprehensibly and with such a flickering vibrato that it was often difficult to tell what she was singing at what pitch.
But in the last act, when Wotan’s daughter proclaims the end of the world, she also had intimate, intense moments.
Actually, Valentin Schwarz holds up the mirror to the well-to-do in his “Ring des Nibelungen” story. Whether in Wotan’s clan or among the underworld, all of whom lust for the ring, for wealth and power, things are brutal everywhere.
The parvenus and the underdogs, a single decadent mafia mishmash: incest, fratricide, women’s exchange program, intrigues, lies, betrayal, violence – even the only friendly being, Brünnhilde’s family friend Grane, is finally maltreated and beheaded.
You know that from those series and thrillers that Schwarz had often referred to. Ah, the horse’s head from “The Godfather” – or is it the severed head from David Fincher’s “Seven”? Doesn’t Siegfried look like he came out of the “Geissens” series family, and doesn’t “The Sopranos” also start at a pool, with ducks instead of Rhinemaidens?
The Austrian director may now experience the revenge of the establishment for his mirror images. Valentin Schwarz is 33. Patrice Chéreau was 31 and hardly known in Germany when he shook up the opera world in 1976 with Bayreuth’s “Century Ring”. The booing thunderstorms must have been even more violent, there were fights.
So there’s nothing wrong with festival director Katharina Wagner giving young talent a chance after a number of big-name rejections. The pandemic slowed him down, the virus also hit the premiere, which was postponed by two years. First, the Stuttgart General Music Director Cornelius Meister, who was actually intended to conduct “Tristan”, had to take over for Pietari Inkinen, who was suffering from Corona, at short notice.
Several Wotans jumped out beforehand, Tomasz Konwiecny was unable to finish singing Wotan in Die Walküre due to an accident on stage. Most recently, Stephen Gould (who also sings Tristan and Tannhäuser in Bayreuth), who was celebrated as a miracle of fitness, dropped out in the Götterdämmerung.
Which is why the American tenor Clay Hilley was flown in from his vacation in Bari. His Siegfried, however, was not able to convince with an inevitably brief scenic introduction and a voice that was clearly too small. Until the end, this “ring” was under an unlucky star.
One should bear this in mind despite all the criticism of Meister’s all too sporty, action-oriented, conductor-like conducting, which does not come close to the narrative flow, which is interwoven with motifs of memory and premonition.
In terms of singing, the protagonists disappointed in the “Ring” finale. Only the secondary characters – Christa Mayer as Waltraute, Albert Dohmen as the devious Hagen, Elisabeth Teige as the wandering Gutrune, Michael Kupfer-Radecky as Gunther auf Koks – were able to assert themselves against the energetic sound of the festival orchestra.
Not that Valentin Schwarz doesn’t have great ideas for Richard Wagner’s tetralogy. His common thread is the family as a trauma, as a hopelessly self-reproducing, increasingly degenerate dynasty (spoiler: it was probably Wotan who got Brünnhilde pregnant).
That’s why there are always children involved, even more so, the coveted Rheingold, the ring is – a child. One with a changing identity: in the “Rheingold” Alberich abducts Klein-Hagen, possibly also Klein-Siegfried: later the two appear as buddies. In the Twilight of the Gods it is the child of Brünnhilde and Siegfried.
The noble couple is now a small family, he is wearing a green doublet, she is wearing a pink dressing gown, they have become estranged. So he prefers to go on a business trip, the offspring is once again stolen and bartered, this time to the Gibichungen. There, Brünnhilde, who was so terribly betrayed by Siegfried – without any forgetting potion – and now a single mother, also rids herself of her motherly love.
After Siegfried fished with the child in a puddle at the bottom of the empty Rhine pool basin, after Daddy’s death the child simply falls down and dies.
So no future, no hope, no new generation that could fix it. The world conflagration is scenically just as fire magic and forest weaving before. Instead of stars, the sky is full of neon tubes, to the musically so radiant, unfortunately somewhat slipped love redemption motif. The boxing twin fetuses in the video for the “Rheingold” prelude suddenly appear to be deeply entwined – a pious, futile wish.
It’s just strange that Schwarz draws attention to the betrayed next-born for four evenings, but banishes what today’s society actually burdens their children with in the wings. Resource exploitation, climate crisis, natural disasters – a topic for Wagner, think of the felled world ash tree. In this “ring” it’s just overbuilt rocky landscapes, withered flora wasting away in showcases.
The Wotan clan tableau in the nouveau riche estate is also increasingly lost, not to mention the sometimes silly, sometimes mysterious props. Pistols, Rubik’s cubes, Brünnhilde cowboy hats, Hagen baseball caps, the glass cube lamp symbolizing Valhalla with a glowing pyramid inside – the use of the accessories, which are difficult to recognize from the back floor, remains vague.
Why does Schwarz lay tracks like those of Hagen and Siegfried’s complicity or the Outsider conspiracy of Siegfried and Brünnhilde, only to erase them again?
Valentin Schwarz wants too much and too little at the same time, gives the anarchic myth smasher, only to then respectfully hold back. That’s why there is a lack of images that condense the events. With the exception of the resigning Wotan in Die Walküre, the beauty farm valkyries (why do women always appear slutty, defenseless or Madonna-like?) and the Gibichungen army in Götterdämmerung.
A black-robed secret society with blood-red Wotan masks, the child stands alone in front of the army, powerless in the face of overwhelming power, a strong moment.
When it falls dead, one of these masks is being handed to it, the winged helmet armored god or camouflage mask that the kidnapped children painted in “Rheingold”, which adorns the program cover and is said to date from the time of the premiere. An allusion to the Bayreuth tradition: Whoever enters into this tradition will perish in it? “Back from the ring”, Hagen’s last call, a warning sign for Valentin Schwarz too?
Curse or not, the next attempt is just around the corner, in Berlin. Daniel Barenboim’s third Ring work at the Staatsoper starts on October 2nd, directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov.