sat 18/11/2017

Prom 14: Das Rheingold, Staatskapelle Berlin, Barenboim | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 14: Das Rheingold, Staatskapelle Berlin, Barenboim

Prom 14: Das Rheingold, Staatskapelle Berlin, Barenboim

Vocally and orchestrally sumptuous fellowship of the ring kicks off colossal Wagnerfest

Barenboim with Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka) and Iain Paterson (Wotan) behindAll images by Chris Christodoulou

Swimming around in the Rhine is what most of us wanted to be doing on the hottest day of the year. A cooling, riverbed low E flat from Daniel Barenboim’s Berlin double basses, and then the staggered horn entries announced we were going to be in the finest sonic hands for two and a half hours  – or nearly 15, if the colossal Proms Ring is to be accounted in its full, four-night glory. And glory it will be in the casting, too, if the flawlessly full, rich voices in the large Rheingold cast are anything to go by.

Among the line-up were three singers in the leading men's roles I’d be happy to hear individually in Schubert’s Winterreise, since the text and inflection so seemingly effortlessly modulated to reach to the back of the Albert Hall were theirs above all to command. I thought I'd put the sense of the German to the test, bearing in mind the hall's still woeful lack of surtitles and ignoring my big fat programme text.

Johannes Martin Kränzle, indisputably the best Meistersinger Beckmesser of our time, may not be a baritone with yards of inky-black volume to spare for would-be world master Alberich’s climactic curse on the ring, but he made up for that in spades with vocal nuance, stage presence and spitting out of the Nibelung’s especial vehemence. It helped that he was there to dominate from the start, complemented by astonishingly full lower colours in the orchestra to offset against the proto-Debussyan water music of the Rhinemaidens. A good decision, I think, to have a full Wagnerian soprano, Aga Mikolaj, on top – and how magnificent they sounded in their offstage warnings at the other end of the opera. Why the pink, though, for a water nixy - was this one thing overlooked or out of bounds in Justin Way's otherwise discreet but helpful concert-performance direction (Mikolaj, Maria Gortsevskaya and Anna Laposkaja pictured below)?

Rhinemaidens in the Proms Ring pictured by Chris ChristodoulouSeasoned Wagnerians proclaimed afterwards that Iain Paterson’s Wotan lacked ultimate authority, but I was spellbound by the most warmly and firmly sung chief god I’ve heard, able to pull out all the stops – abetted by three trumpets, not just the second at first as marked, and why not in the vast auditorium – at Wotan’s last-minute bright idea of heroic salvation. Lyricism was even more the keynote of Stephan Rügamer’s Loge, the flickering intelligence of the gods in fiery yellow and orange striped tie, valuing the quality of still intensity which Way seemed to have instilled into the singers. What a contrast to the laissez-faire, scores-permitted Strauss Capriccio at Covent Garden, even if that cast was just as fine

Scene from Proms Rheingold by Chris ChristodoulouThe central male trio, ratcheting up the tension in the gods’ visit to Nibelheim (Alberich bound, left) and its aftermath, was superbly flanked by other world-class voices. We heard two great, and dramatically no less alert, bass giants in Eric Halfvarson as nasty Fafner and Stephen Milling as love-me-please Fasolt, the resplendent contralto Anna Larsson declaiming Erda’s warning from the organ gallery and a stupendous sound from Jan Buchwald’s Donner in swinging his hammer (this looked like the idiot brother of Wotan’s family, a prejudice dispelled the minute he opened his mouth). Lustrous tone also came from Ekaterina Gubanova’s statuesque Fricka and Anna Samuil’s beauty-goddess Freia in distress.

There were times when Barenboim seemed to leave off the conducting, almost disastrously so in the brass cry of woe which should strike after the second sounding of Nibelheim anvils – it almost didn’t happen – and in the smudging of the complacent arpeggios characterising the foolish soon-to-be-Valhallaites. But you could forgive him that for the transparency of the orchestral sound, the telling contribution of every instrumental detail and the close work with singers. I’m sure it was his now-famous wisdom, as something of a Proms doyen, that you should use the tricky venue to bring the audience in, not try and force the sound outwards, which lent such subtlety and meaning to the individual performances.

The LED screen at the back did its work in evoking river waves, gold in the water, cloudless skies, fathomless caverns and the final rainbow; in fact, without the box of tricks directors have to throw at this most schematic of the Ring operas, the clarity and meaning billowed and breathed. Tonight a bigger storm breaks and human sympathy can at last enter the picture. I’m sure we won’t be disappointed.

The central male trio, ratcheting up the tension in the gods’ visit to Nibelheim and its aftermath, was superbly flanked by other world-class voices

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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