Mike Scott Rohan
2017-06-03 14:17:14 UTC
You may recall I posted something about this a while back -- that the Salzburg Spring Festival was going to stage Die Walkure in a "recreation" of Karajan's classic staging, in replicas of Gunther Schneider-Siemssen's majestic sets, the production to be restaged by Vera Nemircova. I was surprised, but allowed myself just a little cautious optimism. I've just seen it....
Well, yes, the sets are there. Otherwise I hardly know where to begin. What you instantly see isn't there, are the projections and lighting effects which were an integral part of S-S's designs, visible in his illustrations, and over which Karajan took such famous care. The lighting is dead flat and studiedly un-atmospheric, so the sets just look like great flat greyish bulks. It looks slightly better in the stills than live.
Nor has any attempt been made to recreate the staging. Instead, Nemircova regurgitates an absolutely standard, not to say hackneyed, piece of modern Regietheater, an a markedly inferior one at that. She handles the sets so ineptly it almost looks deliberate, but probably isn't; Wotan, not at all physically impressive anyway and ridiculously dressed, delivers his opening invocation half sunken in the central pit. Hunding hauls himself out an ordinary kitchen chair. Siegmund stumps very slowly on during the prelude, pausing in what's supposed to be his exhausting flight to unzip his modern kitbag and slowly unpack his wolfskin for a little nap. Movement is either sluggish -- Peter Seiffert's elderly Siegmund -- meaninglessly frenetic -- whoever the useless Sieglinde is, Anja Harteros I think, and Anja Kampe's Brunnhilde -- or stolid and smug -- Vitaly Kovaljov's uninvolved Wotan. Action is equally empty; Kampe bounds on in a manner that suggests Nemircova remembers Peter Hall's Bayreuth staging, only Kampe hasn't the grace or figure that Behrens brought to it (and, good though she generally is, not much of the voice, either). And she grins inanely at the audience. Whereupon Kovaljov hands her a small wooden hobby-horse, which she brandishes happily...and so on. And so on. Fricka is carried on in a chair carried by two ram-headed musclemen. And so on. The magic fire is more half-naked geeks with small torches. The costumes are of course modern rummage-sale, from Hunding's zippered hoodie and combat pants to Wotan's overtight cheap suit -- the sort of thing low-level Soviet officials used to wear -- and unlikely blonde pigtail (doesn't match his black beard!). Brunnhilde wears a black leotard, outstanding but probably not a good idea; Sieglinde wears what "The Art of Coarse Acting" defines as All-Purpose Shift, Siegmund grotty parka etc. The overall effect is offhand, smirking, going through the motions, who gives a,,,etc and perhaps not surprisingly the standard of performance reflects this.
Kovaljov resembles Thomas Stewart only in having a less than enormous voice; beefy, smug and uninflected, let alone un-nuanced, he is probably the worst offender vocally. However, Seiffert's Siegmund is the merest shadow of what it was only a few years back, Zeppenfeldt's Hunding is surprisingly weedy, Harteros characterless (Janowitz was more passionate!) and Kampe, one of my favourites normally, no more than routine. Admittedly I've never been convinced by Christian Thielmann anyway, but here he sounds devitalized compared to his Bayreuth performances. All in all, exactly the sort of thing that Karajan, with all his faults, specifically loathed and worked against -- worked like a demon, indeed.
Which raises the question -- why bother? Why go to such trouble and expense -- because it must have cost a fortune -- just to stage what is, like it or not, an unarguably "modern" production in sets designed for one in a wholly different style? It serves neither one nor the other. Nemircova's ineptitude would probably be a great deal less obvious in a more provocative, non-Werktreu environment. Are Salzburg trying to guy Karajan's original concept, to deconstruct it from the lofty heights of post-modernism? In their long-cultivated contempt for the past, do they imagine that was really how it was? Or are they, consciously or otherwise, actually out to discredit it, because to acknowledge it -- actually to recreate what Karajan and Schneider-Siemssen offered up -- would expose what they've now come down to?
Whichever way, it's plain shoddy.