Das Rheingold

Hartmut Haenchen
Residentie Orkest
1 June 1999
Het Muziektheater Amsterdam
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanJohn Bröcheler
DonnerJürgen Freier
FrohAlbert Bonnema
LogeChris Merritt
FasoltPeter Mikulás
FafnerCarsten Stabell
AlberichHenk Smit
MimeGraham Clark
FrickaReinhild Runkel
FreiaCarola Höhn
ErdaAnne Gjevang
WoglindeGabriele Fontana
WellgundeAnna Schaer
FloßhildeCatherine Keen
Stage directorPierre Audi (1997)
Set designerGeorge Tsypin
TV directorMisjel Vermeiren

This joint venture between Opus Arte and De Nederlandse Opera was originally made for television in 1999. Thus its filmic values are strong. This is excellent because here is a production meant to be seen and experienced, not merely listened to. The production, by the acclaimed Pierre Audi adds immensely to the impact; indeed, I would go so far as to say it brings deeper meaning to it than the performance itself, which is adequate but not exceptional. “Concept” is a much maligned word, because any artistic effort has a kernel of concept somewhere. Audi’s concept is brilliant. Because the Ring is a universal human drama, he wants to involve the audience physically as well as emotionally. The stage extends via a walkway just above the audience, and the singers move “into” the audience without actually being part of it.

Audi’s team created a “no set” set, constructed of huge plates of glass and suspended metal, light and darkness. For a modern set it is remarkably organic: the materials are “of the earth”, natural glass, natural steel, crafted and operated by hand. One of the themes of the opera is, after all, construction and architecture on a grand scale. Despite the darkness, there is a strong sense of natural transparency – the huge glass plinth, lit from below, shines and sparkles like the Rhine, and you forget how profound its depths are. Similarly the open plan nature of the set.

Most interestingly, Audi wanted to bring out the integral drama in the music. At Bayreuth, Wagner hid the orchestra in a pit below the stage. For Audi, the music is so important that he wants the orchestra to be part of the action in a visible, physical sense, too. The audience thus is seated around the orchestra who are visible at all times. This creates a different, but very dynamic acoustic. Surprisingly, the singers found it enjoyable even though they were facing the orchestra. Graham Clark said that when you’re “eyeball to eyeball” with audience and musicians, your focus adapts. The conductor, Hartmut Haenchen adds that many Wagnerian singers shout and ruin their voices. This new arrangement allowed them to sing “with” the orchestra. Moreover, the orchestral players loved it, as they could hear better what was going on on-stage and gauge their responses more sensitively. Indeed, this was a very well played Rheingold, the prelude and non-vocal passages illuminated by the extra prominence, and the clear enthusiasm of the musicians.

Woglinde, played by Gabriele Fontana, was outstanding. So well did she characterise her part that she made the Rhinemaiden seem much more than an irresponsible airhead, as the text makes out, but a sort of embryo Norn. This is a wonderful insight, the implications of which are fascinating to ponder. It was a pity that she should be forced to wear such a humiliating costume. Graham Clark as Mime was in his element, creating a powerfully dramatic character, in a costume like an underground grub, with tail, hair and pasty torso. He paces about with contorted grub-like movements, so you can almost feel the trail of slime a grub might leave. His voice, of course, captures intense, almost hysterical resentment of life: how he will carry this on to Siegfried will be worth watching. Alberich, in a shell-shaped Tarnhelm, rules this world of maggot-like creatures who toil for him without hope. Played by Henk Smit, he is a brooding presence, full of menace, and yet, somehow pitiful because he has become so blinded by greed. In the subterranean setting, as if under the ground, is there perhaps a clue to the nature of the giants, Fasolt and Fafner? They, too seem to be made of lumps of mud crudely piled together. They too, like Alberich, have aspired to beauty and better things beyond their station. Do they symbolise some kind of Earth force? It is an aspect of the drama that doesn’t often get much attention. Or is it just in contrast to the rarefied beauty of the “shimmering, radiant race” of Gods? The Gods themselves, resplendent in jewel-like Greek costumes are anything but earthy or organic. They wear cold plastic helmets instead of hair – one of the few inorganic touches in this staging. Their movements are deliberately stiff and formal. Wotan, sung by John Bröcheler, is vocally impressive, as he should be. Chris Merritt’s Loge is a kind of alternative Wanderer, half man, half God, a mediator without “hearth or home”. In this amusing new translation there are delights like “Ruddy gold!”

In all, this is a production to study for its insights. The spare set and the visible orchestra concentrate attention on what is happening in the drama, and on its psychological, philosophical ideas. Ultimately, this is much more in keeping with Wagner’s dearest wish, that his operas should make people think, than any amount of Teutonic kitsch.

Anne Ozorio | 6 April 2006


Das Rheingold version Hartmut Haenchen, la contre attaque

Les Rings se suivent en DVD : après les rééditions des différents cycles légendaires : Chéreau (DGG) et Kupfer (Warner et Opus Arte), il faut compter avec la diffusion progressive de l’Anneau du Nibelung de l’opéra d’Amsterdam. La reprise de cette production de Das Rheingold au printemps 2005 (lire ici l’article) nous avait fait très forte impression.

L’approche du metteur en scène et intendant de l’opéra amstellodamois Pierre Audi porte toute son attention sur la dimension épique à travers la lisibilité du propos qu’il concentre sur les thèmes de l’amour et du pouvoir. Cette vision est aidée par un décor renforcé d’effets spéciaux high-tech et par des costumes librement stylisés de la Grèce antique. On pouvait craindre que le passage au format film « ridiculise » un peu cette approche au premier degré. Pourtant, ce spectacle sort renforcé de cette épreuve. La production alterne, avec tact, les vues d’ensembles et les gros plans et l’on peut se régaler de la qualité de la direction d’acteurs et de certains détails des costumes.

La direction de Hartmut Haenchen reste l’autre gros point fort de cet opéra. Le chef d’orchestre s’est appuyé sur une nouvelle édition du Ring et sur les remarques de Wagner par rapport aux différentes interprétations. Il en résulte un Wagner décapé et étincelant. L’orchestre, mené assez rapidement, sonne vif alors que les dynamiques s’avèrent savamment dosée. Placé au centre du dispositif scénique, dans une fosse surélevée le Residentie Orkest de La Haye se sort avec brio d’une telle partition.

La distribution est dans l’ensemble solide avec quelques grandes caractérisations. La principale réserve vient du Wotan de John Bröcheler. Ce bon professionnel livre une prestation convenable mais à laquelle il manque le charisme scénique et vocal d’un Albert Dohmen. Bien qu’un peu court en voix, Henk Smit est un Alberich volubile et engagé. On peut en dire autant du Loge de Chris Merritt et du Mime de Graham Clarck, deux fidèles de cette production batave. Format vocal imposant, Reinhild Rundel est une Fricka au vibrato un peu trop encombrant alors que Carola Höhn campe une Freia au timbre lumineux. Les deux géants sont biens servis par Peter Mikulas et Carsten Stabell. Il faut également saluer le trio de filles du Rhin qui réussit l’exploit de s’ébrouer en chantant sur un plan particulièrement incliné.

En bonus, outre une jolie galerie de photos, il faut saluer le documentaire « The Forging of the Ring » qui nous plonge au cœur de la production. On peut apprécier les explications pertinentes du chef d’orchestre et du metteur en scène, mais le gros point fort de ce supplément réside dans la parole donnée aux chanteurs et aux musiciens qui s’expriment librement, et sur un ton souvent irrévérencieux.

En conclusion, une équipe musicale solide et une mise en scène moderne mais soucieuse du livret sont deux sérieux avantages pour un cycle dont on espère la suite.

Pierre-Jean Tribot | 1 juin 2006

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Opus Arte
Technical Specifications
640×364, 862 kbit/s, 907 MByte (MPEG-4)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.