Review: Ring in the changes

Siegfreid Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam
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Siegfreid Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam

As it emerges, Pierre Audi's new production of Wagner's Ring is revealed as one of the most exciting recent interpretations. It's not that he finds many new angles, but that he reverses the traditional pattern where the hidden orchestra dominates the singers.

In Amsterdam, the orchestra sits between nine and one on the stage's clock face. It might have infuriated Wagner, but the result suits Amsterdam's peculiar auditorium and makes for unusually direct interaction between singers and audience. The front row seemed to enjoy being spattered by Mime's eggy cooking and the new balance is often revelatory of orchestral detail, which suits the conductor, Hartmut Haenchen. He is better at highlighting detail and at creating transparent textures than at shaping long photographs.

Graham Clark triumphed as Mime, his performance as intense and fresh as if he'd never sung the role before. The confrontation between Erda and the Wanderer was staged as a grand, theatrical pas de deux and acted with wholly persuasive, old fashioned stage magic by Anne Gjevang and John Brocheler. His performance has grown enormously in character and stature since Wotan in Rheingold. If it is still occasionally bland (in the scene with Mime, for instance), he was not helped by the costume's thick veiling. Strange that so transparent, abstract and essential a set (useful walkways and luminous glass by George Tsypin; neon tubes and coloured acting areas lit by Wolfgang Gobbel) should be populated by the fussy costumes of Eiko Ishioka. Brunnhilde wakes in a loud red dress that continues into gloves but rises in hideous, padded points on her shoulders. Jeanine Altmeyer is already tall; this made her look like a giant and was no help to Siegfried, the compact Heinz Krusa. He makes a dogged hero loutish, rather than playful, but his singing towered over everybody else's in terms of its effortless quality and musicianship.

Miss Altmeye's move from Sieglinde to Brunnhilde proved unconvincing: too many of the phrases sketched in, rather than sung through. The casting was generally of a high standard, with the veteran Henk Smith as Alberich and young Carsten Stabell equally good as Fafner. The Woodbird cavorts in white with a cloak (Ishioka's trademark, a terrible snare for twitchy singers), and overstays his welcome - he goes in for cute bird movements and acts our Mime's homicidal intentions for Siegfried, when they are already clear in the words and music.

On the other hand, he is sung by a remarkable treble (Stefan Pangratz from the Tolzer Knabechor), which is what Wagner wanted. The fact that you can hear his words is another benefit gained from putting the orchestra on such a tight leash.

Further performances: tonight, 9, 13, 1, 21, 25 and 29 June, 1998.

Netherlands Opera box office: 00 3120 551 8260.