Wagner Notes

Nina Krauthamer and Charles Blum
May 2019

The exquisitely renovated Grand Théâtre de Genève opened its doors to three Ring Cycles in Feb.-March 2019. We were fortunately able to attend the third cycle (March 12-March 17, 2019). The Geneva Ring revived the production by Dieter Dorn and Jurgen Rose (2012-13 and 2013-14). What was true then, as now, was the focus on the words and dramatic action, and the emotive expressions of the actor/singers.

The text of the Ring is so important to this production that supertitles are offered in both English and French and appear both above and to each side of the stage. As a consequence, particularly in Das Rheingold, Wagner’s music often takes a back seat. However, what is gained is a remarkable insight into the psychological dimensions, motivations, and contradictions of the characters. Also striking was the palpable victimization by the male characters of the women in the opera, most interestingly Erda.

The sets were dark and gloomy in various shades of grey, black and white, with only a red fluorescent strip surrounding the proscenium. Certain scenes were striking: Nibelheim as a labor camp and simple moving panels as a backdrop for Siegfried’s meeting with Wotan in the third opera. However, most of the scenery seemed curiously dated and somewhat shabby. The use of black-clothed extras moving scenery may have been innovative a few years ago but was not as unusual or impressive as in some newer productions (Munich, for one). While the newly renovated theater clearly has advanced stage machinery, it was only used twice during the entire Ring cycle: in the Nibelheim and Immolation scenes. The stage conception may have been more successful if the machinery had been used more extensively.

The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande lived up to its splendid reputation. Georg Fritzsch conducted credibly, although his pacing could be static at times, especially in Rheingold, which was also too muted. However, his approach was entirely consistent with Dom’s emphasis on the words and drama. The orchestra increasingly came into its own as the Ring progressed and the voices and orchestra came more into balance.

Tómas Tómasson was clearly and justifiably the audience favorite. While his voice sometimes lacked dramatic range, he sang beautifully and was one of the most persuasive Wotans we have seen. His rendering of the Walküre Act II narrative and Act III “Lebwohl” were subtly inflected and built effectively to their climaxes. While Petra Lang may not be to everyone’s taste, her powerful upper range and fluidity make her one of the great Brünnhildes currently on stage. Her trio with Hagen and Gunther in Act II of Götterdämmerung, sung with dramatic rage, was truly memorable Wagnerian singing. She seemed extremely comfortable in the role, having sung in Geneva’s past Rings, and was more effective than when we had seen her in Dresden last year. Michael Weinius, who sang Siegfried (and who will repeat the role in the upcoming Leipzig Ring), is more of a fresh, lyrical tenor than a true Heldentenor. His interpretation worked in this small, intimate house, but he was overmatched by Lang. While he paced his Siegfried carefully to the end, his Götterdämmerung lacked force and drama, particularly in his Act III narrative. Other standouts were Ruxandra Donose (Fricka), Mark Stone (Gunther), Wiebke Lehmkuhl (Erda), Stephan Rugamer (Loge) and Alexy Tlkhomirov (Fasolt/Hunding).

© Wagner Notes, May 2019, a publication of the Wagner Society of New York. All rights reserved.

Nina Krauthamer and Charles Blum,

Society members, are New York attorneys and avid opera goers. The Geneva Ring was the fourth complete Ring Cycle they had heard within the last year.