Deutsches Oper Berlin Das Rheingold

The Deutsches Oper Berlin Das Rheingold was premiered on November 9th., 2021, as the start of a new Ring cycle.

deutsches oper berlin das rheingold

 Deutsches Oper Berlin Das Rheingold: Szenenfoto | Bildquelle: Bernd Uhlig / Deutsches Oper Berlin. BR-Klassik

The bare stage was exposed to the audience as they took their seats. A grand piano, stage right, was the sole prop. The prop piano seems to have become an operatic gimmick of late but this is how director Stefan Herheim’s view of Wagner’s epic starts: a bare stage and a single prop out of which Wagner’s world will slowly come to life as the earth starts to breath deep below amongst the double basses. As the tide of the overture slowly ebbs and flows and rises to its the climax, so the stage slowly filled with a crowd a refugees carrying their battered suitcases in retreat from …. another gimmick?

But no, as the refugees slowly peeled of their coats three street girls emerged from the crowd as the Rhine Maidens surrounded by a large white, undulating drape, on which waves were projected.

The piano, which had been rolled to the center of the stage and surrounded by an ever increasing number of suitcases, and the huge, stage-encompassing white drape formed the set within which the drama unfolded.

Herheim’s take on the Das Rheingold is that it is a comedy and it was presented as a mash up of the Comedia del Arte and British Christmas Pantomime. Alberich, the excellent Markus Bruck, was made up with a clown’s white face which closely resembled the Joker. Thomas Blondelle brilliantly portrayed a Mephistophelian Puck-like Loge.

Whether or not Rheingold as knock-about farce is to everyone’s taste, there must have few few who could dispute the uniformly excellent singing by every single member of the cast. It was a joy to hear fresh, young, well focused singing in a Wagner production. And many of the projections on the inventively used white drape were striking, culminating in the final image of the Hunding’s Hut and the projected embryos of the doomed twins to come in the next episode.

Donal Runnicles conducted a well played, appropriately light, fleet-footed interpretation of the score. After all, Runnicles has said, Wagner was a successor to Mendelssohn, not to Bruckner.

Berlin Philharmonic and Petrenko at the Festspielhaus

On Sunday, November 7th, Kirill Petrenko led the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert at the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus. Despite the current Pandemic, the concert opened to an almost full house with Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony, the Scottish. It seemed as though a few stragglers had not received the initial down beat but one all the players were on the same page the symphony preceded though a smooth and pleasant, if unmemorable, journey through the Scottish landscape.

The journey after the interval was quite another matter. The hushed opening of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10, beautifully molded by Petrenko, let to a virtuosic traversal of this powerful work. Each movement, each contrasting passage, was superbly characterized with supple rhythms and dynamics that ebbed and flowed between the frenzied marches and blows of the surrounding nightmare. The players were at their impressive best, from the speed and unanimity of the driving, jagged string chords, to the outstanding wind and brass soloists. Music and musicians seemed to have been made for each other.

The audience cheered as one with the final chord, delivering a prolonged – standing! – ovation.

Kirill Petrenko has not recorded his brilliant interpretation of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony but his brother Vasily has recorded an equally outstanding interpretation with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

Not-a-Horsethief – Birth

We started with this …

Bike in a Box

It’s Friday morning, 11:30am, and I carry the box of parts into the workshop. Like the person who wields the power in front of the white board because he’s the one holding the Chisel-Tip-Patented-3-Chamber-Technology-Endura-Glide(TM)-Dry-Erase marker, Stan owns the special tools which will save me having to make a substantial investment in hardware for only a one-time use. So while I still need to have the use of his Bottom Bracket Facing Set and Bearing Cup Press I’ll let him continue to believe that his presence is necessary to this whole bicycle birthing operation.

Stan, right, and Ifan

Stan, right, and Ifan

I have already installed the tubeless Kenda Navegal tires on Stan’s custom build wheels. Only after I went through the whole process of seating the tire beads on the rims and having to find compressed air to get them to seat and seal and pouring the Stan’s goop into them did I stop to think: which direction should the tread be? And realized that in my excitement about the whole goopiness of the operation that I had forgotten to check for the less than prominent direction arrows on the Navegal tires. And sure enough, I had mounted both in the reverse direction. However, even I had successfully already fixed the saddle to the seat post. That seat post is the first component to be fitted to the seat tube since it will enable the frame to clamped to the bike stand so that we can install the other components.

It turned out that the supposedly simple act of fitting the Forte Pro carbon fiber seat post into the seat tube was on of the trickiest operations that morning; it just did not want to slide down into the tube and we did not want to crack the carbon fiber post. The other operation that turned out to be trickier than expected was pressing the headsets into the frame. But then, headsets are a whole other experience unto themselves. Where did all that variety and complexity come from?

Building the Skeleton

It was fortunate that I had kept Stan happy and feeling useful because when we came to mount the wheels I needed to use his special equipment again. The tire had to be taken off the wheel, reversed carefully so as not to spill the goop sealant, and could we use your compressed air hose to reseat and seal the tires back on the rims, please?.

To add some color to the rather dull (I call it “sophisticated”) grey-green of the frame I was had intended to use gold sheathing for the derailleur cables and red for the hydraulic breaks. As it turned out, the gold sheathing was not long enough for the two runs, so I have black and red cables. I like the look of the red, it matches the X0 logos and wheel nipples, so I am going to replace the black derailleur with matching red sheathing one of these days.

Putting Flesh on the Bones

By now it’s 3:00pm, having taken out a half hour lunch break, and the labor is over. We unscrew the seatpost from the stand and gently lower the brand new baby Not-a-Horsethief 29r. It’s a bike! It really is a real 29r mountain bike.

… and ended with this

perfect baby

Not-A-Horsethief – Conception

Not-A-Horsethief Components

Not-A-Horsethief Components

I wanted to build a mountain bike for trail and cross country riding. I rode on a number of different bikes, both 26 and 29s, to compare the ride and performance. I wasn’t going to race, especially not downhill. I wanted a “comfortable” bike. I wasn’t too sure what I meant by that but I found, for example that hardtails that I had ridden were “twitchy” to me, transmitting every rocky bump. When I rode a 29r I said, “that’s it!”, and I wanted a full suspension 29r.

I am not getting any younger nor any stronger, quite the contrary, so I wanted a light bike, anything but the battle tank weight of the full suspension Raleigh that I had been pounding along the trails for the past several years.

I started with the frame. I wanted the latest technology in 29r frame design, so a 2012 frame, not last year’s model.

I wanted a light frame, but this year’s carbon 29r frames are very, very expensive and I wanted to spend nearer to $1,000 than $2,000 and beyond.

From everything I had read about modern frames, I wanted a relaxed head angle.

Slide show of individual components

When I put all those together, I found a 2012 model, a 6.5lb aluminum frame, with head tube angle of 68.6degrees, at a cost of $1,399. I followed the line across the page and read the name: Salsa Horsethief. It had been a matter of logic and not of color of tube, nor advertising, nor name salivation. I had never heard of the Horsethief.

Frame Technology

So I read up on the salsa Horsethief. It was not even available at the time so I read the reviews of the pre-production rides and the descriptions fitted the conception of the ride I wanted. So Horsethief it was and I ordered the frame.

Geometry & Fit

Geometry & Fit

Then I researched a list of compatible components. They had to be lighter than the stock items in the Salsa build and of a higher quality but always baring in mind my age-limited ability. I had fallen in love with the SRAM components on my Jamis Endura II road bike. Great engineering (Double Tap) and excellent, reliable build quality. this led to SRAM XO drive train set and other SRAM compatible components. I also found a cheaper and lighter front fork, RockShox Revelation RCT3 Dual Position Fork 2012.

The other component that gave me a lot of trouble – other than finding a compatible headset, what a jungle head sets have become! – were the wheels. I wanted t go tubeless. Stan’s, no question. But none of their standard 29r builds had the requisite combination of hubs and axle sizes so I had to order custom built Stan’s wheels. And I am glad that I did. I never thought that I would salivate over a pair of such beautiful bike wheels!

Here is the complete list of components with weights – actual weights since I weighed them myself to an accuracy of 1 gram – and cost.



Finally all the components arrived and I had a bike in a box.

Bike in a Box

Bike in a Box

A Separation

A Separation

Asghar Farhadi wrote and directed A Separation, is an Iranian film of Shakespearean complexity of characters, moral and ethical ambiguity. Every social interaction has its consequence for which there is no resolution.

The plot – separated husband employs a woman to care for his father who has Alzheimer’s disease and inadvertently pushes her down the stairs, and act that may or may not have led to the death of her unborn baby – is simple in its outline and serves as the structure within which to construct an ever mutating fabric of social, legal and religious complexity.

The filmic style may initially be difficult for a western audience raised on Hollywood; natural lighting, environmental sounds and dialog recorded on location, hand held camera work that initially seems naive but becomes integrated with more traditional mounted tracking and pan shots but no long or wide angle lenses, only middle shots.

In addition, a western audience has to suspend judgment and view characters living within a very different set of culture norms. We are asked to take other people’s point of view of what is right or wrong, to accept the ways of another culture, to accept that there are difference in our view of the world. We cannot judge with western eyes. In truth, Farhadi has created a situation where we cannot, and should not, judge.

All five of the principals – Nader (Peyman Moadi), Simin (Leila Hatami), Termeh(Sarina Farhadi), Razieh( Sareh Bayat), and Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) – are decent but imperfect people. Each one tries to do his or her best as each sees it; each one tries to do what they believe to be right but each is one without the tolerance to allow the other to do the same.

The film shows how culture and tradition infect the legal system, as true in any country as it is in the Iran of this film, and how each character is inflexible in his or her belief that he or she is behaving correctly under civil and religious laws. As the film unfolds we realize that, whatever we believe, none of us – the characters in the film, or people in the audience, each of us in our daily life – none of us has all the facts.

There are no villains, no black or white, only shades of gray. Roger Ebert summed it up when reviewing A Separation “Sometimes the law is not adequate to deal with human feelings”.

Finally, the ending of A Separation shows that there are no easy answers, if any answer at all.


Pina - a film by Wim Wender

In this intriguing and fascinating film, the director Wim Wenders creates an elegy for his friend of 25 years, the German dancer, choreographer, and director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, Pina Bausch. It is telling that this is advertised as a being a film “for” Pina Bausch rather than “about” Pina Bausch. This is not a documentary but rather a tribute to this extraordinary creative artist; an eulogy since Bausch died a few days before the start of shooting the film and the sense of her loss permeates every frame.

Pina Bausch herself directed one film, Die Klage der Kaiserin (“The Complaint of the Empress”), in 1990, and Wenders parallels the form of that earlier film to a remarkable extent, as though channeling the recently deceased choreographer. Both films consist of an assemblage of choreographed scenes without explanation. In Wenders’ case, this includes scenes from Pina’s stage productions, in addition the choreographed dances and action outdoors in the countryside and in city streets that both use. Both films share a scene of a dancer sweeping leaves with a leaf blower however Wenders has nothing as startling as Pina’s image of dancer sitting on an armchair in the middle of city traffic nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Perhaps the most striking of Wenders’ images is that of alternating age groups in a stage production that seem to change with every blink of the eye.

In remembering Pina, Wenders conveys, through the medium itself, themes that Pina had conveyed in her own film and dance: a sense of loss, of disorientation, physically and emotionally, searching, trying to find one’s way literally or metaphorically, eyes bound or closed. Maybe one could condense these into one over-riding theme: Finding your way in an a surreal world.

Pina Splashing Water
The film was shot in 3D and this is used to give depth and clarity to the images. Only once does the third dimension call attention to itself, when dancers splash water onto a rock and those splashes appear to fall onto the viewer’s laps.

This is such a beautiful, funny, sad, intriguing, captivating film that the viewers cannot help but share in Wenders’ sense of wonderment and loss and though this vision we feel the force, almost physically of Pina Bausch when she said “Dance, dance … otherwise we are lost.”


Theater Grottesco "Storm"

Storm is a collaboration between Theater Grottesco and Out of Context orchestra which was presented at the CCA Muñoz Waxman Gallery, Santa Fe, February 17 – 26, 2012. A quasi-improvised theater work, Storm takes as its themes some of the most challenging concerns of our day: the environment, development, climate change, economic exploitation. I say “quasi-improvisational” because the piece was scripted but imagine the script being torn up into fragments and those fragments being presented at each performance in a different, maybe chance, order. No dice were thrown and, as far as I know, the I Ching was not consulted so this was not strictly a chance or aeliatory production. However, no two performances were similar.

I suppose that the themes could be losely characterized in an all-encumpasing way as the human condition in the modern world, or as John Flax, Artistic Director of Theater Grottesco, put it, “The chaos of our contemporary lives”. Lack of depth in exploring any one of these issues was more than made up for by the passion with which it was presented. The actors John Flax and Lee Reed held the attention throughout as each potrayed a number of characters who wove in and out of the video and projected sequences. Live action, projected written quotations, graphics, and video sound bites, all contributed to an enthralling production.

In its 29th Season, Theater Grottesco was formed in Paris in 1983.The company sets out to “crash classical theatrical styles with a poetic research of culture and iagination”. Out Of Context orchestra was formed by J. A. Deane in 1997 to explore musical conduction with a modern chamber orchestra and to add an actor into the expression. Conduction is real-time musical composition in which musicians produce sounds from their instruments in response to signs and gestures from the conductor.

Unfortunately there was a disconnect between the action of Theater Grottesco and the accompanying music of Out of Context because the sounds which were created by the conduction had no meaning. All of the visual material, all of he live-acted material, random in order though they might have been, all had meaning. The projected words were meaningful quotations, the video snipits contained coherent statements, the actors actions and portayals were recognizable, made contextual sense, and their words were understandable.

But there was no coherence to the music. The equivalent to the Theater Grottesco technique would have been for Out of Context to have performed recognizable fragments of relevant music in a random, or chance order. As it was, the music was merely an assemblage of sounds that made no sense and had no meaning beyond being a background, and sometimes foregound, carpet of noise. That is not to say that on its own terms, the ensemble could provide a stimulating experience in itself. But here, Out of Context created a cacophony that was a distraction which detracted from, rather than contributed to, what could have been a truly powerful theater work.

Travelling Light

Travelling Light is a new play by Nicholas Wright, produced at the National Theater UK) and broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world during February 2012 as part of National Theatre Live. The play is part of what seems to be the fashion at present in that it is an homage to early film and contains a film, or rather, films, within the play.

Forty years on, Motl Mendl, a famous American film director, looks back on his early life in a remote village in Eastern Europe. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the young Mendl is captivated by the flickering silent images on his father’s cinematograph. Jacob, the ebullient local timber merchant finances his first film and, inspired by Anna, the girl sent to help him make moving pictures of their village, he invents the art of editing and finds a new way of story-telling. The plays switches back and forth between the projected film that Menl is making and the cast of villagers involved in the production of the film.

Stage set of Travelling Light

I saw a delayed HD showing at the Lensic Theater, Santa Fe, and therefor experienced a film within a play within a film. A neat conceit in theory but in reality the filming of the performance only served to show in close-up the “staginess” of the production and the clumsiness of the acting.

The first few minutes teetered between hope for improvement and despair that the production was not going to take wing. The entrance of Antony Sher settled the matter. Playing Jacob, the rich timber merchant, he seemed to be channeling Tevye from Fidler in the Roof with over-the-top single-mindedness that unbalanced the production beyond redemption. Charmless acting by the majority of the rest of the cast of Jewish stereotypes, led by Damien Malony as Mendl Motl, failed engage any empathy for the characters under the uninspired direction of Nicholas Hytner. Only Lauren O’Neil as Anna, provided a single spark of the radiance that the others lacked.

Red Tails


Anthony Hemingway is a prodigious director of television episodes (Fringe, CSI: NY, The Closer, Treme, to name but a few of the 36 shows for which he is listed as either director or assistant director of numerous episodes for each show) but Red Tails is his first feature film. In addition, taking into account that George Lucas was the executive producer, one could be forgiven for not expecting too much social content in this action-packed film which follows the exploits of a squadron of the all black Tuskegee training program stationed in Italy during the Second World War. You would not be disappointed in that regard. The film is short on reflection and philosophical consideration. The plotting and dialog is formulaic with one each of the stock character types for such films, including a single, token woman. However, the film does not disappoint in the many action sequences, despite more predictability and more formulas. Most of all, Red Tails is entertaining and a feast for fans of WW2 aircraft.

Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs

The center piece of this film is Genn Close as the loney, repressed, Alfred Nobbs who not only does not have a life of his own but does not realize that a life might be possible until he meets another woman forced to disguise her gender in order make a life for herself, Janet McTeer as Hubert Page.

The subject matter, the suppression of women in society and in the work place, the plight of orphans, the difficulty or raising out of the social miieu in which one is trapped, deserved a more engaging treatment. But Glenn Close, looking like an androgynous Charlie Chaplin, was so withdrawn into her sad character that it was difficult to identify with his attempts to escape his plight.

Ms. McTeer captured the screen with her expressive, soft, brown eyes, and injected the only spark of life into a film that was as repressed and bloodless as Alfred himself so that it was difficult to empathise with any of the characters. Even the context was muted – with sketchy charicatures of the mise en scene seeming as though rescued from a BBC Dickens production cutting room floor – and only came to life whenever Janet McTeer strode into view.