Berlin Event

A 'Rheingold' For The 21st Century

Dennenesch Zoudé  and Janko Danailow in Rheingold Feuerland. August 18th at the Neuköllner Oper. Zoudé gives a commanding dramatic portrayal of Erda. i i

hide captionDennenesch Zoudé and Janko Danailow in Rheingold Feuerland. August 18th at the Neuköllner Oper. Zoudé gives a commanding dramatic portrayal of Erda.

Neuköllner Oper
Dennenesch Zoudé  and Janko Danailow in Rheingold Feuerland. August 18th at the Neuköllner Oper. Zoudé gives a commanding dramatic portrayal of Erda.

Dennenesch Zoudé and Janko Danailow in Rheingold Feuerland. August 18th at the Neuköllner Oper. Zoudé gives a commanding dramatic portrayal of Erda.

Neuköllner Oper

As Richard Wagner's bicentenary approaches in 2013, homages to the German titan are bound to crop up in many forms.

The Neuköllner Oper, a small alternative theater space that specializes in experimental productions, opened a new series yesterday to explore "worldwide social and economic turbulence" with the premiere of Rheingold Feuerland, a "Wagner specter" with music by Simon Stockhausen (yes, son of the late Karlheinz).

Wagner's world views were not always the most progressive, however, the Ring tetralogy, of which Das Rheingold is the first installment, reveals a preoccupation with the power of nature to overwhelm human greed.

In a dark, satirical rendition, Rheingold Feuerland sets out to address the injustice of our globalized world.

The text by Bernhard Glocksin goes as follows. Erda, a Nigerian immigrant, loses a valuable necklace to a Roma youth, Christo (loosely based on Alberich from the Nibelung), who then fashions a ring out of the pendant to escape working in the trenches.

Meanwhile, a Bolivian journalist named Mercedes (a daughter of the Rhine or Freia) accosts a businessman, Warren (a "Wotan-type"), about a scandal over drinking water in her home country.

The opera ends in a declaration of apocalypse by Dr. Ananshnapuram, a temple whore, mafia boss, and, last but not least, Loge or Agni (the Indian god of fire).

If the plot sounds crazy and incoherent, it is. Yet many underlying themes were highly immediate in the midst of the euro crisis and growing concerns about the environment.

"During childhood this was our paradise," said Erda. "Our dreams were shining with Europe, Italy, Naples." The character of Warren punctuated the opera with aphorisms about capitalism—"The economy is the religion of our time ... the only worldwide religion"—that were right on the mark.

Recent productions of the Ring have, of course, explored similar themes.

At the Staatsoper last season, Guy Cassiers looked to the globalization's clutches on the European Union.

On the other side of the pond, Francesca Zambello's 2006 staging, given its first full run at the San Francisco Opera in June, centered upon despoilment of the environment.

Stockhausen and Glocksin will not rival any of these productions. Their concept also verged on a grandiose sense of artistic entitlement. Yet, they have created a wildly contemporary context for Wagner's drama that may speak to audiences who have not grappled with the symbolism in the original mammoth work.

The 90-minute Rheingold Feuerland does not set out to resemble an opera, consisting mostly of dialogue.

Stockhausen's score features a backdrop of live electronic punctured by a small wind ensemble, percussion, and piano. Ominous electronic swirls and a lonely wooden flute foreshadow impending doom, while saxophone and bass drums give the music a pop-electro flavor, recalling a Broadway musical.

Thorsten Loeb gives a solid performance as Warren, demonstrating some classical training as a vocalist. i i

hide captionThorsten Loeb gives a solid performance as Warren, demonstrating some classical training as a vocalist.

Neuköllner Oper
Thorsten Loeb gives a solid performance as Warren, demonstrating some classical training as a vocalist.

Thorsten Loeb gives a solid performance as Warren, demonstrating some classical training as a vocalist.

Neuköllner Oper

The music is most powerful in synthesized electronic passages such as the ending that blends the Indian tabla drum with hollow contemporary drones.

The vocal music is less persuasive. Melodies, such the opening to Erda's song "Ich Schlafe Hier, Nur Hier" are surprisingly tonal, while ensemble numbers, such as the trio for Mercedes, Warren, and Dr. Anashna, are crafted in a haphazard fashion, demonstrating little understanding of vocal line or the possibilities for counterpoint.

A cast of actors was charged with breaking out into song at unexpected moments.

Dennenesch Zoudé, a well-known presence on German television, gave a commanding, dramatic portrayal of Erda. She managed to sing on key but did not carry above the accompaniment.

As Mercedes, Andrea Sanchez del Solar was a feisty, emotionally rollicked journalist. Her musical numbers came off as more professional, but in a "Germany's Got Talent" kind of way.

Thorsten Loeb gave a solid performance as Warren, at times even demonstrating some classical training as a vocalist, and Janko Danailow was a rough, vengeful Christo.

As Dr. Anashna, Božidar Kocevski glared at the audience with a possessed rage that was hard to take seriously. His singing was also painfully unmusical. Yet he brought verve and stamina to a dizzyingly non-descript role.

Conductor Lam Tran Dinh exacted a tight performance in between presiding over live electronic and plucking piano strings.

The staging by Lilli-Hannah Hoepner, set on a bed of coals, made the most of the small space.

Light and video projections, such as the underwater image of a swimming pool, jived well with Stockhausen's pulsing electronic sounds. The clubby atmosphere and post-postmodern experimentalism may be far removed from Wagner's lofty aspirations for music drama, yet he might be proud to know that he maintains such a strong hold on the German consciousness.

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