sábado, diciembre 01, 2012

The Colón-Ring, a sorry fiasco (I)

                During this year Herald readers endured three articles of mine about what is the event of the year: the Colón-Ring. Finally the great day arrived: November 27.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating: I got a massive indigestion of which I am partially recovering. And not because it was long but due to the bad quality of some ingredients.

            Picture it like an artistic tripod in which two of the legs have fallen irretrievably: the disastrous production and the indefensible mutilation of the original by Cord Garben. The third leg –the musical interpretation- had its good points, but it couldn´t save the always doubtful enterprise.

            What a pìty that it was dubbed "Colón-Ring", for now our theatre has its institutional stamp attached to a sorry fiasco. It transpired that in 2013, the Wagner birth bicentenary, the Colón won´t stage a work of his, a true aberration. If the Colón´s artistic Director, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, thought that with this strange conflation of an immense original, the tetralogy "The Ring of the Nibelungs", it was enough, he is dead wrong. Especially considering that the Colón (and the city) hasn´t seen "The Mastersingers" since 1980, "Parsifal" since 1986 and "Tannhäuser" since 1994. And of course we won´t see in the next years the complete "Ring".

            The hugeness of the event (7 hours of music plus two hours of catering in the intervals) plus the equally huge prices (higher than Salzburg or Bayreuth) give it a special place in the season. The theatre was about 80% full in the first of only two performances; the other two were scrapped, as I told in a previous article. There´s so much to analyze that I have been allowed an unprecedented two long reviews in consecutive days. I will dispose them thus: a joint analysis of Garben´s and Carrasco´s work, and afterwards a musical analysis of the interpretation.

                                   DAS RHEINGOLD (THE RHINEGOLD)

            Showing the weakness of Garben´s convictions, he had said in a press conference that "The Rhinegold" would be included within "The Walkyrie" as a compacted flashback, which seemed at the time unacceptable. Someone convinced him that the "Ring" ought to start with the beginning...which seems pretty evident. Garben doesn´t understand that the crux of the matter in Wagner is the Leitmotiven, the colossal net of leading motifs associated with characters or objects or ideas with which he builds masterfully, with enormous intellect and sensibility, the gigantic Ring, which has no parallels. This is a Medieval fantastic tale with an admixture of Wagnerian innovations in the libretto, influenced by the historic facts of his time (the 1848 Revolution, the socialistic ferment). It has three levels: the subterranean (the Rhine Daughters, the Nibelungs), the surface (human beings, giants) and the high reaches (the Gods). And one basic plot: pacts based on lies fail.

            The Prelude starts with the chord of E flat major in the horns: we are in the waters of the Rhine. It blends with the First Tableau. We are supposed to see the Rhine daughters playing and swimming. What do we get from Valentina Carrasco? Three washerwomen, no evidence of water. The decor (by Carles Berga on the original design by Frank Schlössmann, of the Katarina Wagner team) shows laterally a two-story modern house with balcony and glass, and center stage platforms with steps and a metal stairway. Hardly the Rhine bottom... Alberich the Nibelung comes in; he looks like a normal man, not an ugly dwarf as depicted by the Rhine daughters. A basic principle of Valentina is that everyone should look common: dwarves, giants, gods, they all have nothing to distinguish them. Alberich tries to seduce the washerwomen , is refused by them, and then renounces love by taking the "gold": a baby! Yes, you read right: a baby is the gold...

            In the Second Tableau we are supposed to be in a meadow and Wotan, the Supreme God (equivalent to Zeus-Jupiter) is looking at the Walhalla, the great castle built by the Giants. But here Wotan has an Argentine military costume, the Walhalla is a miserly modern construction and there are big curtains. His wife Fricka comes in to reproach him for his frivolous disregard for the goddess Freia. Then Freia steps in, dressed in casual pants, followed by the Giants, and surprise! Fafner is a cripple in a wheelchair... Another Valentina principle, taken from La Fura dels Baus: add people where none are wanted;  the Giants come accompanied by a whole group, in the clothes designed by Nidia Tusal, generally (during the whole evening) ugly and mediocre.

            Donner, the god of storms, and Froh, the god of joy, should burst in, but they don´t: the "assembly"  will never have them in this version. But we do have Loge, the god of fire, looking modern and nonchalant in a raincoat, giving no hint of who he is, and carrying a portfolio. Big cut. The Giants carry Freia away, and Wotan and Loge decide to look for the gold in Nibelheim (where the Nibelungs live). The Interlude has an internal cut, but at least we do get the hammering on anvils, and the only well-imagined scene in the whole evening with interesting lighting by Peter Van Praet.

            Enter Mime, Alberich´s hapless brother and the forger of the magic helmet, whimpering. Alberich appears; now he is a terrifying dictator. Here is Valentina´s grossest mistake: the Nibelungs are boys tortured and killed by Alberich´s minions! In what seems to me not only wrong but stupid, we are supposed to consider them as victims of "El Proceso". So who is Alberich in this ridiculous Argentinization?

            Big cut. Loge instigates Alberich to put on the helmet and become something huge (a hydra) and then small (a frog);  he is caught in a net when he resumes his normal appearance. After a shortened Interlude, we are back in the decor of the Second Tableau, although we are supposed according to the libretto to be in an open space. Big internal cut; Alberich is forced to obey and bring his gold, multiplied magically and patiently in the Nibelheim. Another "streak of genius" from Valentina: the gold isn´t ingots but children... Now Garben´s good judgment disappears: Alberich´s Curse is the high point of "The Rhine Gold" and is here reduced to a minimum.

            The Giants appear; Fasolt demands that Freia be completely covered from view by the gold. All of it (a mass of children) is put before Freia, including the helmet, but Freia´s gaze still blind Fasolt: he demands the ring on Wotan´s finger. And here comes Garben´s incredible decision to scrap Erda´s Warning, an essential part of the whole Ring.  Wotan is gently induced by Fricka and lamely accepts it, instead of ceding to the Earth-Goddess (who will be the mother of the Valkyries after being visited by Wotan, who wants "to know more"). Fafner gets up from his wheelchair and kills Fasolt... As there is no Donner, we get no hammer blow nor a Rainbow route to the Walhalla. Bodies are strewn meaninglessly around. The Gods enter the miserable "castle". Bad taste in the mouth, interval.

                                         "DIE WALKÜRE" ("THE VALKYRIE")

            Act I. The Prelude is respected. Siegmund comes in, exhausted after being persecuted. Sieglinde , as is seen after a while, has a rope around her neck and can´t stand up; her husband Hunding treats her like a vile slave in Valentina´s view. The architecture, instead of being a hut with a big elm in the middle (it´s no less than the World Elm and in its trunk Siegmund will find Notung, the sword implanted there by Wolfe-Wotan), is similar to that of "The Rhinegold", plus acres of hanging polyethylene or something like that. When Hunding comes in he carries a pistol; you have to be coherent: although Siegmund is his enemy, the Medieval sacred right of hospitality prevails (it doesn´t now, at least in Europe); pistols in the Middle Ages? Enormous cut. The final duet gives us only the second part of Sieglinde´s aria "Die Männer Sippe", part of "Du bist der Lenz" (Sieglinde), another big cut and we get to the final two exhilarating minutes, when the revelation of the twins´ love explodes. Tomorrow I will complete this account.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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