Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin: “Rein Gold”

Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin – Season 2014/2015
Musiktheater by Nicolas Stemann
With texts by Elfriede Jelinek and music by Richard Wagner
Musicians THOMAS KÜRSTNER/SEBASTIAN VOGEL (electronics/synthesizer)
Staatskapelle Berlin
Conductor Markus Poschner
Production Nicolas Stemann
Stage Katrin Nottrodt
Costumes Marysol del Castillo
Light Olaf Freese
Video Claudia Lehmann
Composition for electronics and modular synthesizer Thomas Kürstner / Sebastian Vogel
Composition David Robert Coleman
Berlin, Staatsoper im Schillertheater, 21st October 2014

It takes a while until you get used to the childish and reproachful “Papa” (daddy) and the text style as such. „Well: daddy had his castle constructed and now he cannot pay off his loan. A situation like in every other family.“ That is the starting point of nearly three hours of criticism on today’s capitalism without an interval. Rein Gold is actually a dramatic essay by Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004. Originally the Bayrische Staatsoper München had asked her for a contribution to the programme booklet of a new production of Richard Wagner’s opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. The result was a continuous text of nearly 200 pages read out first at the Prinzregententheater in Munich in July 2012, which took almost seven hours. The essay was published in 2013 and finally staged as an opera by producer Nicolas Stemann at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin in March 2014. The title is a play on words and refers to Rheingold, the first opera of Wagner’s Ring cycle. Ms Jelinek drops the letter “h” in the name of the river turning the meaning into Pure gold. Inspired by the qualified pianist’s passionate relationship to Wagner’s music she added a drama to an existing one not for the first time. Apart from Wagner she was also influenced by Karl Marx’ and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto and Marx’ Das Kapital. But what is left of the revolution people once expected so much of at Wagner’s and Marx’ time? Revolution is replaced by nihilism: “We will be dead but the money will live.” A lot of Jelinek’s text is corny jokes, plays on words, a constant repetition of today’s monetary crisis in a globalised and highly engineered world. It is just bringing up-to-date whatever Wagner, Marx, Engels etc. had already realised at their time. At the beginning there are five empty chairs on the stage. Two actors and an actress appear, sit down, and start to explain Wagner’s Ring world that is after all our present world. As this is still too little, the musicians of the Staatskapelle Berlin take to their orchestra chairs in the semi-dark background. They start to play on a platform that is noiselessly rolled forward and back in the run of the evening. Conductor Markus Poschner creates a great Wagner sound based on the orchestra’s thorough knowledge of the Ring score. It is the great music that keeps things going. Sometimes it is slightly modernized by modern electronics and a synthesizer to distort it or the Descent to Nibelheim with the anvils is turned into a percussion gig. Two of the five chairs are left for Wotan and Brünnhilde, father and daughter in Jelinek’s somehow one-dimensional approach to their relationship. A considerable part of her texts read out by the actors are like a dialogue between the two accompanied by significant passages from the score. Jürgen Linn is an experienced Wotan and his profound Heldenbariton impresses right from the beginning when he sings the phrase Auf Berges Gipfel die Götterburg twice probably reflecting the numerous text iterations by the actors. The song No more heroes by The Stranglers does not seem to be his cup of tea, perhaps only due to the fact that he has to sing it from the back of the stage on a high platform behind the orchestra. Like in the Ring cycle Wotan’s monologue from the 2nd act of Die Walküre though partly sung, takes a central position and the climax full of foreboding Nur Eines will ich noch: das Ende, das Ende! is separated and heard almost at the end leading to one of the producer’s best ideas: Wotan’s farewell and magic fire music alternating with Brünnhilde’s Immolation scene in the finale. Rebecca Teem is by both appearance and vocally an ideal Brünnhilde who is to sing the best of the part: Der diese Liebe mir ins Herz gehaucht, Ewig war ich, the final duet from Siegfried with non-hero Philipp Hauß who as an actor, tries to deliver the notes; Teem crowns it with a brilliant C that she even repeats. It is a pity she sings (Sieglinde’s) hehrstes Wunder in a transposed way. Another three singers contribute to the musical part of the show: Narine Yeghiyan, Katharina Kammerloher and Marina Prudenskaya lend their beautiful and wonderfully contrasting voices to the Rheintöchter Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde in golden glittering cocktail dresses (costumes by Marysol del Castillo). Another example of an actress to become a singer is Katharina Lorenz who falls short of the interpretation of a song by pianist David Robert Coleman. Apart from the rolling orchestra platform there is another splendid idea on Katrin Nottrodt’s stage lit by Olaf Freese: Daddy Wotan’s castle Walhall is in fact the historical building of the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden that has been under construction for many years and appears like that with scaffolding, covered chandeliers, a concrete-mixer etc. When a pink panther shows up at last to wrap up corpses dropped from the stage ceiling before, Wotan drives a caravan in to be set on fire (a poor association with the end of Götterdämmerung), the three actors are cycling round the stage to pick up pieces of cardboard with slogans written on them, the orchestra stops to play, and the rest of the music comes from an old-fashioned tape-recorder switched on by a girl, some audience were bewildered and when an English-speaking gentleman left the theatre with the words “What a nonsense was that?”, I replied “You see: Wagner’s music can never be killed.” To put it in Jelinek’s way: “We will be dead, but his music will live”.