Opera: What speed Wagner?

GoTTERDaMMERUNG

NETHERLANDS OPERA AMSTERDAM

ALMOST EXACTLY a year ago, the Netherlands Opera introduced Wagner's Das Rheingold into their repertory and so embarked on their first Ring. They will perform the complete cycle four times next June. Over the cycle's previous three parts, Hartmut Haenchen's conducting was shown up as lightweight, while the playing of the Netherlands Philharmonic, the casting and Pierre Audi's production proved consistently worthwhile. Perhaps I was not the only one to criticise the conductor, since he contributes a long, fascinating article to the programme, arguing that faster tempi are what Wagner always wanted. A statistical table shows how contemporary interpreters tend to lengthen the music. Haenchen estimates his own timing at a nippy 13 hours and 50 minutes, seven minutes faster than Pierre Boulez in 1976, 9 minutes slower than Josef Keilberth in 1952... I set off determined to listen open-eared, ready to be convinced by and converted to Haenchen's "authentic" interpretation. In the event, his performance of Gotterdammerung often dragged; he discovered hints of Sousa in Siegfried's Funeral March and turned the ending into a vainglorious, sentimental and vulgarly sustained blare.

Pierre Audi's production places even more emphasis than usual on Brunnhilde, who emotes throughout most of the Funeral March. Unfortunately, Jeannine Altmeyer proved the major weakness in a strong cast, moving too often in a series of jerky, inhibited lunges, her singing generalised and distorted by harsh, forced tone. She was not helped by the costume designer, Eiko Ishioka, who never let her out of gloves. Kurt Rydl's splendidly virile, bare-chested Hagen compelled attention, and Heinze Kruse portrayed Siegfried in a refreshingly unpompous manner and made the role sound easy. Wolfgang Schone's fatuous Gunther, Eva-Maria Bundschuh's sensuous Gutrune, Anne Gjevang's fearlessly intense Waltraute, the first-rate Norns and Rhinedaughters all made good use of the walkway around the pit, enhancing their impact on the audience. George Tsypin contributed an impressive set, which was lit brilliantly by Wolfgang Gobbel and animated by Amir Hosseinpour's choreography: the Gibichungs became automata, at once comic and sinister.

`Gotterdammerung' is on 20, 23 and 30 September. Box office: 00 31 20 6255 455

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