Lothar Zagrosek
Orchester der Staatsoper Stuttgart
3 October 2002, 12 January 2003
Staatsoper Stuttgart
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedAlbert Bonnema
BrünnhildeLuana DeVol
GuntherHernán Iturralde
GutruneEva-Maria Westbroek
AlberichFranz-Josef Kapellmann
HagenRoland Bracht
WaltrauteTichina Vaughn
WoglindeHelga Rós Indridadóttir
WellgundeSarah Castle
FloßhildeJanet Collins
1. NornJanet Collins
2. NornLani Poulson
3. NornSue Patchell
Stage directorPeter Konwitschny (2000)
Set designerBert Neumann
TV directorHans Hulscher

As those who read either TH’s review of Rheingold and Walküre or my own on Siegfried might recall, Staatsoper Stuttgart’s 2002 Ring cycle had different directors and casts for each part of the tetralogy. Since I was critical of the ‘Siegfried’, I read the booklet for these discs with an eyebrow ready-raised in anticipation of what I might find. No surprise then, to learn that in directing ‘Götterdämmerung’ Peter Konwitschny felt ‘under no obligation to draw together the threads of a holistic concept of the work to override the individual parts…’ And no surprise either, that he sets ‘the action on the simple wooden stage of a touring theatre company.’

To begin with the ending so to speak, I should say at once that Konwitschny reserves his really big idea for the finale, where the audience becomes part of the action. When Hagen steps forward to take the Ring from Siegfried’s finger in Act III, the house lights come on and both Siegfried and Gunther return to life. The cast then leaves the stage until Brünnhilde stands alone to sing the Immolation music to the fully visible theatre. As the drama closes, Wagner’s stage directions appear behind her on a back-projected screen. ‘The director refers us to the score:’ the booklet says on this point, ‘read it, listen to it!’ Sound advice.

The rest of the staging is a cross between the set for a medieval mystery play and the Pyramus and Thisbe episode in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ with minimal props and heavy emphasis on ‘messages.’ The Norns are a set of bag-ladies slowly unpicking the web of fate from a woolly jumper, Brünnhilde’s rock is a badly painted mountain scene kitted out with tinsel fire, and the Gibichung Hall is a simple all-purpose wooden structure with a stove and one of those mirrored balls that used to be found in dance-halls.

Everyone wears modern dress except Siegfried, Alberich and the Rhine Maidens. Brünnhilde is in a nightdress covered by a cardigan most of the time while Siegfried is Fred Flintstone until he meets the sophisticated Gibichungs. To show ‘some human warmth from the dark character of Hagen,’ Alberich dies at the end of the Watch scene and turns up dressed in his shroud. He also has spindly fingers to emphasise his nastiness and shoes on his knees like some Toulouse Lautrec. The Rhine Maidens favour chiffon and the Gibichungs are executives for Gibichungs Inc.

It quickly becomes tedious, the frantic and pointed messaging. Hagen bares his chest when summoning the vassals because they’re all at a sales meeting and we wouldn’t know how tough they are otherwise. Siegfried is stabbed with his own sword (Petard! I hear you cry) and dies in the guilt-ridden Gunther’s arms. Brünnhilde switches from her nightie to a red crimplene two-piece to deliver the dénouement. Fluffy bunny no more, you see.

Even worse than this though, is the insistence that the production lets ‘Horror and comedy jostle each other’. There’s a lot of stuff with cake for instance. Gutrune bakes a cake to welcome Brünnhilde to Gibichungsville but the primitive Siegfried eats it. When everything turns out badly of course, more cake is ground into dust.

The fun never stops. Not once. When Siegfried meets up with the Rhinemaidens, to tease him they hide a comedy bear he was chasing. Later, they dress like the Norns to remind him of his Fate and the bear holds up the Norns’ jumper for emphasis. I found myself longing for a concert performance.

Musically the production meets the standards of a competent provincial company, with decent though not outstanding singing from most of the principals, especially the Norns and Rhinemaidens. Luan DeVol has a heavy vibrato but at least can sing in tune. By contrast Albert Bonnema and the notion of pitch are not well acquainted. He improves as the performance progresses but almost always slides up to his higher notes and at his worst relies on the quasi – Sprechstimme adopted by Wagner tenors who are struggling.

TH commented that the Chéreau/Boulez Ring would be his choice over the Stuttgart performances that he reviewed, at least until the Kupfer/Barenboim Bayreuth production is released on DVD. Having the first on DVD and the second on tape, I concur completely.

Bill Kenny | 4 July 2004


TDK completes its DVD Ring – but with less than the usual sense of fruition, since Stuttgart Opera fashionably stages each opera with separate producers and casts, diminishing their continuity. The main unifying factor remains the most worthwhile, Lothar Zagrosek’s conducting – a fluent, lyrical interpretation of no great depth or detail but with plenty of theatrical vitality and some fine playing, despite reduced orchestration. One still yearns for more sheer grandeur.

A decent enough cast is wanting in one pivotal role. After Jon Frederic West’s vocally impressive Siegfried (still far short of his recent triumph at the Met), the better-looking Albert Bonnema sounds overparted, positively limp in the Dawn duet; his pleasant but unheroic tone turns reedy under pressure. Luana de Vol neither looks nor sounds as credible as DVD rivals Gwyneth Jones and Hildegard Behrens, her voice adequately powerful but unsteady and occasionally squally at the top. Nevertheless she’s a spirited actress who sings with all the intensity and dignity the staging allows and delivers a commanding Immolation scene. Veteran Roland Bracht is a solid Hagen, despite his characteristic ‘beat’. The Gunther and Gutrune are no more than routine, likewise the seedy Alberich; but the Norn and Rhinemaiden trios are not bad. Tichina Vaughn, a potentially impressive Waltraute, seems uneasy, but the staging is probably to blame.

All four productions exemplify the style Americans increasingly call ‘Eurotrash’ – sub-Brechtian and debunking, rather than seriously deconstructing. Peter Konwitschny’s contribution will not disappoint his fans, but will probably bore Wagner’s. His set is a shoe-boxy wooden framework, crudely draped with black plastic; and his approach is equally tacky, constantly belittling the work by sending up the stage directions. Thus the Norns are dotty bag-ladies, their ‘web’ unravelling knitwear. Brünnhilde’s rock is a little breakfast-room fringed by kitschy tinsel flames, against a murkily reproduced landscape (actually a pleasantly atmospheric Albert Bierstadt painting). Siegfried galumphs about in ludicrously exaggerated winged helmet and furs, waving a little plywood hobbyhorse (which reappears for the Immolation) and leaping on Gutrune at sight. During the blood-brotherhood duet he strips and dons a suit. As ‘Gunther’ he makes Brünnhilde drop her knickers. In Act 2 he greets her in an apron, proudly displaying a cake.

This sneering approach sadly deadens any sensibilities when it eventually bids for seriousness, at Siegfried’s death. For the Immolation Konwitschny wimps out, simply dropping the curtain and projecting Wagner’s stage directions. Had he only done that throughout…

The recording is crisper and clearer than its rivals. Nevertheless, for a modernist interpretation the Boulez/Chereau Bayreuth set remains the recommendation, until the excellent Kupfer/Barenboim reappears. But this one drove me back to the musically richer Met set, overly conservative perhaps, but simply less intrusive between Wagner and the audience.

mscott rohan | Issue 9/2004

User Rating
Media Type/Label
TDK, EuroArts
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 9.6 Mbit/s, 19.8 GByte (MPEG-4)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.