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Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Vienna State Opera

Vienna State Opera
02/18/1999 -  and 20, 28 Februray, 7 March 1999, 13 May 1999

18, 20, 28 Februray, 7 March 1999, 13 May 1999 (Die Walküre)
Richard Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen
Das Rheingold
(18 February 1999)
Robert Hale (Wotan), Peter Weber (Donner), Michael Roider (Froh), Siegfried Jerusalem (Loge), Franz-Josef Kapellmann (Alberich), Heinz Zednik (Mime), Kurt Rydl (Fasolt), Alexandru Moisiuc (Fafner), Marjana Lipovsek (Fricka), Holly Hall (Freia), Regina Mauel (Erda), Uta Schwabe (Woglinde), Katalin Halmai (Wellgunde), Liliana Ciuca (Floßhilde)
Die Walküre (20 February 1999)
Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegmund), Waltraud Meier (Sieglinde), Kurt Rydl (Hunding), Robert Hale (Wotan), Marjana Lipovsek (Fricka) Deborah Polaski (Brünnhilde), Holly Hall (Helmwige), Ildiko Raimondi (Gerhilde), Ingrid Kaiserfeld (Ortlinde), Nelly Boschkowa (Waltraude), Katalin Halmai (Siegrune), Mihaela Ungureanu (Roßweiße), Jutta Geister (Grimgerde), Andrea Bönig (Schwertleite)
Siegfried (28 February 1999)
Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegfried), Anne Evans (Brünnhilde), Oskar Hillebrandt (Wanderer), Franz-Josef Kapellmann (Alberich), Heinz Zednik (Mime), Birgitta Svendén (Erda), Kurt Rydl (Fafner), Ingrid Kaiserfeld (Waldvogel)
[Unfortunately the reviewer was unable to attend Götterdämmerung.]
Adolf Dresen (Director), Herbert Kapplmüller (Set and Costume Designer)
Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Donald Runnicles (Conductor)

One of the good sides of the repertory system of the Vienna State Opera is that even complex works such as Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen are given on a regular basis – in case of the Ring even twice per season.

Visually, the Dresen-Kappelmüller Ring, first shown in the 1992/93 season, is a minimalist production with some effective ideas, such as the Rhinemaidens "floating through the waters of the Rhine" on a sort of carousel while teasing Alberich in Das Rheingold or red sparkles of fire blazing up behind Brünnhilde’s rock in the final act of Die Walküre, but also a few dramatic disappointments, such as a rather unimpressive black cube representing Walhalla or Erda wrapped in white sheets, looking like a mummy.

Whatever the flaws of the production, purely musically this was a wonderfully satisfying Ring cycle. Conductor Donald Runnicles gave a dynamic, firmly accented reading of the score that was charged with dramatic electricity from start to finish. The Vienna Philharmonics responded whole-heartedly and offered truly brilliant playing which conveyed all the colour and nuances of this magnificent work. The singers of the cycle - excellently supported by Runnicles who took care never to overpower them – also gave fine performances.

The Gods in Das Rheingold were headed by Robert Hale who was a mellifluous, noble-sounding Wotan with a commanding stage presence. The other dominating figure was Siegfried Jerusalem, as Loge, who sang with his usual great musicality and gave a multi-faceted portrayal of the shifty god of fire. Marjana Lipovsek was a formidable Fricka, Michael Roider gave a fine role debut as Froh, Peter Weber was an imposing Donner, Holly Hall a fine Freia and Regina Mauel a competent Erda. Also very impressive were Franz-Josef Kapellmann as a rich-voiced, superbly fierce Alberich and Heinz Zednik as a first-rate Mime. The two giants were sung resoundingly by Kurt Rydl and Alexandru Moisiuc, and Uta Schwabe, Katalin Halmai and Liliana Ciuca made an alluring trio of Rhinemaidens.

Die Walküre was a very strong offering, a veritable feast of Wagnerian heroines. Deborah Polaski was a majestic, full-voiced Brünnhilde with plenty of stamina and good stage presence; however, her top notes sounded a little strained now and then. Marjana Lipovsek made a commanding Fricka and greatly impressed with her vocal power, intense phrasing and crystal-clear diction. But the most memorable performance came from Waltraud Meier, as Sieglinde, who once again proved that she is a singing actress of the highest order and sang with radiant tone and ardent expressiveness. Dramatically, her Sieglinde was perfectly matched by Siegfried Jerusalem’s passionate Siegmund, and their ecstatic love duet was one of the most gripping performances I have ever seen. Vocally, Jerusalem delivered the more dramatic passages such as the Act 1 narrative or the pair of "Wälse!" cries very well, but found himself close to the limits of his vocal abilities in "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond". Robert Hale sang the part of Wotan with great beauty of tone and endurance; however, dramatically his portrayal was more monochrome and less affecting than James Morris’s in the autumn cycle. With his voluminous, dark bass, Kurt Rydl was a brutal, threatening Hunding. The Valkyries were a mixed lot, but sang competently enough.

Siegfried brought some major cast changes as three of the singers had cancelled at short notice due to illness. Siegfried Jerusalem, in the title role, was in top form and gave a compelling portrayal of the young hero. In the final scene, he was joined by Anne Evans (substituting for Deborah Polaski) who offered an impressive Awakening Scene. Hers is a pleasant warm and youthful timbre, and she impressed with clear diction and sensitive phrasing. The Wanderer was taken by Oskar Hillebrandt (substituting for Robert Hale) who sang with opulent tone and excellent diction, but lacked the charisma and nobility the role demands. Heinz Zednik gave his highly accomplished portrayal of Mime and Franz-Josef Kapellmann created a fascinating, powerfully dramatic Alberich. The well-sung Erda of Birgitta Svendén (substituting for Regina Mauel) and Kurt Rydl’s imposing Fafner rounded out the strong cast.

An extra performance of Die Walküre is scheduled for 13 May 1999. The cast will be: Waltraud Meier, Gabriele Schnaut, Margareta Hintermeier, Siegfried Jerusalem, Kurt Rydl, Falk Struckmann; Jun Märkl, conductor.

Bettina Maani



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