Der Ring des Nibelungen

Sylvain Cambreling
Chor und Orchester des Opernhauses Frankfurt
11 October (R), 26 October 1994 (W)
21 October (S), 16 October 1994 (G)
Opernhaus Frankfurt
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre


OPERA-L Archives

This production was first staged at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels three years ago. At that time it was stated that it would go to Frankfurt and Barcelona. It was never done in Barcelona since their opera house burned down two years ago!. I saw it in Brussels and was so impressed by it, I wanted to see it again as I think it rates with the very best of Ring cycles presented in recent years.

The strongest part of this production is its staging. As directed by Herbert Wernicke who also did the set and costume designs, this Ring can best be described as a symbolic rather than an interpretive production. It does not present a thematic interpretation such as the materialist perspective that Chereau brought to his Ring or the neo Marxist interpretation of Kuper, or, for that matter, the power theme brought out in Seattle’s version. No, this Ring is extremely faithful to the text and focusess on symbolic elements which provide a cohesive theme which brings the whole production together. All four operas are played out on one set, a barren warehouse looking brightly lit room which contains a massive window at the back of the stage through which trees and mountain peaks are visible. A grand piano is always on stage and providesthe place where Brunhilde sleeps and on which she and Siegfried come together. A black robed Erda is always seated at the piano observing the action. A delapidated sofa is usually on stage and the characters often sit on it in a still tableau like setting. Another wonderful feature of this production is that death is always present, every character who dies remains lying on the stage beginning with Fasolt and ending with Goetterdammerung in which six corpses litter the stage. The text often mentions animals and in this version, they are brought to life on stage. Fricka makes her entrance preceeded by two men with rams heads; Wotan appears with two men dressed in raven’s heads; Hunding appears with two jaeckel headed men and best of all is Grane, Brunhilde’s horse. As played by Thomas Stache, a ballet dancer of exquisite grace, Grane becomes an important asset to Brunhilde and provides incredible moments of sadness.

The singers act and more importantly listen and REACT to each other. Body language, stage movement and facial expressions add depth to their vocal performance.

Scene changes are accompanied by Wagner’s original stage directions projected on a black curtain and made to look old by streaks and cracking in the film. This is the first production I have ever seen in which the sword is part of the Nibelungen hoard, as stated in the text, and is placed in the ground by Wotan in Rheingold where it is then found towards the end of Act 1 of Walkuere.

The costumes are WWI and into the twenties. WW1 Prussian uniforms are worn by Gunther and Hagen symbolizing their power and the lurking evil of Hagen.

There is so much more in this innovative staging but in the interest of space, I should move on.

The orchestra was extremely powerful and Sylvain Camberling had full control. His reading brought out individual musical strains which are sometimes not heard. My only criticism is that the orchestra was occasionally a bit too loud and overpowered some of the singers especially the very weak voice of William Cochran’s Siegfried. All told, Camberling was better than in Brussels and he seems to have matured in his reading. I thoroughly enjoyed his reading (I happened to be sitting next to an orchestra member who was not playing because he had broken a shoulder bone and he told me that the orchestra loves this conductor and predicted that he will be among the very top conductors in the future.)

Vocally, this production was good but not great. The most outstanding singers were Janis Martin as Brunhilde who was truly superb – a voice of power and delicacy and under full control. The voice is warm and pleasant to listen to and unlike many Brunhilde’s of our day, Martin neither wobbles, vibrates or shrieks. The other was Ewe Schonbeck’s magnificient characterization of Mime a as the eternal victim caught in his own web of intrigue. Schonbeck has extradordinary acting ability for a singer and even in this age of great Mimes such as Heinz Zednick and Graham Clarke, Schonbeck stands out. Wotan was portrayed by three different singers from a youthful Alan Held in Rheingold to a mature Monte Pederson in Walkuere to an elderly Wanderer in John Brocheler All three sang well but Pederson unfortunately lost his voice in the ‘Abschied’ and was almost too embarassed to take curtain calls. Aage Haugland’s Hagen was also very impressive vocally. Very weak were James Patrick Rafferty’s Siegmund , Helene Doese’ Sieglinde, Livia Budai-Batky’s Fricka. Georg Tichy’s Alberich lacked the vocal depth required for this role.

All told, the singing was good, sometimes very good and musically this was a strong and impressive performance. But the star of the evening was the director who provided a production which was endlessly fascinating and which held the audience spellbound. This production should be kept and revived again. Compared to the lacklustre minimalist production in Paris last Nov. and the uninteresting and ugly production put on by Bayreth last summer, this production ranks tall. It is right up there with Kuper and Chereau.

Frances Henry | 1 Apr 1995

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.9 GByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by Herbert Wenicke (1991 Bruxelles)