With Gotterdammerung and Die Walkure already under his belt, the Halle/Elder Ring continues from the beginning, with Das Rheingold.
So far, all the recordings of the Halle/Elder Ring, this one included, have been concert performances. This sort of completely goes against Wagner’s vision of Gesamtkuntswerk, that is, a “total artwork”. A detail I had overlooked until reading Alfred Hickling’s review of the performance. I’ll come back to the “total artwork” idea in a different blog post.
In terms of staging and props, there was very little of it. Two gold and red chairs for Wotan and Fricka, a golden cloth for the Rheingold and some brass knuckles acting as the ring. The evening’s visual spectacle was something most people probably missed. Whilst smoke machines were blowing out “smoke” as the gods enter Valhalla via the rainbow bridge, stage lighting lit up the ceiling in rainbow colours. The little lights on the ceiling acted as the stars in the night sky. As everyone was looking forward, and not up at the ceiling or behind them, it was something most probably missed.
The entire performance was an ensemble singing marvel, making for a fulfilling and satisfying experience. This can really be quite hard to do in general, let alone Wagner, so the fact it was pulled off is quite something. Hats off to all the singers.
Without a doubt, though, and the applause he received for it is testament to this, the evening’s highlight was Samuel Youn’s Alberich. The transition from lusty dwarf, to ring owning dictator, and finally to broken person who imbues said ring with a curse that then courses through the next three operas, was seamless. Youn gave a very colourful performance, both through his singing and acting. To quote Hinlicks, “Youn’s eye-popping transformation into a toad was a priceless moment of comedy”.
Iain Paterson’s Wotan was understated if anything. Given in this opera Wotan is rather laid back, relaxed and arrogant, being slightly understated might be the right way to go. The torment and anguish is all to come, so no real need to really shout the house down, yet. Having said that, like Youn, Paterson looked completely comfortable and gave an effortlessly solid performance.
Elder matched Paterson’s singing with a slightly understated performance of the score. The oft stereotype of playing Wagner as loud as you can possibly can wasn’t there. Having said that, the ending was exactly how I like it; loud, triumphant but above all, crisp, clear and clean. Fabulous stuff from the brass who played with such richness and majesty, not just at the end, but throughout the entire evening.
In general, though, this was a far more measured performance, which is at odds with the recordings I particularly like – namely Solti and Barenboim. Elder just does not conduct in that fully blown romantic style, which has forced me to rethink the way I look at Wagner performances. As a major Wagnerian, this is no small revelation.
Having said that, perhaps this was a long time coming. When Hartmut Haenchen conducted the Royal Opera House’s production of Tannhauser earlier this year, it was pacey and far milder compared to some CD recordings. It sounded almost “classical”, because I can’t think of anything else to call it. But again, like Elder’s rendering of Rheingold, neither lacked in thrill or drama. On the contrary, Haechen forced me to really listen to the music, and since I found a new appreciation for the opera.
Nonetheless, Elder gave inspiring performance bringing together impressive displays from everyone involved. I’m very much looking forward to the final instalment of this Ring, whenever that may be.
Now all that remains between now and then, is to listen to the other two recordings of this modern marvel.