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OPERA

Anaemic ‘Rhinegold’ opens Dorst’s ‘Ring’ in Bayreuth

Despite its short running time, the first installment of Tankred Dorst's production of Richard Wagner's sprawling four-opera "Ring" will leave you squirming in your seat, writes AFP's Simon Morgan.

Anaemic 'Rhinegold' opens Dorst's 'Ring' in Bayreuth
Photo: DPA

The hard wooden seats of Bayreuth’s Festspielhaus have only the thinnest possible cushioning for a reason – too much padding would ruin the hallowed hall’s legendary acoustic.

That’s a scientific fact, but the seats also have another more subjective use, namely as a barometer of the evening’s performance.

If, after five hours and more, you still don’t notice how hard the seat you’re sitting on is, it’s a fairly good indication you’re enjoying yourself. If, on the other hand, you start fidgeting after just half an hour, you can bet your bottom dollar that you’re not and that you’re in for a long and uncomfortable night.

“Rhinegold,” the first installment of Tankred Dorst’s production of Richard Wagner’s sprawling four-opera “Ring” that reopened here on Monday night, scores pretty low on the seat-barometer.

At a mere two and a half hours, “Rhinegold” is the composer’s shortest-ever opera, but the evening drags interminably and rarely have the Festspielhausseats felt so uncomfortable. The problem is Dorst’s willful refusal to interpret it or any other part of the 16-hour tetralogy, arguably Wagner’s masterpiece.

The opening picture – the Rhinemaidens as underwater glow-worms among the rocks and boulders on the river bed while the water surface shimmers above – is a visual treat. But the “Ring” is more than just a series of pretty pictures. And a director needs plenty of ideas and proven stagecraft to make sense of Wagner’s complex symbology and render his bombastic and convoluted reinterpretation of ancient Norse mythology digestible for modern audiences.

This particular “Ring” is now entering its third consecutive year at the Bayreuth Festival, the legendary summer music fest dedicated exclusively to Wagner’s works. But Dorst has not changed his staging one iota since it was first premiered – and critically panned – in 2006.

His one and only idea is that the world of Wagner’s mega-opera, with all its gods, demi-gods, dwarves and giants, co-exists with our own while remaining invisible to our eyes.

Thus, while the evil dwarf Alberich steals the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens in the first scene, naked swimmers dive and frolic in the waters above. Similarly, while the chief god Wotan haggles over the price of building Valhalla with the giants Fasolt and Fafner in the second scene, a tourist wanders by, obliviously taking snapshots.

It’s a simple but striking idea, but Dorst does not develop it further and leaves the characters high and dry with no direction. Wotan and the others move aimlessly around the stage, with no discernible reason or intent.

During the first year, there may have been an excuse for such sketchy direction: Dorst was brought in at the last minute after Danish film-maker Lars von Trier pulled out unexpectedly from the project. However, two years on and Dorst’s downright refusal to add or change anything verges on the petulant.

Musically, this “Rhinegold”, conducted by German maestro Christian Thielemann, was solid but unexceptional, as if the singers, too, had given up over Dorst’s indifference.

German bass-baritone Albert Dohmen was an unremarkable Wotan, small-voiced and lacking depth and sonority. South African mezzo Michelle Breedt and Italian-born soprano Edith Haller failed to make any lasting impression as Fricka and Freia.

Only Dutch tenor Arnold Bezuyen as the fire demi-god and the two Nibelungs – British baritone Andrew Shore as Alberich and German tenor Gerhard Siegel as Mime – came anywhere near up to scratch.

Conductor Thielemann, whose masterful reading of the score had made the Bayreuth “Ring” such a joy to listen to last year, lacked real inspiration this time round, only really coming alive in the orchestral interludes.

Dorst’s “Ring” is set to continue on Tuesday with a performance of the second part, “The Valkyrie.” And with a running time of more than five hours, Bayreuth’s unofficial seat-barometer suggests audiences should bring plenty of cushions to make the evening slightly more bearable.

For members

BAVARIA

Bar closures and no Christmas markets: How Bavaria is tightening Covid rules

Bavaria will order the closure of all bars and clubs as part of sweeping new restrictions to try and control the Covid spread and ease overrun hospitals. Here's a look at what's planned.

Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich.
Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

On Friday Bavarian state leader Markus Söder announced more tough restrictions to deal with spiralling Covid infections and packed intensive care units.

“The corona drama continues,” said Söder after the cabinet meeting, adding that 90 percent of Covid patients in state hospitals are unvaccinated. “Being unvaccinated is a real risk.”

Bavaria has a vaccination rate of 65.9 percent – lower than the nationwide rate of almost 68 percent.

READ ALSO: Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets in Covid surge

Söder said the state’s Covid package was about “blocking, braking and boosting”, adding that vaccination centres will be ramped up. 

“We must act,” he said. “Bavaria is exhausting almost all legal means until December 15th.”

Earlier this week, Bavaria introduced a state-wide 2G rule, meaning only vaccinated people (geimpft) and people who’ve recovered from Covid (genesen) can enter many public spaces. People who are eligible to get vaccinated but choose not to get it are excluded. 

Here’s an overview of the planned restrictions set to come in on Wednesday, as reported by local broadcaster BR24. 

Bars, clubs and restaurant curfew

From Wednesday, and for three weeks, all nightlife like clubs, discos, bars, pubs and brothels in Bavaria are set to close their doors. Restaurants will have to shut at 10pm. So planned Christmas nights out will likely need to be cancelled or postponed. 

Christmas markets

There will be no Christmas or Christkindl markets in Bavaria this year. In the past days, several cities had announced that they would not be holding these events this year due to the Covid situation. 

Contact restrictions on the unvaccinated

Söder announced new restrictions on the number of people those who are not inoculated can socialise with. A maximum of five unvaccinated people will be allowed to meet, from two different households. Children under 12 will not be included in the total, as well as vaccinated or people who’ve recovered from Covid.

Cultural and sporting events

All cultural and sporting events can only take place with significantly reduced spectators. At theatres, opera performances, sporting events, in leisure centres and at trade fairs, there will be a 25-percent capacity limit. The 2G plus rule also applies. This means that only vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to enter (not the unvaccinated) – and only with a negative rapid test. Masks are compulsory everywhere.

Universities, driving schools, close-body services: 2G plus

All universities, driving schools, adult education centres and music schools will only be open to those who have been vaccinated and have recovered – making it 2G. This rule also applies to body-related services, like hairdressers and beauty salons. Only medical, therapeutic and nursing services are exempt from the 2G rule. So unvaccinated people can still go to the doctor or receive a medical procedure. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter

Shops

Shops remain exempt from 2G rules, meaning unvaccinated people can visit them. However, there is to be limits on capacity. This means that fewer customers are allowed into a shop at the same time.

Special rules for hotspots

Currently, the incidence in eight Bavarian districts is above 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in seven days. Here and in all other regions where the incidence goes above this number, public life is to be shut down as far as possible.

This means that restaurants, hotels and all sports and cultural venues will have to close. Hairdressers and other body-related service providers will also not be allowed to open for three weeks, and events will also have to be cancelled. Universities will only be allowed to offer digital teaching. Shops will remain open, but there must be 20 square metres of space per customer. This means that only half as many customers as in other regions are allowed in a shop.

If the incidence falls below 1,000 for at least five days, the rules are lifted.

Schools and daycare

Throughout Bavaria, schools and daycare centres are to remain open. However, there will be regular Covid testing. Children and young people have to continue to wear a face mask during lessons, including school sports, unless they are exercising outside. 

Bavaria is expected to approve the measures on Tuesday and they will be in force until at least December 15th. We’ll keep you updated if there are any changes. 

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