Review: Teatro Colón Ring, 2012

The Teatro Colón Ring 2012

By Dr Lourdes St George
I had the great privilege of attending the 7-hour Teatro Colón Ring on 30/11/2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The world premiere was held on 27/11/2012. It was a unique and wonderful occasion despite all the dramas on & offstage,

The Teatro Colón (Columbus theatre) boasts a Wagner tradition stretching back nearly 100 years. Opened in 1908, it is now Latin America’s biggest opera theatre. The first performance of Wagner was in 1910 and a legendary Ring cycle was directed by Felix Weingartner in 1922.The Teatro has regular German Opera seasons. The Teatro’s interior design features a rich scarlet and gold decor. The cupola contains frescoes painted in 1966 by artist Raúl Soldi. The auditorium is horseshoe-shaped, has 2,487 seats (slightly more than the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London) with standing room for 500 and a orchestral pit for 120 musicians The stage has an inclination of 3 cm per meter, 35.25 m wide, 34.50 m deep and 48 m high. It includes a spinning disk with a diameter of 20.30 m, which can be electrically activated to spin in any direction and change the scenes quickly. It was closed from 2006 till 2010 for an extensive restoration costing $100-million, completed by 1,500 workers including 130 professional architects and engineers..

The Colón ring is an adaptation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen by the German pianist, conductor and recording executive Cord Garben lasting 7 hours in a single performance. Two of the four planned performances were cancelled, apparently due to a City government budget cuts.

The compacted Ring was done with the support of Katharina Wagner, great granddaughter of the composer and co-director of the Bayreuth Festival, who was due to direct it. That was until her sudden withdrawal in mid-October 2012 claiming (and vigorously denied) that the Colón was not sufficiently advanced with the scenery (the locals also said she had made other commitments). In her place Argentinean Valentina Carrasco (from La Fura dels Baus based in Barcelona) did an amazing job. La Fura dels Baus has an avant-garde approach and the scenographer Carles Berga was also from that group, although the sets were based on the designs of Frank Schlössmann from Katharina Wagner’s team. Valentina is currently involved with Sydney Opera House 2013 production of Verdi’s a Masked Ball. It should be an exciting production.

Cord Garbens intention, was to eliminate the long discussions, repetitions and other fragments which he felt had little impact on the narrative. He stated: “The current world is another world, in which the value of time is completely different. I always think about the ideas of the young Wagner, I think about his confrontational and revolutionary spirit. Of course, nothing can be done without courage. But it also takes preparation, knowledge and experience to embrace such a project. However, when one is convinced of something and has the necessary means to do it, then one must do it. And I truly believe in this Ring. But there is something essential to it: interpretations complement with a play, they do not replace it. Therefore, our Colón-Ring will be a complement and not a replacement for the original Ring.”

We were presented with the four parts of the Ring, each reduced by more than half, with free champagne and sumptuous hors d’oeuvres during each of the 3intervals in the beautiful balcony settings of the theatre. To achieve the adaptation, extensive cuts were required, not only to the “narrative” but also to Wagner’s glorious music. For example much of the prelude of Siegfried was cut as was that of Gotterdammerung, Donner and Froh were written out of Rheingold, as was Erda, and the Norns from Gotterdammerung. I personally missed the continuity but the edited version was successful in its aims.

The performance started at 2.30 pm with a water projection, the curtain opened to a modern two storey building, which with a tiered platform and a mini obelisk on a revolving stage served each successive scene. The Rhine-maidens were depicted as washerwomen, Alberich was dressed as a normal person, Fafner was wheelchair bound, Sieglinde was enslaved with a rope around her neck, and Hagen dispatched Siegfried with a golf club. There were projections of a boat during Siegfried’s Rhine journey and the succession of images of people such as Mother Theresa and Che Guevara during his funeral march.

The Austrian conductor Roberto Paternostro, who had been musical director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra since 2010 and previously assistant to Herbert von Karajan in Berlin (1978-1984), was also a late replacement for Julien Salemkour.The orchestral musicians changed over halfway as it would have been too strenuous. Roberto had a well measured pace and stamina to amazingly last the length of the production. The acoustics and sound produced was so poetic that I could hear the different leitmotifs clearly but I am a Ring cycle novice with the Adelaide Ring 2004 being my first cycle attendance.

The cast appeared mostly in their clothes of the day, with the exception of Wotan (Jukka Rasilainen) in a military costume, possibly representing Juan Domingo Perón (1895 – 1974) an Argentinean military officer and politician president whose 2nd wife was the popular Eva Duarte Perón. A world record was made by soprano Linda Watson as Brünnhilde who sang brilliantly with consistently strong voice in the longest opera part. Watson is known as the first  Bayreuth-Brünnhilde of the 21st century. She is on more official recordings of the Ring than any other singer.

The other principals were of high standard, with Leonid Zakhozhaev as an arrogant and boorish Siegfried. Stig Andersen was musical in his much reduced Siegmund and Marion Ammann as Sieglinde. Other notable performances were the raincoat and bespectacled Loge of Stefan Heibach, the athletic Mime of Kevin Conners, and the beautiful dark bass of Australian Daniel Sumegi singing successively as Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen.The Teatro Colón chorus was well directed by Peter Burian. There were multiple standing ovations at the finale.

Argentina’s history has been tortuous with independence and civil wars and military coups. It is the eighth-largest country in the world by land area and the largest among Spanish-speaking nations. Military intervention in the political sphere was common in Argentina since the 1930s. Torture and violence were used as mechanisms to control political conflicts or to deter the actions of opposition.

The 1976 coup, led by General Jorge Videla, with the “Dirty War” resulted in up to 30,000 desaparecidos (people kidnapped and killed by the military during the years of the junta). Some 500 babies born in jail were also taken by the military, which was emphasized in the performance. The silent marches of their mothers (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) are a well-known image of Argentines suffering. Thankfully those harsh times are fading and Buenos Aires is trying to return to its glory days. It is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. I appreciated and was moved by the director Valentina‘s portrayal of her city’s history in this Wagner Ring adaptation.

The German TV station Deutsche Welle (DW) is celebrating the upcoming 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner’s birth on May 22, 2013 with the TV and DVD production of The Colón Ring with a special multimedia project.

The DW production consists of a multi-camera recording and a documentary film on the unusual making of the production. DW Director General Erik Bettermann stated ”The 200th anniversary of the artist’s birth is one of the defining cultural events of 2013 - and therefore it is also at the center of the German international broadcaster’s cultural reporting.”

If a recording is produced, don’t miss it. THANK YOU Buenos Aires

For more information, see the Teatro Colón website: http:// www.teatrocolon.org.ar/en/index.phpid=colon_ring