George Loomis provides an overview of the Frankfurt and Munich Ring Cycles

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 23 February 2012 | 8:58:00 pm

Frankfurt Wagner
FRANKFURT — The 200th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner occurs in 2013, a seemingly ideal occasion for performing his colossal “Ring des Nibelungen.” But some opera houses couldn’t wait that long. In New York, the Metropolitan Opera recently completed its controversial new production by Robert Lepage, which has been criticized for stressing technical stagecraft over interpretation, and is now gearing up for complete cycles of the four-opera epic in the spring. Meanwhile, two productions are under way in important German houses — Frankfurt Opera and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera — both of which will receive integral performances in the summer months.Frankfurt’s new “Götterdämmerung” completes a cycle introduced over three seasons. Like the Met’s “Ring,” it has a permanent mechanical set that undergoes many permutations. As designed by Jens Kilian, in its pure state it is simply a disc, like something in an epochal Wieland Wagner production from the 1950s or ’60s. But the disc consists of concentric circles, each of which rotates and tilts on its own, so that the structure often takes on a three-dimensional form. Truth to tell, it is not all that attractive and is indebted to Olaf Winter’s lighting for what beauty it has.

But it works superbly for Ms. Nemirova’s gripping staging. In the convoluted second act, just as the Gibichung king Gunther tells the distraught Brünnhilde that, in a double wedding, he will marry her and his sister Gutrune will marry her beloved Siegfried (who has been drugged), one of the circles revolves to bring the latter couple into place in time for Brünnhilde to look up and glare at them in astonishment.

Ms. Nemirova cuts through plot complexities to drive home poignantly Brünnhilde’s sense of betrayal. She also neatly engineers a scene change later in the act so that Brünnhilde, Gunther and Hagen plot Siegfried’s demise in seclusion. Ingeborg Bernerth’s costumes depict Siegfried as an outsider by clothing him in his usual rugged attire while Hagen and Gunther wear business suits.

There is room for humor too, as the Rhinemaidens are briefly portrayed as environmental protesters with a sign “Save the Rhine.” The Hall of the Gibichungs is dark and cramped but has a well-stocked bar so characters can pour themselves a drink at tense moments. The most enthralling moment comes with the final orchestral peroration, when the characters of the “Ring” all reassemble, including the aged gods and the dwarf Alberich; the latter gives the gods a parting gesture signaling scorn but also resignation. Brünnhilde’s redemptive self-sacrifice has seemingly touched all concerned.

The singing could be better, especially in the crucial roles of Brünnhilde and Hagen, but Susan Bullock, an experienced stylist, has some strong moments, while Gregory Frank ensures that his lightish bass voice serves the archvillain better than you might think. The bright-voiced tenor Lance Ryan is an uncommonly likable, tireless Siegfried, and Johannes Martin Kränzle offers a magnificent portrayal of Gunther, weak-willed as usual, but transformed by Siegfried’s death into a figure of newfound strength.

The conductor Sebastian Weigle and the orchestra are in fine form. They could bring more flair to some climactic moments but their vibrant performance is consistently knitted to the drama.

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