Das Rheingold

Bernard Haitink
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
24 October 1996
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanJohn Tomlinson
DonnerPeter Sidhom
FrohPeter Evans
LogePhilip Langridge
FasoltPeter Rose
FafnerMatthias Hölle
AlberichEkkehard Wlaschiha
MimeRobin Leggate
FrickaJane Henschel
FreiaRita Cullis
ErdaCatherine Wyn-Rogers
WoglindeRosemary Joshua
WellgundeGillian Webster
FloßhildeLeah-Marian Jones
The Spectator

It would take a nicer capacity for dis- crimination than I possess to decide whether Bayreuth or Covent Garden has a more utterly vacuous production of the Ring, though, as far as musical standards are concerned, there is no question that Covent Garden is easily superior, thanks in the largest measure to the conducting of Bernard Haitink. It was interesting as well as stirring to see and hear him react over and over again, especially in Rheingold, to the idiocies of Richard Jones’s production by inciting the orchestra, and up to a point the cast, to new intensities which contra- dicted the proceedings on the stage.

The days of Marxist-inclined productions are over, and perversely, perhaps, I find myself hankering, if not ardently, after those ‘concept-productions’ which have now been replaced by what might be called image-productions. No doubt a rebellion against the constructions of the producers of the former GDR was necessary, but, while jettisoning the political, the new wave of producers has retained some of its pre- decessor’s most trying features, such as sending up the gods.

Never have they seemed so absurd as now at Bayreuth and Covent Garden, and indeed John Tomlinson must sometimes find it hard to remember which inanities to proceed to next. ‘This is the one where my spear is a traffic sign, so it must be Jones’ is presumably how he reasons. Ekkehard Wlaschiha, whom no trivialisation can rob of his dignity and terrifying force as Alberich — the Bayreuth and London casts overlap heavily — has shapely gaudily dressed tarts as Rhinemaidens tempting him at Bayreuth, ‘nude’ fat old hags waving their buttocks at him at the Royal Opera. ► In general, the emphasis is on elaborate costumes at Bayreuth, and not much in the way of scenery; and crucially very little indeed in the way of directing the singers, so they just stare into the audience and do their thing. Apart from the costumes, much the same goes for Covent Garden. There were one or two places in Rheingold where the images were so bizarrely inept that I couldn’t withhold admiration: Erda, who had wandered around noiselessly on sever- al occasions before her official entry, came on and, to the work’s most solemn music to date, did some slow old-fashioned ballroom dancing with Wotan. Such incongruities can force one, Haitink-like, to make up for the dramatic visual outrage by an enhanced response to the sublimity of the music.

It is, of course, Wagner’s sublimity which producers find so embarrassing. Sublimity is not, in any case, a category that seems to excite positive reactions, and with a work so rich in ironies as Rheingold it is tempting to give it a miss, a temptation all the easier to succumb to if you don’t have the least idea what sublimity is. Unfortunately for Jones, and for his Bayreuth counterpart Alfred Kirchner, Wagner has created in this icy work something which to a unique degree encompasses both irony and sublimity.

The amount of mockery Rheingold con- tains — of Alberich by the Rhinemaidens, of the giants by Wotan, of the gods by Alberich, of everyone by Loge — ensures that no spectator will miss the comprehen- siveness of Wagner’s satire. If it is not to result in mere disgust with everything except inanimate Nature, the real grandeur of Wotan’s schemes must be given equal weight. With an all-too-human Wotan such as Tomlinson, schemes are mere scheming. But only a reviewer need spend more than two minutes on this production. Revel instead — there are, most unusually for a Ring cycle, empty seats — in the glories of the orchestral conception.

Haitink has, like his great predecessor Goodall, made a study of every last note of the score, and especially the crucial ones allotted to the percussion playing piano, and other mildly exotic features. Translu- cent, surging, alive to the tiniest changes of feeling, this is a great conception, which carries the mainly mediocre cast of singers along with it. I haven’t enjoyed Rheingold in the theatre so long for many years, though often with lowered eyes.

Michael Tanner | 5 OCTOBER 1996

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 355 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (BBC 3, delayed broadcast 25 October 1996)
A production by Richard Jones (1994)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.