Since the last decade, productions of Wagner operas had become a great success in China and became a part of the repertory in opera productions there. The NCPA (National Center for Performing Arts) in Beijing started hosting traditional productions of the The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, and Chinese National Opera House, a company working in that theatre, staged their own production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, in a traditional and spectacular staging. There are four productions available in Youtube: A 58-minute video of Holländer's Act II, excerpts of Siegfried and both Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung complete; thanks to the artists Qiulin Zhang, Hugo Mallet, Christian Voigt and Ye Chen, for making us possible to see these marvellous productions.
Nowadays, occasions to see traditional Wagner stagings are rare, specially in Europe. In the Ring, the Chinese directors seem to pay many attention on making the sets spectacular and intending them to be as much as close to the legendary times of the German- Scandinavian myths which where the sources for Wagner's masterpiece. On the other hand, in contrast with the spectacular sets, the production don't seem to care too much of acting and sometimes the costumes are more reminding us of Manga or The Lord of Rings.
Technology has been used as a powerful resource and thanks to LED video animations we can forget painted sets and enter in 21 century by watching virtual sets showing a living forest, a burning Walhalla, storms, rainbows, landscapes or even birds flying.
Under Lu Jia's baton Eva Johannson leads the cast as a shy Senta. Johansson is past her prime and voice is tending to scream sometimes, but her experience and dramatism lead her to convey emotions in the duet with the Dutchman, a moving moment in her performance. Egils Silins is a well both sung and acted Dutchman. Qiulin Zhang as Mary has a deep contralto voice, with a great dark low register. Franz Hawlata as a dark Daland and Peter Svensson as a heroic Erik complete the cast.
Hugo Mallet and Christian Voigt sang the title role professionally. In addition, Mallet acted well his part and his Siegfried was daring and adventurous. Liu Yian is an accomplished Mime, at the same level of the tenors singing this role here. Lisa Livingstone is a correct but a bit matron-like Brünnhilde.
The staging is really spectacular and impressive. In the curtain there is a big ring who illuminates itself when the music starts, and inside landscapes related to the scenes are seen. The Norns appear spinning a big thread with the World Ash behind. The walkyrie rock is a rocky-like big platform opened and in the bottom there is projected a rocky mountain landscape, with the burning fire in sight, Mordor-like. The great achievement of this production is the Gibichung castle. Act 1 shows a big hall, with two big statues at both sides of the stage and a big arch between two towers, with the Rhine waters projected. Act 2 is the highlight of the show: we see from the dark night in the duet of Alberich and Hagen to the sunrise, to show a beautiful grey landscape of the river across the hills and mountains,with the light of red torchs. Act 3 shows the platform and the landscape perfectly divised and even with the crows flying as Hagen asks Siegfried if he saw them. The ending is moving: as Brünnhilde lights the pyre and throws herself on it and people leaves, we can see the animated Walhalla burning and destroyed, and the waters recreating the flooding of the stage. Not always we can see the Walhalla collapsing as the libretto is saying. On he other hand, the costumes are reloaded and sometimes they cannot hide their plasticness, specially in the case of Gunther and Gutrune, or the Rhinemaidens have Asian-like large costumes.
Yu Feng conducts the orchestra in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, in a strong style, like a tank. The percussion and the metals are in serious trouble, but despite all Yu tries to save the music and succeeds.
Liu Yiran is a competent Siegfried, who has ressistance and not ugly voice. Wang Wei has a nice voice, but light for Brünnhilde. As she is focused on singing, she is not very aware of acting. Ye Chen is a nice Hagen and accomplished in Act 2 but with inexpressive acting. Yu Jingren has a great voice as Gunther but a bit overacted. Liang Runni is a nice Gutrune, and Song Fengrun an excellent sung Alberich. Wang Hong has a good mezzo voice as Waltraute. Better the Rhinemaidens than the Norns.
As the prelude begins, the curtain rises and shows the depth of the Rhine and the blue water flowing. This second curtain rises to show the scene, in what seems a sunk ship where the maidens and Alberich move. This is a beautiful setting and the best in the show. The gold illuminates the scene, but Alberich only takes a big part. Scene 2 shows the rocky big platform in Götterdämmerung, with the sight of the Walhalla in the digital set. The Nibelheim is a dark cave, and we can see in the top the gods entering or leaving. At the end we see the rainbow reaching the Walhalla and the Gods being lifted up in a platform in which is projected the image of golden stairs.
The orchestra is led by Zhu Man, an accomplished female conductor who did an interesting and dynamic version. Her quite well conducting has dramatism and power, despite the orchestra is still unexperienced and for example trumpets still need some help. She is a promise in her country and hers is possibly a career to follow.
Yu Jingren is a good Wotan, and improved his acting skills. Liu Yinran is an excellent Loge and seems more confortable here than in Siegfried. Wang Hong is a good Fricka and her voice is beautiful, as well as Wang Ye as Freia. Tian Hao is an accomplished Fasolt and Ye Chen is a nice Fafner, improved his singing. Niu Shasha is an enigmatic and well sing Erda. Ji Maomao is a comical and tormented Mime, and Zhao Yiluan and Yin Hai are good Donner and Froh respectively. Geng Zhe is an unforgettable Alberich, but not as we could imagine: he has a good voice for the nibelung, but shortly afterwards of his entrance, he forgot his texts and he hadn't found any other solution than inventing the words. A real torment through the first scene. The Rhinemaidens are good exactly as they were in Götterdämmerung.
Will China become the last bastion for traditional Wagner settings? It could be, regarding these productions; despite the last invited ones for Tristan and Meistersinger were from The Met and Royal Opera House, not traditional at all. All the credit to the Chinese productions for preserving a way of doing Wagner not easy to see in Europe. Art is diverse, and in the name of this diversity modern and traditional stagings for Wagner operas could live together in tolerance, because each production could tell us a different aspect of the works.
The Ring could end with the chorus watching televisions (Harry Kupfer, Bayreuth), the working class people gazing to the audience in uncertainty ( Patrice Chéreau, Bayreuth), or with a surviving Hagen watching devastated to the ring burning into an oil barrel while the Rhinemaidens sit close to the Kebab food stalls regented by the Gibichs (Frank Castorf, Bayreuth) and move intensely the audience. But the Walhalla burning while the Rhine floods everything is a classical image in opera history, and shouldn't be forgotten at all due to its inmense beauty.
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