In Review > International

Colón-Ring

BUENOS AIRES
Teatro Colón
11/27/12

The abridged version of Wagner's Ring staged at the Teatro Colón (two performances in late November of seven hours each with three intermissions, lasting from 2:30 to 11:30 P.M.) was to be staged by the composer's great-granddaughter, Katharina Wagner. She withdrew a month before the premiere, allegedly due to delays in the completion of the skeleton sets required for the rehearsals. Her last-minute replacement, Fura dels Baus's Valentina Carrasco, did not shy away from defining her task as a work against chaos, as outlined in the Spanish daily newspaper El País on November 27. Another desertion was conductor Julien Salemkour, who was replaced by Roberto Paternostro. Pianist and composer Cord Garben, the "musical adapter" appointed to transform Wagner's Ring into the Colón-Ring (the official nickname), was even more dismissive. He did not even travel to Buenos Aires to witness the outcome of his project, which was supposed to begin with Act II of Walküre, followed by Rheingold as racconto.

As Paternostro would have none of these flashbacks, the outcome was a straightforward sequence of the four works, preserving at least the initial and final chords in each of them. The rest consisted of an amputation, rather than an adaptation, of the scores. Bits and pieces that survived included such highlights as Wotan's farewell, fragmented renditions of Siegfried and Brünnhilde's duets in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, the preludes to Rheingold and Act I of Walküre, and the grand finale, beginning with Siegfried's death. The Gods entered Walhalla without the preceding storm, since Donner and Froh were two of Garben's victims. As was Erda, who was never even mentioned by Wotan, so that anybody believing that Brünnhilde and her sisters were Fricka's daughters could be forgiven. Erda's advice to Wotan to yield and give the Giants the ring was replaced by a bossy command mimed by Fricka. As in silent movies, mime was repeatedly used as a device to replace the dramatic progression of Wagner's score, thus stripping it of its premonitory pace. Most scenes were shortened, and what remained was fleeting and disconnected. Garben's stated purpose of enhancing the theatrical action by purging the "philosophical" insights inevitably clashed with the fact that if Wagner's characters cannot explain their motivations regarding love, power and crime, their stage behavior becomes incoherent.

A one-hour-and-twenty-minute Rheingold was followed by similarly long Walküre and Siegfried, the latter without a Wanderer and with Siegfried abruptly travelling across a few chords after slaying the dragon and breaking Wotan's spear, then rushing off to wake Brünnhilde without too much vacillation. A two-hour-long Götterdämmerung ignored the existence of the Norns and Waltraute and reduced Alberich to some gory miming around Hagen. No sooner had the latter uttered his dark afterthoughts at the end of the first scene of Act I than —presto! — Siegfried was back from the rock, seconds before the Gibichungs were summoned to the wedding. 

Some of Valentina Carrasco's ideas were good: the gold stolen by Alberich was a newborn baby, who joined others in a Nibelheim meant to represent a clandestine torture center. Carrasco was asking an Argentine audience to confront the nation's history of having children stolen from their mothers before the latter were tortured and killed by the military during the 1970s. Wotan wore full military regalia, and Fricka's hairstyle made her look like Evita (costumes by Hartmut Keil). Carles Berga's sets consisted of some barren and unconnected steps and a half-demolished building with still usable staircases and balconies, all placed on a revolving stage.  

The clumsy chopping of the scores and the lack of sufficient rehearsal time inevitably resulted in wooden acting and tentative singing of roles that were never allowed to be developed to reach their full meaning. Still, after a lackluster rendering of the few lines allotted to her in Walküre (the abridged version even excluded her signature tune "Hojotoho!"), Linda Watson (Brünnhilde) projected a voice that was firm in the upper register and had warmth and velvet density in the middle. She sang her duets with Siegfried with steely control in the phrasing of each line, and her rendering of the immolation scene was both dramatic and moving. Andrew Shore's Alberich and Daniel Sumegi's Fasolt and Hagen were equally outstanding. Solid singing was also provided by Simone Schröder (Fricka), Gary Jankowski (Fafner), Stig Andersen (Siegmund) and Kevin Conners (Mime). After a convincing portrayal of her delirious angst before Siegmund's final combat, Marion Ammann's Sieglinde failed to steady her voice throughout the demanding legato and passaggio lines of "O hehrstes Wunder!" Leonid Zakhozhaev began his Siegfried fragments with a clear, well-supported voice but showed signs of strain toward the end. Jukka Rasilainen's Wotan was nasal and insecure in phrasing but managed to display some mezzo-forte skills through the moving lines of his farewell. 

The Colón's orchestra was reinforced in order to provide two instrumental ensembles — one for Rheingold and Walküre, the other for Siegfried and Gotterdämmerung. Both attentively followed Paternostro's brisk, lyrically inspired conducting, which drew excellent playing from woodwinds and strings. The brass were uneven and had more than a few slip-ups. The Colón's renowned chorus, well prepared by Peter Burian, managed to cut across the theater's splendid acoustics with a round, penetrating sound, even if yet another Garben cut curtailed the Gibichungs' nuptial hymn.

Beginning with Siegfried's death, the "musical adapter" left Wagner alone, and everything started working toward a convincing end. Siegfried's funeral march was illustrated with projections of moving examples of collective mourning, such as Evita's funeral cortege and Mother Teresa's wake. Images of Che Guevara's cadaver, Michelangelo's Pietà, and the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were also included. After singing her immolation scene, Brünnhilde snuggled next to her dead Siegfried in a final cuddle, both lying on an immense piece of red linen. Fire and water were then replaced by a multitude of men and women embracing their recovered children, with immense joy all over their faces. spacer 

AGUSTIN BLANCO-BAZAN

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