Der Ring des Nibelungen

Kirill Petrenko
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
26 July 2013 (R), 27 July 2013 (W)
29 July 2013 (S), 31 July 2013 (G)
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre


Financial Times

Bayreuth’s bicentenary ‘Ring’ drew 15 minutes of booing. Was the audience’s verdict justified?

The waiter comes with a bill that Wotan cannot pay just as Erda sinks to her knees and begins to fumble with his belt. This is Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, where two giant crocodiles lumber past overflowing rubbish bins during Siegfried’s love duet with Brünnhilde. One of them swallows the Waldvogel – her high heels can be seen kicking feebly between its teeth as the two sing on. Earlier, when Siegfried blasted Mime full of holes with a machine gun, a member of the public collapsed. Hagen and Günter run a kebab stand in a forgotten corner of East Berlin. Hagen hacks Siegfried to death with an axe. The Norns practise voodoo. Siegfried has not ridden down the Rhine, and the world does not end in flames.

For these and a thousand other petty provocations, the Bayreuth audience rewarded stage director Frank Castorf with more than 15 minutes of solid booing when he appeared for his curtain call after Götterdämmerung on Wednesday night. Some had brought whistles to add to the din. Smiling unctuously, Castorf refused to leave the stage, tapping his forehead and making circular gestures at the audience with his forefingers. It was a grand stand-off and an utterly predictable end to the previous 16 hours of Bayreuth’s latest Ring.

Scandals are normal fare at Bayreuth. Patrice Chéreau’s Ring and Heiner Müller’s Tristan were howled down when new, but later lionised. Yet it is hard to imagine Castorf’s Ring reaching cult status at subsequent airings in Bayreuth.

Famous for his flamboyantly deconstructive theatre, Castorf has not set out to deconstruct Wagner’s four-opera cycle. Instead, he has largely ignored it, assembling a loose collection of anecdotal vignettes that do anything but tell a coherent story. There are references to the history of oil, there is constant coquetry with the conflict between communism and capitalism, there is slapstick, there are clever references to cinematic, operatic and Wagnerian history, there is cheap sex and gratuitous violence.

With rigorous consistency, Castorf ignores all of the work’s central questions and narrative challenges. Actions and associations are largely conjured by Aleksandar Denic’s vast, elaborate sets (Siegfried combines Mount Rushmore, where the carved heads belong respectively to Marx, Stalin, Lenin and Mao, with an East German version of Alexanderplatz; Götterdämmerung brings together the New York Stock Exchange, the Berlin Wall, an East German chemical factory, the kebab stand and a fire escape) through which characters wander with decreasing logic. Any suspicions that Castorf cares about opera or respects his audiences were amply dispelled by his infantile curtain-call behaviour.

This is not to say that Castorf has not been an important stage director in his time, nor that he cannot move actors decoratively around a stage. The man knows his craft – but his craft is not opera. An opera director knows how to handle a chorus on a stage: Castorf has them stand around or wave little flags. An opera director can read a musical score, and stage something that grows from the notes: Castorf demonstratively does not care. In this, he has been true to himself.

Fortunately this Ring sounded, for the most part, superb. Kirill Petrenko, despite the occasional odd tempo or rough patch, is the most exciting Wagnerian of his generation, a conductor with a great deal to say, the means to say it and thrilling potential. Here, at least, there is hope for the future.

The consistently high vocal standards of the first two operas were, however, eroded in the second two. Wolfgang Koch’s Wanderer grew in stature and refinement, Martin Winkler’s Alberich remained eye-wateringly good, you could find no better Rhine-maidens and Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester’s Gunther was a treat. But Lance Ryan’s Siegfried was consistently disappointing. He tends to shout, producing a strained sound that often falls painfully short of the intended note. And Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde, often meltingly wonderful in Siegfried, showed the strain with increasingly poor intonation as Götterdämmerung wore on.

The real question about this production is why, of all the people they could have chosen to stage the Ring for Wagner’s 200th birthday, Festival directors Eva and Katharina Wagner chose Castorf. He was, in their defence, only their fifth choice – four others had wisely declined. Perhaps the buck stops with the Bavarian politicians who appointed the Wagner sisters to run their great-grandfather’s festival. If opera direction has run so dry that there is nothing left to do but ignore, fragment and provoke, the point of having a Bayreuth Festival at all must surely be called into question. Perhaps the best birthday present for Wagner would be a 10-year ban on the performance of his music.

The new Bayreuth Ring is not just a scandal, and not only a musical triumph. It is a crisis of content for the Wagner Festival, and calls into question the future of the genre.

Twilight of the Gods indeed.

Shirley Apthorp | AUGUST 2 2013


Castorf has become the villain of the Bayreuth Ring cycle

I have spent many years in many opera houses and I have heard booing there many times. I have heard booing, in particular, in German opera houses, places in which the tradition of making your disapproval clear when the curtain falls sometimes seems to be as reflexive and automatic as the volleys of bravos during the most humdrum performance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. But I have never heard booing that matched the loudness and endurance from the outraged audience at this week’s Bayreuth festival.

This display of vehement displeasure, at the end of Frank Castorf’s production of the Ring cycle, was aimed at the Berlin-based Castorf and his creative team, including set designer Aleksandar Denic and the costumes, lighting and video of Adriana Braga Peretzki, Rainer Casper, Andreas Deinert and Jens Crull. It was not directed at the conductor, Russian-born Kirill Petrenko, who the audience cheered to the rafters. Nor was it aimed at the singers, although Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde was booed earlier in the cycle and at the end of Götterdämmerung. Lance Ryan’s Siegfried and Attila Jun’s Hagen also received some of the audience’s displeasure. But overwhelmingly, the Bayreuth audience liked what they heard. It was what they saw that they hated.

The explosion on Wednesday, after Götterdämmerung, had been building up all week. Castorf and his team did not take curtain calls during the other three operas, so their appearance at the end of the cycle unleashed a pent-up tempest akin to the thunderstorms that explode over Bayreuth in a hot, humid August. Not surprisingly, tempers in a theatre without air conditioning can become very short. And what a storm it was.

Some will be rightly squeamish about what took place. Booing is nasty and cruel. In Germany, it comes freighted with a dark history, too. It is particularly devastating for singers, who are doing their best, often in difficult circumstances. But Castorf seemed to revel in it, almost as if the audience verdict was a badge of honour or a vindication. He stood on the stage for more than 10 minutes, mocking his detractors with a thumbs up, ironic applause and dismissive waves. Castorf’s response enraged the audience even more. There is no way to know who would have won this battle of wills had not Petrenko diffidently put his head around the curtain to remind Castorf that the orchestra still had to take its traditional end-of-cycle bow. (The orchestra was cheered to the heavens.)

Some people might think they witnessed an uncomfortable martyrdom. That seemed to be Castorf’s own projection of it, though surely even he must have been a little daunted by the torrential booing. One should not be naive about the fact that Bayreuth is a lightning rod for dark passions with deep historical roots. Some want it to stay the same; others want radical and permanent change. In my view, change is inevitable, but it needs to be positive. Castorf’s production was the latter, and his indifference struck me as egotistical rather than saintly.

His take on the Ring was ultimately – and perhaps deliberately – incoherent. Before the cycle began, Castorf held a press conference. In it, he explained that this Ring cycle, focusing on oil, would tease out ways that our greed for it and its wealth re-enact the impulse for the riches, power and destruction on which Wagner’s Ring is centred. In its first two parts – a Rheingold set in a Route 66 US gas station and motel inhabited by Tarantino-style characters, and a Walküre set in the Caspian oil fields just before the Russian revolution – it was just about possible to discern a link, albeit a loosely drawn one, between these two settings and the professed oil theme.

But the two final parts of Castorf’s cycle had almost nothing of this theme, beyond the dark polluted clouds that formed its permanent backdrop. Instead, the settings were increasingly dominated by the remnants and echoes of East Berlin before the fall of communism. Even here, little was developed to a theatrical, let alone musical, argument. Most important, it had nothing to do with Wagner’s Ring – with its music, its poetry or its ambition to unify the performing arts and elevate humankind in the process. One can understand why some directors, especially Germans and Marxists, may feel uneasy about tackling Wagner’s vast work in his own theatre, but that’s the challenge. And some fine modern directors have faced it with great and radical distinction.

Castorf’s approach was the reverse. He tried to ignore everything with which Wagner had provided him. He seemed to say that such an effort was inherently unworthy in the 21st century, and he essentially blew a raspberry at the entire Wagnerian inheritance. All along, Castorf alluded and then ran away from what he may have been saying – though so much was all but impossible to see, understand or discern. That lack of clarity was not the audience’s fault, but Castorf’s. His was an interpretation against interpretation. Fair enough, you may say, if you think that anything goes. But that didn’t seem to be the view of the angry audience. And, in that case, why offer Castorf the Bayreuth bicentenary Ring? And why would he accept the commission?

If this Ring had any theme, it was unintentional and only occurred to me after the performance. Castorf seems like a living embodiment of the Ring’s villain, Alberich, who steals the gold, renounces love and wants to rule the world. Castorf is a director who took the money, wanted notoriety and tried to face down a public. I know whose side I’m on. I wish that the Wagner half-sisters, Eva and Katharina, who run Bayreuth, were on that side, too. But after seeing this deliberately incoherent Ring cycle, it is hard to believe they are.

Martin Kettle | 2 Aug 2013

Frankfurter Rundschau

In die Sackgasse gesteuert

Das wird man nicht vergessen: wie am Ende der „Götterdämmerung“ Frank Castorf mit seinen sechs Gehilfen vor den Vorhang des Bayreuther Festspielhaus trat und sich über fünf Minuten lang in den Pfeif- und Buhsturm des Publikums stellte.

Anfangs befeuerte er den Protest noch mit missverständlichen Gesten, hielt sich lauschend die Hand ans Ohr, tippte mit beiden Zeigefingern an die Schläfen – Vogel zeigend oder wollte er etwas sagen? Dann stand er nur noch da, als gekreuzigter Ossi, der auch nicht ging, als sich hinter ihm der Vorhang wieder hob, das Festspielorchester mit Dirigent Kirill Petrenko sichtbar wurde und die fanatischen Buh- in ebenso fanatische Bravo-Rufe drehten.

Man feierte zu Recht einen Dirigenten, der bis zum Schlussakkord mit glühender Ausdruckskraft und einer orchestralen Transparenz fesselte, die jeden Motivansatz profilierte. Orchestral detailliert gearbeitete „Ringe“ gibt es seit Karajan, bei Petrenko jedoch wird zugleich die Struktur größerer Bögen deutlich und wie Wagner von der breiten melodischen Phrase der früheren Stücke auf einen kleinteiligeren Satz umstellt, der von klanglichen Kontrasten gegliedert wird.

Meist plärrte Siegfried
Auch der vielgescholtene Bayreuther Wagner-Gesang zeigte sich unter Petrenkos Leitung von einer nicht so schlechten Seite. Die „Götterdämmerung“ war tendenziell der schwächste Abend mit einem meist plärrenden Lance Ryan als Siegfried, dem schwabbligen Bass Attila Yuns als Hagen und einer mit Ausnahme ihrer Angstszene im dritten Akt spitz nagelnden Allison Oakes als Gutrune. Aber daneben stehen das prägnante Agitieren von Martin Winklers Alberich, die deklamatorische Dringlichkeit von Claudia Mahnkes Waltraute, die traurige Noblesse von Alejandro Marco-Buhrmesters Gunter, ein vorzügliches Rheintöchter-Trio (Mirella Hagen, Julia Rutigliano, Okka von der Damerau).

Mit Catherine Forster schließlich feierte eine stimmlich überaus einnehmende Brünnhilde ihr erfolgreiches Bayreuth-Debüt. Ihr warmer Sopran mit kontrolliertem Vibrato, der ohne große Attacken über das Orchester trägt, aber auch zu heftigen, sparsam dosierten Akzenten in der Lage ist, gibt der Partie einen menschlich-mitfühlenden Charakter, den man angesichts der kalten Riesenstimmen aktueller Brünnhilden wie Linda Watson oder Irène Theorin schon fast vergessen hatte. Schauspielerisch bedarf Catherine Forster indes einer guten Regie, um ihre expressiven Möglichkeiten szenisch zur Geltung zu bringen. Sie wurde ihr in diesem „Ring“ verweigert.

Hat Bayreuth endlich wieder einen ausgewachsenen Skandal wie in den Siebzigern, als Patrice Chereaus „Ring des Nibelungen“, aber auch der „Tannhäuser“ von Götz Friedrich das Publikum erregten? Aber ging es damals nicht noch um neuartige Interpretationen, während Castorf keinerlei Deutung erkennen ließ?

Zwei Momente charakterisieren Castorfs „Ring“: Die eindrucksvoll realistischen und doch jenseits bestimmbarer Realität angesiedelten Szenenbilder, die Aleksandar Denic für die eifrig gedrehte Bühne entwarf – in der „Götterdämmerung“ der Wrapped Reichstag, der sich als New Yorker Börse enthüllte, eine Treppe zwischen zwei Backsteinmauern, auf der einen der Schriftzug „Plaste und Elaste“, und eine Dönerbude auf der einen und einen katholischen Voodoo-Andachtsraum auf der anderen Seite.

Das andere Moment: Castorfs weitgehende Weigerung, mit etwas wie Personenregie ein Verhältnis zwischen den Bühnenbildern und der Geschichte herzustellen. In den besseren Passagen aus „Rheingold“ und „Siegfried“ konnte Castorf mit Sängern wie Wolfgang Koch als Wotan, Nadine Weissmann als Erda, Claudia Mahnke als Fricka, Günther Groissböck als Fasolt und hier und da auch mit Lance Ryan als Siegfried arbeiten wie mit seinen Volksbühnen-Schauspielern: körperlich, drastisch, virtuos, frei von Klischees. Auch wenn einem die saufenden, fressenden, rauchenden Sänger nicht gefielen, strahlten sie mehr Energie aus als der gesamte aktuelle „Holländer“ von Jan Philipp Gloger. Andere Sänger haben sich diesem Inszenieren schlicht verweigert; Anja Kampe und Johan Botha als fabelhaftes Wälsungenpaar machten den ersten Akt der „Walküre“ weitgehend unter sich aus. Meist fiel Castorf gar nichts ein.

Rätselraten über den Sinn der Bilder
Das Ganze war indes nicht nur unverständlich, weil der Zugriff so inhomogen ausfiel. Des Rätselratens über den Sinn des Bilder war kein Ende in den langen Pausen, zumal auch die Erwartung, das Ganze hätte etwas mit Öl zu tun, permanent enttäuscht wurde. Nun hat man lauter nicht zusammenstimmende Bilder im Kopf: Spielt die „Götterdämmerung“ nun vor oder nach dem Zusammenbruch des Sozialismus? Auf welcher Seite der Mauer befinden wir uns? Warum gibt Brünnhilde Siegfried zum Abschied eine Puppe, deren gruslige Pseudo-Röntgenbilder-Projektionen später Brünnhildes Entführung durch Siegfried unter dem Tarnhelm illustrieren? Warum überlebt der Punk Hagen auf der Bühne? Warum treibt er auf der Leinwand in einem Schlauchboot tot auf einen See hinaus? Gibt es für all das einen Grund?

Es gibt keinen. Der Skandal ist nicht, dass Castorf die in bald 140 Jahren Rezeptionsgeschichte nicht bezweifelte anti-kapitalistische Tendenz des „Rings“ mit Bildern aus dem Sozialismus überschreibt, sondern dass sein „Assoziationstheater“ (Castorf) die Sinnhaftigkeit von Wagners Welttheater bestreitet – und damit das Festspielhaus als Tempel pseudosakraler Sinnstiftung in Frage stellt. Der Skandal ist zudem, dass Castorf dies nicht als Ergebnis einer Auseinandersetzung ausgibt, sondern den stets erregt lauernden Wagnerianern betont lustlos vor die Füße wirft.

Dass der „Ring“ jenes integrale Ganze wäre, das dem klassizistischen Dramaturgen Wagner vorschwebte, ist heute kaum noch zu halten: Zuletzt hat der Wagner-Philosoph Richard Klein in einer brillanten Analyse des letzten Akts der „Götterdämmerung“ gezeigt, wie sich das Finale der Tetralogie der Finalität zu entziehen strebt. Castorf bewegt sich somit zunächst in der richtigen Richtung. Aber er folgt nicht den Impulsen des freigelassenen Details, sondern steuert alles in die Sackgasse seines zynischen Aussteigertums. Was soll das?

Peter Uehling | 1 Aug 2013

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Media Type/Label
Premiere, PO
Technical Specifications
256 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.6 GByte (MP3)
Broadcasts from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Frank Castorf (premiere)