Das Rheingold

Pablo Heras-Casado
Orquesta Titulares del Teatro Real
17 January 2019
Teatro Real Madrid
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanGreer Grimsley
DonnerRaimund Nolte
FrohDavid Butt Philip
LogeJoseph Kaiser
FasoltAlbert Pesendorfer
FafnerAlexander Tsymbalyuk
AlberichSamuel Youn
MimeMikeldi Atxalandabaso
FrickaSarah Connolly
FreiaSophie Bevan
ErdaRonnita Miller
WoglindeIsabella Gaudí
WellgundeMaria Miró
FloßhildeClaudia Huckle

A pale Rheingold begins Teatro Real’s revival of Carsen’s Ring

The primordial power of nature – blind and ambivalent – is the basis of The Ring’s musical and dramatic architecture: power and love, blessing and curse, everything builds on the pristine waters of the Rhine. As depicted in Erda’s circular motif of the twilight of the gods, opposing forces rise in elegant dialectics only to fall back to the same abysmal waters. In this constant succession of bliss and demise, Wotan’s sorrow is but a drop in the mighty river. But in Robert Carsen’s Rheingold, nature fails to regenerate and the dirt of fallen progress has turned the Rhine into a dunghill that can produce no good, an obvious critique of industrialism that has earned the production the confusing moniker of the “Green Ring”. It may be better understood as the uneventful birth of yet another diminishing cycle of history, a minor iteration of what was once a meaningful, epic tale. This sense of melancholy decay, where there’s no room for heroism or grandeur, seems now even more timely than it was in 2000, when the production premièred in Oper Köln.

As in modern autocracies, Wotan’s predatory dreams are made of concrete, as naked as his own selfishness. Patrick Kinmonth’s austere sets convey sharply the pettiness of the uninspiring project to which he is willing to sacrifice Freia. As he has often done in other productions, Carsen uses the sociology of theatre to depict the structural inequalities of the plot: while the gods are always at Stalls level, the giants come from a suspended scaffold and Nibelungs are confined to the vaults under the stage. Also their body language marks the unsurmountable social differences. Despite being moral Doppelgängers, Wotan’s patrician stiffness contrasts Alberich’s rowdy manners, and ultimately only Freia and Fasolt defy this rigid order with interclass caresses. The supernatural side of the story was trusted to Manfred Voss’ lights, with mixed results: the sparkling effects of the first appearance of the gold, hidden in a truck tyre, created a moment of rare lyricism, while the Tarnhelm’s transformations had more than their fair share of clumsiness. In the final scene, the gods, after a gloomy ball and a Champagne toast, move into their new home, followed by an army that hints at the martial turn of the next episodes.

Pablo Heras-Casado, Principal Guest Conductor, made a cautious debut in the cycle. As Carsen’s gods, he conducted with empty elegance, defending a sense of order that didn’t really serve to a higher purpose. He channelled the chaotic flow of the prelude and, despite always showing a good dynamic range, muffled the climaxes, underplaying the mighty musical pillars of Valhalla, as if refusing to crown a head that didn’t deserve the laurel. He was at his best in the scenes between the gods, revealing the music’s truly chamber scale. This commendable moderation, however, turned often into lack of emotion, which set the general tone of the performance.

Even under this scaled-down perspective, Greer Grimsley’s Wotan didn’t really sound the part. His voice lacked authority in the centre and was too strained in the top notes and he sang with cold and absent phrasing, which only paid off in the final scene, under the spell of Erda’s warning. On the other hand, Samuel Youn, with a lyric, clean timbre and solid technique, depicted a reckless Alberich. Sarah Connolly excelled as a sophisticated Fricka, giving meaning to every word thanks to her perfect diction. Mikeldi Atxalandabaso’s clear tenor gave Mime a stirring touch of humanity. Albert Pesendorfer was a last-minute replace as Fasolt and made a very good impression, with a rich bass-baritone and candid acting, next to Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s correct Fafner. Sophie Bevan’s fresh soprano was perfect for Freia’s eternal youth and Raimund Nolte and David Butt Philip were also good as Donner and Froh. Loge’s fiery wittiness eluded Joseph Kaiser, who sang with elegance but downgraded the importance of the character. Claudia Huckle’s dark mezzo was a good contrast to her Rhinemaiden sisters, María Miró a playful, light Wellgunde and Isabella Gaudí, with unsteady tone but good acting, as Woglinde.

In an attempt to underline the only firm truth of the story, Carsen reserved his touch of magic for Erda’s scene. Ronnita Miller appeared unexpectedly in a dim blue haze, as if she had been there all the time, and embraced Wotan in a sad moment of wisdom. Her bronze timbre flowed powerfully as a wise and poignant warning: “Alles was ist, endet”.

Fernando Remiro | 22 January 2019


Over the coming years, Teatro Real will offer the complete Ring at the rate of one title each year. Das Rheingold is back on the stage here for the first time since 2002, and it got the cycle off to a strong start with a superb orchestra, a well-known production and a pleasing cast.

This Robert Carsen production premiered in Cologne in 2000. I have a special admiration for Carsen whom I consider to be one of the greatest stage directors today. His works can be more or less groundbreaking, but they always respect the music and the libretto. Here the Canadian director has followed an ecological path, and in the Prelude we see a series of extras walking and running along the shore of the Rhine, throwing junk into the river. The appearance of the Rhine daughters takes place in a garbage dump – what the Rhine has been become due to pollution. The gods form the court of a military dictator, whose grandiloquence and lust for power will lead them to their final destruction. The idea has a sound foundation, although lances, armor and horns are missed.

In the second scene there are numerous construction pieces, while in the Nibelheim scene the stage is naked except for Alberich’s slaves and some cases where the gold is supposedly stored. In the final scene we return to the gods; the construction elements disappear as the scene is ending and the back of the stage opens up to show an attractive, snowy landscape. The costumes are modern and nicely suited to Carsen’s concept.

The direction of the actors is good overall, but there are moments when things do not work as well as one would expect. If the appearance of the gold in the first scene is unconvincing, so too are the supposed transformations of Alberich into a dragon or frog. This moment, which often tests the imagination of a director, here is anything but imaginative: Alberich never disappears from the view of the spectators who are the ones to put their imaginations to work.

One of the points of interest of these performances was undoubtedly the presence of Pablo Heras-Casado at the head of the musical direction. His Rhine scene was not totally successful, but both the Nibelheim scene and the final one were brilliant. It has been 12 years since I first saw him conducting opera (Le nozze di Figaro in Bordeaux), and he is definitely in an excellent moment. Under his baton was the Teatro Real orchestra which proved once again that it’s the best pit orchestra in Spain. I look forward to the future installments of the Ring.

Wotan, whose importance in this opera is indisputable, as it is in Die Walküre, was sung by baritone Greer Grimsley. As on earlier occasions when I have seen him in the role, his voice was powerful, but his singing was a bit monotonous – and he is not an outstanding actor either. There are just too many open sounds in his interpretation, and I think the occasion deserved a more important Wotan.

A pleasant surprise was bass-baritone Samuel Youn in the part of Alberich whose performance was flawless both vocally and dramatically. It underlined the need to have had a more important Wotan to face him. Tenor Joseph Kaiser in the part of Loge was totally convincing, while mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly was an adequate Fricka in vocal terms but not a remarkable interpreter.

There were last-minute changes in the Giants. Ain Anger had been announced to sing the role of Fasolt, but he had to cancel due to illness. He was replaced by Albert Pesendorfer who was very good and displayed a great mastery of the character, as did bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk as Fafner.

Ronnita Miller made a very positive impression in the part of Erda, singing with a sonorous voice that was appropriate to the character. This time, Erda did indeed sound like a contralto.

In the secondary characters, Sophie Bevan was a correct Freia. Mikeldi Atxalandabaso was an impeccable Mime, proving once again that he possesses a voice that has no problem reaching the audience. Raimund Nolte as Donner and David Butt Philip as Froh were both impressive, but the Rhine daughters – Isabel Gaudí (Woglinde), María Miró (Wellgunde) and Claudia Huckle (Flosshilde) – were more irregular in vocal terms.

Teatro Real was at about 95% of capacity. The audience was warm at the final bows, with the biggest ovations for Samuel Youn and Pablo Heras-Casado. Robert Carsen was received with both applause and booing.

José M. Irurzun | eatro Real, Madrid, 17.1.2019


The Teatro Real has initiated the arduous task of staging Wagner’s tremendous masterpiece “Der Ring des Nibelunguen,” presenting one opera per season. Staging this renowned masterpiece, in many ways, is the biggest challenge for any opera company. Wagner’s tetralogy is one of the most famed art works in Western culture and the mark of a great opera company is the ability to put its own individual stamp on the cycle.So it is that the company kicked off the proceedings with the prologue “Das Rheingold.” Per the company’s official website, this is the second time that the opera is presented at the theater since its reopening in 1997.

The responsibility of such enterprise has been entrusted to the conductor Pablo Heras-Casado and the stage director Robert Carsen and after one opera, there is a feeling that everything is headed in the right direction.

A Sturdy Cast
The cast was at the core of the performance’s success, with all the artists supporting one another wonderfully from scene to scene.

Samuel Youn as Alberich was arguably the highlight of the evening. He showcased a powerful and dark voice which could be easily heard over the heavy orchestra. He also displayed a thorough vocal line which permitted him to perform the declamatory style of his part beautifully. Most potent was his interpretation of the line “Meinen fluch fliehest du nicht,” where he did produced a coarse F-sharp perfectly on pitch. Young performed his character with a tremendous energy and was truly convincing as a tortured soul full of envy, anger, and lust.

Erda was portrayed but the American singer Ronnita Miller. Her part is only about seven-minutes long, but she made the most of it and the lush lyrical moments Wagner assigned her. Miller’s vocal line is exquisite and she possesses a velvety and dense timbre. Also aiding the memorability of her performance was the staging by Robert Carsen, who had Erda share a tender embrace with Wotan during this scene. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Sarah Connolly, an English mezzo soprano, explored Frika as a truly dignified individual. She knows the part very well, recently performing the Cycle at the Royal Opera House in London; she has also sung the part in Bayreuth. Connolly gave a lesson of containment and perfect phrasing.

Wotan, who is one of the leading characters of the Tetralogy, was sung by the American bass baritone Greer Grimsley. He sung the score elegantly with a dark and round sound. However, he seemed to push his voice to be heard over the heavy orchestration and this created a rather unstable vibrato in his upper register.

Mikeldi Atxalandabaso was a wonderful Mime in his role debut. He’s a Rossini, Mozart, and Donizetti veteran and she showed how this cornucopia of style can serve Wagner’s music. Albert Pesendorfer came in at the last minute to replace an ill Ain Anger as Fasolt and did a solid job. The rest of the roles were perfectly cast, with the result of creating one of the strongest casts heard in Madrid in recent years.

Vocally, “Das Rheingold” was a great success.

Sturdy But Unsurprising
Pablo Heras-Casado, who is the principal guest conductor of the theater, had previously presented Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Holländer at this house in 2017.This young conductor has a prolific repertoire which extends from the baroque era to contemporary compositions. He gave a brave but cautious lecture of the score; the orchestra sounded good and there were no surprises in tempi. The big dynamics were there, from the whispered first Eb on the strings at the beginning of the prelude to the outburst of sound when Alberich uses his ring against the Nibelungs in Scene there.

But this precise and methodical approach made it feel rather predictable. And when you can anticipate that next note and dynamic, the score simply surprise or move you or even feel new to you. The result was a performance that felt rather passionless at its core. Moreover, the choice to amplify the sound of the hammers, which play backstage in the third scene, came off as a blurred mess of sounds and uneven rhythm.

Environment & Social Issues
The production premiered in Oper Köln in 2000 and has been re-staged several times in Shangai and Barcelona’s Teatre del Liceu, among other places. It is a theatrical production and features no big scenery or sets. All the scenes happened inside three iron walls creating some kind of industrial atmosphere. The focus was on clever and realistic stage directionof the singers. It’s pure theatre, but quite committed to reflecting environment issues, or the fight between classes and fascism. For example, a one point, we see an army marching behind a militaristic Wotan and the gods as they enter Valhalla at the end of the opera.

The prelude presents a dry misty Rhine river where men dressed in suits throw their leftovers, as their pace increases frantically. Inside the garbage of the Rhine we see three beggars, the Rhine daughters, who look for their nourishment within the rubbish. The different between classes is physically represented in the erected gods, the ungraceful giants, and the nibelungs who crawl around the floor.

Robert Carsen is one of the most valued stage directors nowadays, and his productions can be seen in the major opera houses around the world. He always modernizes the operas to give a more suitable presentation to today’s audience, but he always respects the libretto and the music. You might not agree with his choices (and some members of Teatro Real’s audience were rather vocal about their disapproval), but what Robert Carsen does on stage is moving and makes sense.

Mauricio Villa | JAN 21, 2019


Madrid’s Teatro Real has embarked on a Ring Cycle, offering one instalment per year, using Robert Carsen’s 2004 Cologne production. While some in the audience were not thrilled with the gloomy sets from a recycled, and some say dated production, others found Carsen’s acerbic vision even more relevant fifteen years hence. Wagner’s original theme of Love and Power is slightly updated. Two main themes intertwine: that man has so degraded Earth through his greed; and that the characters in the work are a reflection of our hierarchical society, with exploitation as its driving force. During the prelude, suited men, resembling today’s white collar middle class, are hurriedly smoking, eating or reading the paper as they briskly walk to work, disposing of cigarette butts, newspapers and other waste. As the prelude reaches a crescendo, the walking becomes running and ever more waste is created. Pablo Heras-Casado and the Orquesta Titular del Teatro Real’s performance of the prelude was masterful, attentive to the music’s haunting chromaticism. The usually alluring Rhine Maidens are here presented as three vagrant women surrounded by waste, guarding their gold in a water-filled automobile tire.

Greer Grimsley is one of today’s leading Wotans, yet his attempt at portraying an imperious Wotan, domineering in his household as the Gods are with lesser races, was not convincing. Despite his charisma, his voice is not sufficiently robust to truly inhabit the role, and at moments, some notes were strained. English mezzo Sarah Connolly is also a veteran Fricka, having interpreted the role in Bayreuth and at Covent Garden. She impressed with her acting and excellent diction as much as with her singing. Samuel Youn may not have the ideal voice for Alberich, but thanks to his excellent stage presence and solid technique, his portrayal was compelling. Joseph Kaiser made the most of his role conveying Loge’s cynicism through excellent acting and delicious phrasing. The Canadian lyric tenor’s voice has blossomed in recent years; his versatility and his excellent command of languages never cease to impress. Sophie Bevan’s lyric soprano was perfect for the role of Freia. Her timbre is refreshingly beautiful and well-suited to the role. She was convincing as the terrified Giants’ hostage, and touching in her affection shown toward her murdered captor Fasolt, in a rare moment of tenderness, in this bleak interpretation of Rheingold. Mikeldi Atxalandabaso, a regular character tenor on Spanish stages, stood out as Mime – his debut in the role – thanks to his excellent diction and acting. Albert Pesendorfer as Fasolt and Alexander Tsymbalyuk as Fafner were vocally secure Giants. They seemed at ease dramatically in their toned down roles as union leaders rather than mythical creatures. Raimund Nolte as Donner and David Butt Philip as Froh, however, failed to realize their small but consequential roles, both vocally and dramatically. Ronnita Miller’s dark contralto, clear diction and poise gave life to the brief but important role of Erda. The Rhine Maidens were more than adequate. Vocally, Claudia Huckle was most noteworthy, as Flosshilde.

Carsen’s Wotan wore a military uniform resembling Chile’s Pinochet or some other dictator. The Gods’ abode was filled with construction material used to build Nibelheim. The packed furniture gave the feel of an imminent move to the Gods’ new home. These Gods unconvincingly act as stiff aristocrats: Fricka ressembles Margaret Thatcher more than a real blue blood, Donner and Froh act like spoiled golden boys, with one smoking cigars and the other playing golf; Freia tends her apples out of a red suitcase. In this Walhalla, irreversible damage to the environment has already been done and in this production, the apples – the source of the Gods’ youth and vitality – don’t grow on trees, but are a commodity kept in a red suitcase. Armies of servants are at the Gods’ disposal, constantly catering to their bosses’ various whims.

In Teatro Real’s production, Fafner and Fasolt are not mere giants, but union leaders with scores of orange-clad workers clamouring for their promised wages. Given current events in France and throughout Europe, perhaps yellow vests would have been apt. Wotan and Loge connect to the Nibelungen’s realm through a manhole, further demonstrating the stratification of the races in the Ring (and in today’s society). Alberich rules over creatures who can only crawl, indicating the paralysis and indentured slavery of many labourers at the bottom of society. When the trickster Loge convinces Alberich to transform into a snake, the crawling men coil together into a semi-circle to represent the slimy serpent. Such a transformation was more impressive than Alberich’s invisible change into a toad.

At the end of the opera, when Fafner murders Fasolt over the newly-acquired gold, the latter’s corpse is left on the ground. The waiters bring in champagne and the Gods merrily celebrate their move to Nibelheim around Fasolt’s corpse. This powerful image resembled a caustic scene from a Luis Bunuel film. In a non-grandiose fashion, the Gods look over the horizon presumably towards their new home: no imposing castle or rainbow are seen, just falling snow. Again, this looked more like a nouveau riche crowd in Zermatt or Gstaad revelling in their presumed wealth and power. During the opera’s final strains, marking the procession towards Nibelheim, the Gods are followed by regiments of servants carrying their status-bearing furniture and Louis Vuitton trunks, and they in turn are followed by men in uniform. Only a cardinal or two were missing to make this a scene lifted from Bunuel’s Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

Ossama el Naggar | Madrid Teatro Real 01/19/2019

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s VBR, 48.0 kHz, 345 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
Albert Pesendorfer replaces Ain Anger as Fasolt.
A production by Robert Carsen (premiere, Köln 2000).