After a two-year Corona break, the expectations of director Valentin Schwarz and his interpretation of the Wagner epic "Ring der Nibelungen" are high. "Rheingold" kicks things off - and divides minds in Bayreuth. While there's applause for the singers, the concept doesn't seem to be fully grasped just yet.
When the giants Fasolt and Fafner want to pull away in the luxury limousine with the kidnapped Freia, something goes wrong on stage: the garage door is shut down, although the car door is still open. It creaks and groans, the singers have to intervene. This minor glitch at the premiere of Bayreuth's new "Rheingold" is somewhat symptomatic of the new staging of the first part of the eagerly awaited new "Ring des Nibelungen" at the Bayreuth Richard Wagner Festival.
Director Valentin Schwarz called his "Ring" a great family saga, a series about toxic relationships that you can see in abundance on Netflix and Co. today. After the "Rheingold" it's clear: Unfortunately, his concept doesn't quite work out yet. And so there are - in addition to enthusiastic "Bravos", especially for the singers - also many, sometimes violent boos on Sunday evening on the Green Hill. The production elicits very mixed reactions from audiences. On the other hand, there was unanimous jubilation for the singers and the conductor Cornelius Meister, who stepped in at short notice.
Schwarz had announced that he wanted to tell Wagner's four-part opera about gods and gold, love, betrayal and world conflagration as a network of toxic relationships. And so Wotan (Egils Silins) and Alberich (Olafur Sigurdarson) are twins at odds with Schwarz. At the beginning, a video sequence on a large screen shows how these twins - after initial harmony - attack each other in the womb until blood flows and they almost tear each other apart.
And the "Rheingold" becomes a child in the Schwarz-"Ring". Wotan and Loge (Daniel Kirch) rescue a bullying, destructive, angry little boy from Alberich's clutches in order to be able to trade him for Freia (Elisabeth Teige), who has been kidnapped by the giants. What they should and want with him remains open. Shortly thereafter, a second child joins them, which could possibly be the daughter of Wotan and his second wife Erda (Okka von der Damerau). Because Wotan was willing to leave the little one to the giants, Erda angrily walked away, holding the girl by the hand. The last word should not have been said yet.
The whole thing takes place in an obviously expensive family estate, as is often typical of rich family dynasties in the series world. For all those who have not yet understood that this is by no means a happy, harmonious family, there is a snake in a terrarium. And anyone who wonders why Wotan is obviously so indebted to Fasolt (Jens-Erik Aasbø) and Fafner (Wilhelm Schwinghammer) that they are about to bag their daughter Freia will get his answer from a mobile phone video projected by Loge onto the big screen, which shows Wotan celebrating extensively and probably also lavishly.
So far, so striking. As clear as the staging is in some aspects - it remains unclear in others. Why the Nibelheim underworld at Schwarz is a kindergarten and the "Rheingold" a boy whom Alberich has forged into a similar nasty guy like himself remains an open question. Here and there the concept creaks and groans - at least in the first "Ring" part - still similar to the garage door.
However, Schwarz also called his "Rheingold" a "pilot film" that "raises many questions, teases a lot and makes you excited about what's to come - even if you can't sort everything out right away". Part two follows on Monday, the "Valkyrie", on Wednesday the "Siegfried" and on Friday the "Götterdämmerung". Traditionally, the director and his team only appear to the audience afterwards.
On the evening of the premiere, there was significantly less skepticism among the audience regarding the musical part of the production. Conductor Cornelius Meister, who was actually booked for "Tristan und Isolde" this year, but then stood on the podium for Pietari Inkinen, who was suffering from Corona, is cheered - even if his conducting seems a little hectic at the beginning. There is great rejoicing for all the singers - especially for Damerau and her powerful-voiced, present Erda, even greater for "Alberich" Sigurdarson, the audience's favorite of the evening, who not only convinces vocally but also in terms of acting.
Actually, Richard Wagner's four-part mammoth work in the Schwarz production was supposed to be staged in Bayreuth in 2020, but the project was postponed by two years because of Corona. And the corona virus is not making it easy for new production this year either.
The festival, which was also overshadowed by accusations of sexism this year, opened with "Tristan" just under a week ago, on July 25th. So this year there are five new productions on the program - a novelty in the long history of the festival.