Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra
31 July 2009
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Siegfried Leonid Zakhoshaev
Mime Vasily Gorshkov
Wotan Evgeny Nikitin
Alberich Edem Umerov
Fafner Gennadi Bezzubenkow
Erda Zlata Bulycheva
Brünnhilde Olga Sergeeva
Waldvogel Anastasia Kalagina
Stage director Valery Gergiev, George Tsypin
Alexander Zeldin
Set designer George Tsypin
TV director
The Guardian

Now the Mariinsky’s Ring has drawn to a close, it is perhaps time to ask whether its inadequacies are the product of foolhardiness or, as some have suggested, hubris on the part of the company’s music director Valery Gergiev. Gergiev is not so much the cycle’s conductor as its guiding spirit. Its defining characteristics – multiple role castings; performances over four days, rather than six – are attributable to him. The production is credited as being “revised” by Alexander Zeldin, but is based on an “original concept” by Gergiev and designer George Tsypin. One wonders whose lapses of vision are responsible for its messiness.

Gergiev’s approach to Wagner is slow and beautiful, too much so at times, since his spacious tempos can result in moments of near-stasis. The sonorities are ravishing, though imprecise ensemble playing in Götterdämmerung indicated an orchestra beginning to tire. Of the four operas, Siegfried suits Gergiev best, its mercurial mood forcing him away from measured gravitas towards something more energetic.

The multiple castings, meanwhile, lead to inconsistent vocal characterisations. Olga Savova’s thrilling Brünnhilde in Die Walküre is vastly preferable to the vibrato-ridden Olga Sergeyeva in Siegfried, or Larisa Gogolevskaya, vulgar and wilting in Götterdämmerung. The two Siegfrieds are superb, with Leonid Zakhozhaev’s lightish-voiced teenage hell-raiser mutating into Viktor Lutsyuk’s more conventional hero, but there’s little sense of psychological development from one to the other. The cycle’s second half does, however, bring back the remarkable Evgeny Nikitin’s tragic, complex Wotan and allows us to hear his bullying, psychotic Gunther.

The staging worsens as it progresses. The low point comes in the third act of Siegfried, where, instead of the requisite set change, we watch Brünnhilde sleepwalk on to her rock and lie down prior to being woken by Siegfried. The obsession with supposed mythological congruence results in, among other things, a Woodbird dressed as Isis and Gibichungs got up as Mughal rajahs. It just won’t do.

Gergiev’s intention is to create a new tradition of Wagner performance in Russia, where the composer’s works were suppressed during the Soviet era. But establishing a tradition takes longer than the six years this production has been in the Mariinsky repertoire. Isn’t it arrogance on Gergiev’s part to assume that we will accept his Ring before it has attained genuine international stature?

Tim Ashley | 3 Aug 2009

Mariinsky Ring takes a turn for the better

Perhaps I’m just suffering from PILES (Pap Induced Lowered Expectation Syndrome). But this Siegfried seemed not just the best of the Mariinsky’s Ring bunch so far, but a creditable performance by any standards.

In most productions, the tenor in the title-role is a bit of a liability, but in this one he was the heroic saviour. Leonid Zakhozhaev wouldn’t win any singing contests, but he hit the right notes often enough to convince he hasn’t earned his place solely on his acting skillz – which were on a completely different plane to anyone else on stage. From grimaces to bum-wiggles, his performance was packed with little physical details that helped distract from the godawful scenery.

His solid, grainy lyric tenor is a size too small for the role, so he constantly pushed it, with varying unattractive effects on pitch and timbre. But his stamina was unflagging. Amazingly, he sang the last act more cleanly and brightly than the first, all while bounding about like Tigger.

His complete commitment and eagerness to reach out and please the audience transcended any vocal limitations. Most importantly, he didn’t judge the character. He played Siegfried as an irritating brat, without ever being irritating himself – the hardest trick of all.

The classiest singing came from Evgeny Nikitin. Unlike most Wotans, he actually sang the part rather than bellowing it, and with nuance and structural appreciation too. Sadly his voice tired towards the end, and he’d clearly had next to zero direction or rehearsal.

Neither Nikolai Putilin as Alberich or Vasily Gorshkov as Mime offered quite such lovely singing, and their ghastly costumes limited them to gleeful-Hobbit characterisations. But both, Gorshkov in particular, milked every word for expressive effect – and proved that a wooden sword to the armpit (where was the director when they planned that one?) can deliver a mortal blow.

Brünnhilde proved a bit much for Olga Sergeyeva, with pitch and vibrato issues as her voice rose, and Anastasia Kalagina couldn’t quite find the delicacy (or the very highest notes) as the Woodbird. But then she was hampered by a ridiculous doily costume extending up to cover her head.

The orchestra played well (if not entirely fluff-free) and Gergiev was able to sustain the momentum he found in the preludes. The policy of switching some players between acts seems to help – the orchestra is showing a stamina to equal Leonid Zakhozhaev’s.

1 Aug 2009

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
640×360, 297 kBit/s, 489 MByte (MPEG-4)
House recording
Mariinsky Opera in the Royal Opera House London