Der Ring des Nibelungen

Andrew Davis
Chicago Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Date/Location
28 March 2005 (R), 29 March 2005 (W)
31 March 2005 (S), 2 April 2005 (G)
Lyric Opera Chicago
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre

Siegfried

Götterdämmerung
Reviews
The Guardian

For opera conductors, the Ring cycle remains the professional Everest. So the fact that Andrew Davis has just completed his first Ring at the Lyric Opera in Chicago marks not merely a career peak for one of this country’s most important conductors, it is also a major event for British music – even if it is taking place thousands of miles from home.

The big news is that Davis conducts the Ring as to the manner born. The fluid sense of onward motion is unflagging but Davis recognises that a different approach is required for each work, a lighter touch in Rheingold, greater weight and density in Götterdämmerung. He is also a natural accompanist, restraining the orchestra to allow words to shine, and he draws lovely playing from the Chicago orchestra, now blooming after five years under his tuition as music director.

The production, a revival under Herbert Kellner of a 1996 Ring by the late August Everding, is refreshingly uncluttered by current London standards. Its most audacious moment comes in the opening scene, with devil-may-care Rhinemaidens swooping and diving on bungee ropes (the singers lurk almost unseen at the side of the stage), but the narrative is given priority throughout.

The dominant performance is from James Morris as Wotan, still a compelling stage and vocal presence. Jane Eaglen rose to Brunnhilde’s great final scene, but her lower register is now almost non-existent and her size is difficult to overlook. John Treleaven’s Siegfried is admirably acted and honestly, if a touch sourly, sung; it was inevitably eclipsed by Placido Domingo’s still lustrous (at key moments) Siegmund. Michelle de Young proved that a mezzo can be a fine Sieglinde and was even better as Waltraute. Oleg Bryjak proved why he is the leading Alberich of the day and Eric Halvarson’s Hunding and Hagen were excellent too.

It was Davis who deserved the loudest applause, though. His Ring is a huge personal achievement. British opera houses please take note.

Martin Kettle | 7 Apr 2005

Toronto Star

Chicago gets the ‘Ring’ music right

The whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts, where Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is concerned, a truth Chicago has learned this month and Toronto has yet to learn. No complete production of this four-evening, 15-plus-hours musical journey into the world of Nordic mythology has ever been mounted in Canada, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, one of the continent’s Big Three opera producers, has undertaken the task only once before, back in 1996. The Canadian Opera Company tried to climb Mt. Everest back in the early 1970s, mounting three of the operas (or music dramas,as Wagner preferred to call them) over as many years, on thestage of what was then known as the O’Keefe Centre. Alas, when it came time to add Das Rheingold, the company’s notoriously conservative board experienced a sudden drop intemperature below the ankles and abandoned the project, which hasonly recently been revived to open the company’s new home, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, in September 2006.

Like Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Canadian Opera Company has been assembling its Ring part by part, though not in chronological order. Two seasons ago it began with Die Walkure, part two of the tetralogy, this season it mounted part three, Siegfried, and next season it will add the fourth, Gotterdammerung, leaving Das Rheingold, the prologue or first part, to be presented when the Ring is forged whole in the fall of 2006. The strategy is an understandable one. Not only does the audience become gradually educated in the ways of Wagner but producers can also focus on one production at a time and tinker with their concept as the project evolves. Not that Toronto can do this quite the way Chicago did. Lyric Opera engaged one director, August Everding, and one set and costume designer, John Conklin, where as the Canadian Opera Company engaged a different director for each opera, leaving itto designer Michael Levine to act as unifier (as well as director of Das Rheingold).

Everding died in the years following the first Chicago Ring and its revival this month has been entrusted to a staff director, Herbert Kellner, who has reportedly made numerous changes of detail within his late colleague’s overall concept. That concept was not universally admired when first unveiled. The New York Times review even suggested that the production”makes ugliness into a policy statement.” That judgment seems harsh, by comparison with what is done to the Ring in Europe, where the Valkyries rode motorcycles in Kassel, where a hair-in-curlers Erda wore a housecoat in Edinburgh and where the Rhinemaidens resembled prostitutes in Bayreuth itself, the Wagnerian holy of holies.

All the same, the post-modern Chicago Ring cannot be compared invisual beauty with the far more traditional productions seen inrecent years in Seattle or New York. It is profoundly eclectic, mixing metaphors right and left, the scenery sometimes abstract,sometimes naturalistic, sometimes on the verge of looking down right Chinese, with neon lights outlining symbols and costumes ranging through space and time.

The usual defence of this kind of approach is that it universalizes Wagner’s vision. What it actually does is turn audience members into detectives, trying to solve the mystery of what each confusing detail means and how it fits into some subliminal scheme.

One of the strengths of the Chicago Ring is that it actually tells the story quite clearly. The giants Fasolt and Fafner maybe manipulated puppets, the Valkyries may bounce on trampolines and the Rhinemaidens may be bungee jumpers, but when Wagner asks for a bear, Chicago gives him a bear (albeit two-legged) and when he asks for a Forest Bird, we see one, Japanese origami style, flown by a nimble dancer.

As in the Toronto Ring, or at least the parts we have seen thusfar, the characters are treated as humans, and that includes the gods and goddesses. Not for the City of Big Shoulders some symbolic vision, inhabited by icons. Wotan, king of the gods, has wife and daughter troubles like the rest of us and behaves with atouching humanity in James Morris’s portrayal.

Morris was also Chicago’s Wotan back in 1996 and has been singing the role internationally for a couple of decades, yet he still sounds rock solid and marvellously musical. I doubt I’ve ever heard Wotan’s farewell to his daughter Brunnhilde sung more poignantly or with such attention to the softer end of the dynamic spectrum. Brunnhilde is, of course, the archetypal Wagnerian character inthe public mind, complete with horned helmet. The image even turns up in a famous Bugs Bunny cartoon. The role is cruelly difficult and a company able to hire a soprano able to sing it can ill afford to worry about such niceties as whether she looks plausible or not. Not to mince words, Jane Eaglen looked big, so big that thedirector did not dare have her lie down on a rock in the traditional manner, at the climax of the farewell scene, to be surrounded by fire by Wotan. Instead, she was unconvincingly shoved into a niche in a curious-looking, neon-outlined pyramid,appearing as if she were on guard duty waiting for a hero to penetrate the fire and claim her for his bride.

Sadly, there was no real fire. There wasn’t at the end of Gotterdammerung, either, when Valhalla is supposed to go up inflames. At some critical points in this Ring, John Conklin has let his audience down visually. The compensation arrives musically. Despite her size, Eaglen inhabited her role so convincingly, singing with such fervour, that the eye’s skepticism yielded to the ear’s belief.

A pity the same could not be said of her Siegfried, the Britishtenor John Treleaven, of whom the opposite proved true. The tenor star of this Ring was the ageless Placido Domingo as Siegmund in Die Walkure, though there were many strongly vocalized roles, including the Alberich and Mime of Oleg Bryjakand David Cangelosi, the Hunding and Hagen of Eric Halfvarson ,the Sieglinde and Waltraute of Michelle DeYoung and the Fricka of Larissa Diadkova.

Most crucially of all there was the dazzling playing of the Lyric Opera Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis, whose first complete production of the Ring has catapulted him into the major leagues among Wagner conductors. Wagner liked to think that hiswords mattered as much as his notes. Davis knew better.

William Littler

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Siegfried weak link in fine Lyric Opera ‘Ring’ cycle

In a crucial moment in Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” Siegfried re-forges his father’s shattered sword, hardening it into a mighty blade. But unfortunately it was Siegfried’s performance that tempered the enthusiasm of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s otherwise fantastic “Ring” cycle.

Alongside Jane Eaglen’s projecting Brunnhilde and James Morris’ regal Wotan, John Treleaven’s less-than-heroic Siegfried lacked consistency and heft in the final two operas of “The Ring.”

In “Siegfried,” staged Thursday, Treleaven did yeoman’s work to capture the maturation of his character. His boyish klutziness, unbridled energy and whiny voice made for an admirable attempt, but Treleaven was simply upstaged by the effortless portrayal of the conniving dwarf Mime by tenor David Cangelosi. This was a masterful character performance, combining athleticism with sliminess that somehow didn’t prevent Cangelosi from smoothly singing the difficult part.

The production didn’t help Treleaven, either. The tiny hut, a reduced version of the stage itself, forced him to violently turn his head to sing out to the audience instead of at least feigning dialogue with Mime. Treleaven’s quasi-mullet hairdo made the purposefully annoying young Siegfried character that much harder to embrace.

Treleaven’s voice grew in stature as Siegfried did, climaxing in his scene with Brunnhilde in Act III, though it was more in volume than vocal radiance.

However, “Gotterdammerung” calls for a more sinewy Siegfried, a voice the equivalent of Hercules’ muscle, and Treleaven could provide it only in spots. One never felt the god in him, nor felt he was a proper match for Brunnhilde or Eaglen.

It’s clear that Treleaven was chosen to fit into the Lyric’s over-arching plan for this production, that of presenting “The Ring” in more intimate and lyrical fashion. Witness the casting of Placido Domingo and Bonaventura Bottone and Davis’ intricate conducting. But one can remake a work only so far.

Morris may play the boss god, but even this was an uncommonly divine performance. In “Siegfried” he captured the humanized god, as Wotan wanders the Earth, slowly resigning himself to the end of his reign, his concentrated voice sung with inflections and minute pauses. Jill Grove could not steal the scene as Erda, though she came close in a scene overflowing in emotion and pathos. Davis poured surging orchestral strains into the action here, creating a poignancy that made it my favorite of the entire cycle.

Goofy in many productions, set designer John Conklin’s Fafner dragon was a master stroke here. Sung by Raymond Aceto, it was a sort of Chinese parade dragon, with the stagehands visible but the body parts fluorescent.

“Gotterdammerung” brings the world of man to the fore, if for nothing but to show how humans will screw up the world as much as the gods did. Eaglen here was tremendous. She reveled in love, recoiled in shock at betrayal and showed fatalistic determination in the immolation scene. Her voice’s nuance and color crafted a personalized view of the Valkyrie. Eaglen may not have that steely core to her voice, but her Brunnhilde was potent indeed.

Eric Halfvarson returned with his obsidian voice for Hagen, hellbent on getting the ring back to restore the legacy of his father, Alberich (who clearly is considered to have died in this production, visiting Hagen in a dream, suspended above him). The impressive bass-baritone Oleg Bryjak returned in the role of Alberich.

The Gibichung siblings were marvelous singers but didn’t act their roles. Jennifer Wilson (Gutrune) and Alan Held (Gunther) were simply too confident and assured as the cowardly and timorous nobles betrayed by Hagen. These are among the most pathetic characters in opera, especially Gunther, and we never got that effect. There were, however, subtle hints that they had an incestuous relationship, which would have craftily paralleled Siegmund and Sieglinde.

The production continued to dither on what it wanted to be — representational or interpretative. Most of the time, it at least stayed out of the way of the singers, though the appearance of a cheesy sculpture of the horse Grane in the immolation scene was unnecessary, especially since he (conspicuously) had not appeared earlier in the production.

The intriguing neon narrative continued to tell the subtext in color and orientation. And as the final touch as Valhalla burns, two children appear playing with a miniature version of the Rheingold like toy blocks. It was a deft way of emphasizing Wagner’s point that the cycle was starting again, only this time with humans.

Throughout the final two operas, Davis continued to assert his own view of “The Ring” as needing to be more delicate and clear. When he wanted an overwhelming emotion, it therefore had more impact. The orchestra responded to this interpretation, the sonorities in general and the leitmotifs in particular were rounded, not forced, and the ensemble was excellent. “Siegfried’s Funeral” arrived like a capstone to an architectural reading, although not without visceral feeling.

ANDREW DRUCKENBROD | April 13, 2005

Rating
(6/10)
User Rating
(3/5)
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Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.9 GByte (MP3)
Remarks
In-house recording
A production by August Everding
This is the first of three complete Ring performances given at the Lyric Opera Chicago in 2005

First Ring cycle
28.3.2005 (Das Rheingold)
29.3.2005 (Die Walküre)
31.3.2005 (Siegfried)
2.4.2005 (Götterdämmerung)

Second Ring cycle
4.4.2005 (Das Rheingold)
5.4.2005 (Die Walküre)
7.4.2005 (Siegfried)
9.4.2005 (Götterdämmerung)

Third Ring cycle
11.4.2005 (Das Rheingold)
12.4.2005 (Die Walküre)
14.4.2005 (Siegfried)
16.4.2005 (Götterdämmerung)