Das Rheingold at the Deutsches Oper Berlin

The Deutsche Oper Berlin launched their new complete cycle of Wagner’s Ring with Das Rheingold on November 9th.


 Szenenfoto | Bildquelle: Bernd Uhlig / Deutsche Oper Berlin. BR-Klassik

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.

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.