The Deutsche Oper Berlin launched their new complete cycle of Wagner’s Ring with Das Rheingold on November 9th.
The bare stage was exposed to the audience as they took their seats, a grand piano, stage right, being 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.