Last year something very special happened at La Plata´s Teatro Argentino: for the first time in their history they offered a Wagner opera -“Tristan und Isolde”- in German. Although the protagonists were below par, the other singers did very well, and so did the orchestra. To boot, the production by Marcelo Lombardero was a pleasant surprise. This year an even greater challenge was announced: the first production ever at La Plata of Wagner´s gigantic tetralogy “The Ring of the Nibelungs”, two this season and the other two in the next one, which will coincide with the bicentenary of Wagner´s birth. The theatre´s authorities must feel very sure of themselves and of the Argentino´s resources to tackle such a task. Alas, although their technical elements proved to be quite impressive, conceptually Lombardero´s work was impregnated by the worst European influences.
As readers know, I´m completely against the “Colón Ring”, the conflation of 16 hours (in four days) into an enormous seven-hour marathon in a single day. Unfortunately it will very probably preclude a “normal” Ring from the Colón in the near future, so the possibility of a new full Ring at our theatre with great international singers, even in installments, has receded to the far distance (the last one ended in 1998). Which leaves us with only La Plata.
The enterprise was labelled in the announcements as having an “Iberoamerican” cast and “a twenty-first century Latinamerican vision”. The first statement is a tall order, for Wagnerian voices don´t grow on trees and tend to be Nordic or German, but the double cast was very carefully chosen and at least in the Prologue, “Das Rheingold” (“The Rhine Gold”) coped quite well. We´ll see what happens when we get to the vocally much tougher later parts (in November, “Die Walküre”). In fact not quite all the artists were Iberoamerican, for the definition doesn´t include Spaniards (and one of them was born in the Canary Islands) or Brazilians (and two artists come from there), but most were.
As to the second statement, it proved the Nemesis of this version. Several examples will prove the wrongness of the vision.
First Scene: the famous Prelude based on a chord of E flat major admirably depicts the flow of the Rhine waves. Here well-filmed projections show the River Plate´s surface at first, and then the camera penetrates the waters and we peruse the bottom, with oil barrels, “Quinquela Martín” wrecks and all sorts of rubbish. And then, the Rhine maidens (Undines) appear, perched on industrial metal stairs, with the Ensenada oil installation in the background. Hardly the pure waters of the Rhine... The crucial moment when Alberich steals the gold is completely botched: up to then the gold was very poorly symbolized by a gold-colored pennant; Alberich slits the throat of an Undine in mafioso way (Wagner only writes that he steals the gold, a big nugget) and the gold is nowhere to be seen in his hands...By the way, there are six Undines, not the three Wagner wants. And all dance like Tinelli girls!
Second Scene: It´s worth remembering that there are four groups of characters in “Das Rheingold”: the gods (and one demigod, Loge), creatures of light; the Nibelungs, ugly subterranean dwarves; the Undines; and the earthy Giants. And that the conflict concerns two main subjects: the gold and the ring made of it, as symbol of power; and the devious conduct of the main god, Wotan, who promises Freia (goddess of love) to the Giants as payment for the great fortress they built, the Walhalla. It´s a world of myth and fantasy, vaguely Medieval and Nordic. The symbols inherent in the story are plain to any normally intelligent person and not only there´s no need for any transposition in time and place, but it is fatally harmful. Here we see the Villa 31 (or something a lot like it) and then Puerto Madero, an aseptic high floor instead of the valley Wagner asks for; and the Walhalla is a slim tower crowned with a round platform. The Gods are all in white, with Fricka, the goddess of matrimony, looking like Jean Harlow. Of course, Donner (god of thunder), Froh (god of love), Freia and Loge (demigod of fire) all ascend by a modern lift. And they use DVDs and cellular phones... For some reason, the Giants come from somewhere else quite undetermined.
The Third Scene (the Nibelheim, the mine where Alberich reigns) fares much better (I understand that a San Juan mine is used as background), and at least one moment is stunning: the enormous snake seen in projection gives us for just one minute a taste of what this production could have been. But again the capture of Alberich is very tame indeed. Good point: the descent and ascent to and from the mine are brilliant. However, instead of coming out to the earth´s surface , we find Wotan, Loge and Alberich in the same scenery as Scene 2! It´s arrant nonsense to see the Nibelungs (boys) bringing the treasure from the depths of the mine to, say, Floor 30 of a building in Puerto Madero... Ah, and Donner has no hammer but a gun, and Fasolt kills Fafner (his brother Giant) not with a mace but with that gun. And Donner uses the same gun to make a wall come down (thanks, Roger Waters!). Alas, no rainbow and no bridge into Walhalla, which turns out to be a very kitschy contraption. I did like a cosmic Erda singing from a projection, but it hardly saved the day. For the record, the stage designs are by Diego Siliano and the costumes by Luciana Gutman; lighting by José Luis Fiorruccio; and no less than six people handle multimedia and effects.
The musical side was generally good: the singers in both casts knew thir parts thoroughly and mostly had the adequate voices; and the disciplined orchestra responded professionally to the seriously considered reading of Alejo Pérez. The lack of power in the climaxes was due to what I felt was a wrong innovation: a roof covered the orchestra trying to mimic the Bayreuth mystical ambience.
The cast. Wotan: Hernán Iturralde was steadier than Homero Pérez-Miranda but both were good. First-rate Frickas: Adriana Mastrángelo and Alejandra Malvino. Alberich (the most important part): the second cast´s Luis Gaeta was particularly impressive, because Héctor Guedes´s voice (first cast) is too soft-grained for this character, though he sang well. Quite satisfactory the two pairs of giants: Christian Peregrino and Ariel Cazes, Emiliano Bulacios and José Antonio García. Loge: the Peruvian Francesco Petrozzi (debut) was a revelation, always meaningful in his phrasing, whilst Carlos Bengolea was in better voice than usual and acted skilfully. Excellent both Frohs (Martín Muehle and Enrique Folger), and correct the Donners (Ernesto Bauer and Federico Sanguinetti). Very good the second Mime (Gonzalo Araya), passable the first (Sergio Spina). Rather dull the Erdas (María Isabel Vera, Claudia Casasco). Acceptable the Freias (María Bugallo, Claudia Riccitelli). And very nice the three Undines in both casts (Victoria Gaeta, Gabriela Cipriani Zec and Florencia Machado; María del Rocío Giordano, Cecilia Pastawski and Rocío Arbizu).