Okay, so most of you haven’t been to the Ring, Right?!? The only person I know who has been to one is my German classmate Royee, who attended the Bayreuth Ring last year. It’s not for all, as you have to either book a hundred years before you were born (similar to applying to pre-schools in San Francisco), or know the scene director personally before he was fired, to get tickets.
Germany decided to spread the wealth around and stage this year’s Ring in Munich instead of at Bayreuth. This was much more palatable, so you can enjoy a major city and still get a double dose of music and culture at the same time. I booked my tickets in November the year before so I could take German classes and see the Ring, a series of four operas, over one week. The saga searches for meaning in life, love, and happiness.
So here’s the typical setup for each opera. They start you off with the 2.5 hour version, no bathroom breaks (Das Rheingold). (see previous post). Then it progresses to 3.5 hours (Die Walküre), then 5.5 each of the last two. (Sigfried and Götterdämmerung, in the following week). You progress up to 2-40 minute breaks for good behavior.
You go in. Check out your neighbors. Decent looking, well-dressed bunch, but not too stiff. They’re not going to snore (nor are you), and each person will fit compactly into the seat they are assigned. Otherwise, it’s like getting on a 17-hour flight with you in the middle seat. The music begins and unfolds exquisitely. You are enraptured by Wagner’s ability to transcend sounds into music, words into poetry.
And then WHAT!!!???!!! A stage full of bodies and maidens prancing around the stage, as a backdrop to the principal singers’ prologues, arias, and dying laments?!? A gaggle were nude or nearly-nude, with exposed wire-strapped bras and saggy body suits. Uh-oh, it’s that German Freiheit thing again. But now they are stomping in Gothic River Dance Doc-Martin boots and shimmery, raggedy tunics as angry sisters of Brunhilde protecting their heroine (with an e)?!? Whatsup!!??!! Someone was unveiling a supposedly dead body in the background on a gurney as the singers in the foreground sang fervently to each other.
My point: Hollywood has done alot for entertainment. Granted, it’s very showmanistic, but it has simple logic. The absence of it makes you homesick even for the glitz. The Germans are intellectual, stark, and blunt. They want to make sure you get the message about the suffering. They prefer to use resources on paying personnel to be the stage props, rather than to design, plan, and build stage sets. Sorry, but the interpretation didn’t work for me.
The singers would have done better on a bare stage. It was clear the audience felt the same. It was so bad in some parts that the audience literally booed!! Despite the stellar principal singers consisting of Jonas Kaufmann (one of my favorites), Nina Stemme (from Tristan and Isolde fame at the NY Met), and Wolfgang Koch (from the Bayreuth Festival), being the primary focus, the staging distracted the audience, and nearly destroyed the beautiful music and singing. Several times I closed my eyes to block out the visuals, and wished that the message had been better delivered.
I’m not saying that I would rate the SF Opera production higher than this one, because the music and the singing was not strong. I would love to see the two companies collaborating together one day to make the most of each company’s talents, and to give the audience a performance that Wagner would be proud to see.
Here are the staid curtain calls, that don’t reflect anything expressed above, with (1) Kiril Petrenko, the highly regarded conductor of the Bayern Staatsoper:
and (2) my favorite tenor Jonas Kaufmann taking his well deserved curtain call as Sigmund:
As for more mundane activities this week, I lost my glasses and left my keys in the apartment where I was staying. I went to two “found” bureaus and discovered a treasure trove of “found” items, all neatly classified and categorized. I didn’t find my glasses, but it was a pleasure to see German efficiency at its best.