Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And now a word from the Strauss Monster

...whose monstrosity, as you know, extends also to Wagner. Brief digression: the problem with fans, perhaps you'll agree, is often that their fandom isn't grounded in anything; and then on the other hand, the problem with People Who Know Things is they don't get loopy enough about their subject. An admirable exception to both of these generalizations is my pal the Strauss Monster, whose fandom will beat up your fandom, but who also knows whereof she types, big time. Take it away, Straussy.

* * *

So, I waited to write anything on this because I knew a ton (okay, four--but in the opera world I live in that's a ton) of people who were going to the last performance and I didn't want to spoil them, so I could get their aesthetic reactions without bias. I didn't see the other installments--I'm poor and busy and only went to this one thanks to the kindness of strangers--so I don't have an idea of how and/or whether the visual logic linked up, which is very important in a Ring.

That said, somewhere during the second half of the Prologue, my mind christened this "the Valery Gergiev prog metal concept show Ring", and I stand by that. We had Metal Mario Siegfried, Brunnhilde the Queen of the Darkness, manly men in skirts, and lots of dancers. Let's talk about the dancers first.

So, you all remember the production of Helena earlier in the year, right? (I blogged that one out of love for the piece and glee that the Met did it at all.) The overwhelming problem with that production can be summed up in one word: "What?" Operatic production does not have to be literal to be faithful, and not everything symbolic has to be obvious--in fact, it's painful when it's made too obvious, like that dumbass London Ring where Wotan was carrying a traffic sign instead of a spear.

But the audience reaction of a blank, uncomprehending "What?" indicates a basic failure on the part of the producer. The blank stare means that you haven't even managed to connect with a basic level of symbolism that could then be expanded upon, played with, deconstructed. It means you've managed to jolt the audience out of paying attention and into wondering what that was supposed to be. (In Helena Act II I kept wondering what the Omniscient Seashell was doing there, not to mention her male counterpart.) So for me, the giant idols decorating the stage were not full-blown "What?", but the dancer extras almost always were.

Take the Norn Scene. Their costumes were great with weird hats and long robes covered in rope and shells; they looked sufficiently mystical and otherworldly. But what was going on with the rope? It's there, and then the dancers take it over to the side (I was on the angle, so I could see all of that), and then they did some sort of rolling across the stage. The rope comes back on, it gets broken in an undramatic fashion, and there's some generic wandering off for the Norns. (Stage exits were a problem in this production, at least in the Immolation Scene.)

Maybe it's because I didn't see the other installments, but I found other parts of the stage action bewildering, such as the (admittedly very cool looking) Rhinemaiden surrogates with neon green hair, in Act III. Why were they carrying around a glowspear? (I'll resist the urge to detail how a friend and I found ourselves referring to it, afterwards.) I will refrain from making a joke about chickens, too.

The biggest stage disappointment was the Immolation Scene. Like it or not, at least once Brunnhilde is done, it's incredibly visual and narrative music; it reworks two major sets of material that we have heard before, Rhine music and the Valhalla music. (Let's leave aside the motif that everyone argues about.) And there is a very explicit and amazing transition from the Rhine music to the Valhalla music, which then flares forth in its highest glory.

Unless you are an aesthetic tool like Pierre Boulez who rejects the idea of stage/music coordination (it's in some of his comments on Lulu; he may have grown up some since), you need some staging correspondence to this. Nothing. Nada. Not even a good use of the lighting (although I enjoyed the dramatic primary color lighting throughout). Brunnhilde just walked off the back of the stage, no fire. I swear I thought the audience was going to laugh when Hagen went off the back, and I was going to have to kill someone. The fadeout at the end was obscured by clapping, although Gergiev held it nice and long. I thought Wagner audiences had better manners.

So, musical side of things:

Victor Lutsuk (Siegfried): a little rough at first, but I appreciated his stamina, he got the high C in the third act, and as Maury said, a reasonably lyrical death scene. (I like having him do the death scene entirely alone on stage; it emphasizes its hallucinatory/reworking nature.)

Larisa Gogolevskaya (Brynnie): had all the notes, loud, effective, but I was bored. I got no idea of a character off of her.

Mikhail Petrenko (Hagen): I appreciated doing the role without shouting, but Hagen really needs more volume in a few select places, or a voice that projects a little better. Hagen's music is some of my favorite bits of Wagner. Fabulous face paint.

Edem Umerov (Alberich): Awful. Barky. No sense of line.

Everyone's German was fairly mediocre, to the point where I could tell.

Gergiev: idiosyncratic. There were times I was annoyed because I wasn't hearing things that I knew I should have been; I liked a lot of the slow tempos, but things felt disconnected and some of the pauses were very long. Fantastic when he really let the orchestra rip in the Funeral Music. That was awesome.

I could blather on, but I'll end it here, saying thank you to those who hooked me up with a ticket, and I hope this is interesting to those reading it.

* * *

Which of course it is. Thanks SM!

14 comments:

straussmonster said...

Thank you for hosting me here, Maury!

I'll mention that regarding the performance you were at, one friend of mine loved it, one hated it passionately, and I think someone else fell more in the middle, but suggested the Siegfried-as-Super-Mario image, which I was all too happy to incorporate.

Maury D'annato said...

I'm glad to have that image after going to see it rather than before!

p.s. the C from Lutsuk was fearless!

straussmonster said...

The C justified the practice of taking bets on whether or not he would hit it, during intermission.

What I didn't mention and should have was this: strip off the funky costumes and there's nothing whatsoever radical about this production, or even that interesting. It lacked detailed ideas of who these people are and what they want, which would then (presumably) show up in the acting. There was no Personenregie. Lutsuk had some idea of who his Siegfried was, or at least he was the one I cottoned onto, but I wanted stronger ideas to go with the visuals.

JSU said...

"there's nothing whatsoever radical about this production, or even that interesting"

Definitely intentional, and not necessarily a bad thing.

"There was no Personenregie"

This almost killed the whole thing.

Interesting, most of the reviews of the first Twilight seem to knock Gergiev's conducting, which was the strongest part of the second. Mercurial guy, he.

Straussmonster said...

JSU: agree on the nothing radical not necessarily being a bad thing--that's why I objected, over on Usenet, to calling this Eurotrash. The label seems off to me, for something that doesn't really have an agenda. (If there was an agenda in this production, I missed it.)

What I would have liked to see was something with detailed Personenregie, even radical ideas about the characters, to form a strong vision to match the unusual visual imagery. Take it further, make a stronger statement, anything but leaving the singers to their own devices to the degree that it did here.

alex said...

Mmmm monster-chan, thank you for the lovely write-up as always. (and of course to maury for being excellent, including by association.)

Sort of a derail, since it seems unlikely that i'll be able to catch any of the things you guys are blogging aboot: I just noticed a new-to-me Frau ohne Schatten conducted by Sawallisch and recorded in Japan. Cast includes Marijana Lipovsek as the nurse, Luana de Vol as the Empress and other people that I can't recall offhand (Peter Seiffert as Emperor?).

Do you happen to know anything about it? The few e-reviews seem to be really positive, and I'm really quite optimistic, since I was somewhat disappointed by Solti's DVD outing and have heard such wonderful things of Sawallisch + FROSCH. Either way, I might get it tomorrow. And then we can play "let's compare notes."

straussmonster said...

Alex:

I've seen it on the shelves and haven't quite brought myself to buy it although I totally should, BUT I have heard very good things (including from my local record store clerk who knows this stuff) and I absolutely adore Sawallisch in Strauss, especially his FrOSch studio recording. (You deal with some mediocre but inoffensive singing and get the best conducting and overall feel of the piece, AND it's uncut.)

Please blog it if you get it, and I will see about getting it for myself and we will compare!

alex said...

Cool. I'm actually headed up to the city in a couple hours, so the soonest I'd grab it would be Monday.

I'll probably hole myself up and watch it then if I get it (v. likely, I think).

I'll let you know how it is. I haven't heard the studio Sawallisch FrOSch (aside from Vater, bist du on a Studer compilation thing), but I readily believe that there's more to this than the Soltis that I've heard (DVD and studio).

Mmmm, I must see if I can pick up one of the Boehms somewhere.

straussmonster said...

Ummm. I could totally enable you with the Sawallisch studio FrOSch, if you'd like. I consider it a public service.

I can't listen to the Boehms because the cuts annoy me too much, sadly.

In the Solti DVD, listen to the transition in the first act, and you can totally hear him lose control of the orchestra and try to get it back. It's a mess. But then I don't like Solti's Strauss, overall, anyways.

Maury D'annato said...

Well and also Studer is rather ravishing in the role, and that's not something I find myself saying with any great frequency.

alex said...

Wee! Monster-chan, you know how to set up a budding strauss-fiend's feathers in delight! (ok, so i'm not such a budding fiend, but my knowledge is still pretty inchoate.)

As for Solti + strauss, yeah, i'm beginning to think that I don't particularly care for it so much, either. Mmmm, the meanderings that this takes me down will probably be a blogpost at some point....probably rolled up with what I think about the Sawallisch DVD, which I get tomorrow. Yes!

Maury - are you talking about the Sawallisch studio Studer or the Solti DVD Studer?

The first I think is pretty awesome (based on that scene) and, as you say, ravishing. But the DVD Studer is showing that Gilda bleat and it's pretty hard to take, sandwiched between a screechy Marton, too.

Straussmonster said...

Alex; drop me a line (I have a gmail account) and we'll see how to hook you up with this recording, be it in a hard copy or more fluid format.

The Solti DVD is not as good a performance from Studer, no. And like Maury, I do find her exceptionally fine on the Sawallisch recording, probably the best singing on the whole thing. It's a role that fit her well, and the recording catches her in a good place.

alex said...

I just posted a somewhat disoriented/disorienting(?) post about the DVD :)

nutshell: recommended! the vocalists are all at least highly competent, with Lipovsek and Titus as the positive and negative outliers respectively. production is pretty great to watch. wish I had been there.

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