The Ring of the Nibelung (DVD)
Salzburg Marionette Theatre Belvedere BVE 10138 109 mins Notwithstanding the centuries of tradition behind puppet opera, staging the Ring is a tall order. This condensing of the work’s 16 hours into two, shows that even puppet opera is not immune to the ravages of Regieoper. A highly interpretative commentary is delivered with energy and imagination by a male and a female actor; but underlying the whole production is an overtly didactic approach in which, amongst much else, the gods arrive at Valhalla in a Cadillac and the Ride of the Valkyries is staged as a disco dance.
Occasionally the combination of actors and puppets works well, particularly when the former arrive on stage as the giants Fasolt and Fafner looking all too convincing against the size of the puppet gods, but far too often the fatal disjunction between the sheer scale of Wagner’s score and the miniature staging jars. There is also a modernistic gloss that seems to indicate a production that is fundamentally uneasy with the work itself. There is some pertinent updating, but so often the observations are banal: Alberich’s pursuit of the Rhine Maidens becomes for the woman narrator ‘sexual harassment’ and for the man ‘mobbing’. Elsewhere the modernising is simply irritating: Siegmund arrives dressed as a cowboy on a motorbike and there is a deal of concerned ‘tut-tutting’ over the chauvinistic politics of Götterdämmerung. While the reduction to an evening’s entertainment understandably requires concision, far too often the narrative intervention is spoken over the music, turning Wagner’s score into melodrama. Perhaps most telling is that, in the end, the biggest thrills come from the music distilled from Georg Solti’s pioneering Decca recording, replete with some of the finest Wagnerian voices of the day. Too sophisticated for children and rather laboured for adults, whoever its intended audience there is precious little magic in this overearnest realisation. Jan Smaczny PERFORMANCE ★★ PICTURE & SOUND ★★★