Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Der Traumgörge – Staatsoper Hannover – 16 April 2016

Robert Künzli as Görge. Photos: Jörg Landsberg

Görge – Robert Künzli
Gertraud – Kelly God
Grete – Solen Mainguené
Hans – Christopher Tonkin
Princess – Dorothea Maria Marx
Kaspar – Stefan Adam
Mathes – Tobias Schabel
Züngl – Latchezar Pravtchev
Marei – Carmen Fuggiss
Innkeeper – Edward Mout
Innkeeper’s wife – Corinna Jeske

Chorus & Statisterie of Staatsoper Hannover
Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester Hannover

Conductor – Mark Rohde
Director – Johannes von Matuschka
Designer – David Hohmann
Costumes – Amit Epstein
Lighting – Elana Siberski

Zemlinskys third opera Der Traumgörge (Görge the Dreamer) is one of his least-known works. The composer completed the score of his first act, loosely modelled on Heine’s Der arme Peter, before his librettist Leo Feld and he had even decided how the story was going to continue. Once the whole work had been completed and sent to the printers, Feld made repeated revisions to his libretto – probably at the insistence of Mahler, who had agreed to conduct the premiere at Vienna’s Hofoper – forcing rewrites from the composer and the poor publisher to reprint great chunks of Act II. No sooner had the opera gone into rehearsal in the summer of 1907 than Mahler resigned his Vienna position, and his successor, Felix Weingartner, promptly dropped the work weeks before its scheduled premiere, not wishing to take the flak for a work associated with the previous regime that he predicted was going to be a failure. And there Traumgörge sat for some 70 years, unperformed, while the stoical Zemlinsky moved on to new things in the 34 years that remained to him. The opera finally reached the stage, in Nuremberg, in 1980.

Dorothea Maria Max (Princess) and
Robert Künzli (Görge)
Composed in 1904-6, immediately after Der Seejungfrau, it shares that work’s Schoenbergian, late-Romantic volatility and post-Wagnerian chromaticism. Indeed, there is so much of the world of Gurrelieder – at that time incomplete – in its melodies, harmonies and orchestration, that it gives credence to the theory that Schoenberg sourced his early musical language from Zemlinsky – his teacher and brother-in-law – rather than the other way round. It was Zemlinsky who took Schoenberg to the portal of atonality and left him there to go through, while backing away himself. This process on Zemlinsky’s part more-or-less happens in Der Traumgörge itself. The music of the two acts is different in character, to suggest the competing worlds of fantasy and reality that drive the plot. Act I is Zemlinsky at his lushest, as he sets up the dream-world in which his protagonist, Görge, lives; Act II is harder edged, more angular, to evoke the harsher, real world – indeed, the contrast is very similar to the stylistic divide between Parts 1 and 3 of Gurrelieder, the result of that work’s composer’s own advance over the ten years or so of its composition and orchestration. Zemlinsky’s Epilogue, originally conceived as an Act III, brings the two musical worlds back together again.

Staatsoper Hannover’s new staging, only about the fifth in the opera’s history, is a musical and dramatic triumph. From the first sounds that emerged from the pit it was evident that conductor Mark Rohde and the Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester Hannover had fully absorbed the idiom. Textures were beautifully balanced and Zemlinsky’s leitmotivic play of themes allowed to evolve in their own, ear-catching way. The role of Görge is a demanding one, both in terms of range and length, but Hannover’s resident Heldentenor, Robert Künzli, was tireless and made light work of it, and his acting of the dreamer was convincing and sympathetic. Kelly God’s Gertraud had a wonderfully full sound to her voice, both Solen Mainguené’s Grete and Dorothea Maria Marx’s Princess provided ample timbral contrast and Christopher Tonkin’s suavely sung, full-of-himself Hans stole every scene he was in. There was barely a weakness among the smaller roles and the Staatsoper Chorus sang with appropriate fire in the dramatic crowd scenes.

Johannes von Matuschka, a young German theatre director making his operatic debut, plays with the plot’s idea of dreams – this is after all a work composed in the Vienna of Freud – and sets the whole of Act I as a work of Görge’s somnolent imagination. Görge himself is a bookworm, with an unhealthy fixation on fairy stories, and their characters haunt his mind and rule his actions, despite the pressure from Grete, whom his father has insisted he marry, and the taunts from his rival Hans, whose show of manliness is perhaps one detail that von Matuschka takes a little too far in his attempt to show up his contrast with the dreamer. Left alone, Görge conjures up an image of his ideal princess, who appears to him in his dream, and the act ends with him proclaiming his motto, ‘fairytales must come alive’, as he runs from his impending marriage. Von Matuschka peoples the stage with fantasy figures, and emphasises the Freudian undercurrents with Gorge’s apparent confusion of his ideal wife and his mother. A constant in David Hohmann’s designs is a bed: Görge’s home and comfort, to which he retreats from the harshness of reality. Meanwhile, the set itself is composed of walls made of gauze that underline the real/surreal worlds that the characters inhabit, allowing for mysterious comings and goings and, at the end of the first act, a magical effect as the whole room encompassing the princess floats up into the fly tower.

The fiery end to Act II, with Gertraud (Kelly God),
Görge (Robert Künzli) and chorus
Act II is based on a different fairytale, Vom unsichtbaren Königreiche (From Unseen Kingdoms) by Richard von Volkmann-Leander, and was conceived at a time when Zemlinsky personally felt the growing anti-Jewish feeling in Vienna (Mahler’s departure from the Hofoper was but one result). It reveals Görge as an outcast in a different village, where he is singled out for his difference. Also suffering the bigotry of the religiously hardline community in which he has found himself is Gertraud, a woman whom the people condemn as a witch and in whom Görge finds a kindred spirit. In her he thinks he has at last found his princess, and they escape the flame-wielding populace. Von Matuschka makes no bones about the violence that the religious use to inflict their conformity on these misfits, while downplaying the political dimension that is there in the libretto, where the populace are fomenting revolution against their repressive landowners. The act’s climax, where Whitsun fire threatens to consume all and sundry, is impressively staged.

In the Epilogue, back in Görge’s home village, Grete and Hans are a bickering married couple and, in von Matuschka’s reading, our hero, now supposedly married to Gertraud, is seen to have dreamt the whole episode and he dies – or falls asleep again – heartbroken. Here, the gauze cube of Hohmann’s set design comes into its own as it descends again to enclose everyone but Görge in the world of his dreams. From the libretto alone, it’s possible to read the ending as either tragic or blissful, with its repeated ‘Let us dream and play’, but Zemlinsky’s music makes it clear – and this production rightly picks up on it – that happiness does not come from dreams alone.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Der König Kandaules - Flanders Opera, Gent - 13 April 2016

König Kandaules – Dmitry Golovnin
Nyssia – Elisabet Strid
Gyges – Gidon Saks
Phedros – Vincenzo Neri
Syphax/Sebas – Michael J. Scott
Philebos/Cook – Tijl Faveyts
Nicomedes – Toby Girling
Pharnaces – Leonard Bernad
Simias – William Helliwell
Archelaos – Thierry Vallier
Trydo – Daniela van Lohuizen-Bernoulli

Flanders Opera Symphony Orchestra

Conductor – Dmitry Jurowski
Director/Designer – Andrij Zholdak
Co-designer/Lighting/Video – A.J. Weissbard
Costumes – Tuomas Lampinen

The story behind Zemlinsky’s last opera is almost as unusual as the plot of the work itself. The composer had been working on a drama based on André Gide’s Le roi Candaules through the mid-1930s when he was forced into exile by the Nazi annexation of his Austrian homeland. Settling in New York and with two thirds of the first act orchestrated and the rest drafted in short score, he tried to interest the Metropolitan Opera in staging it, but the inclusion in the libretto of a nude scene was enough to bar its progress. And there it was left. Zemlinsky himself died in 1942 and the manuscript was carefully guarded by his widow. But in the late 1980s, Zemlinsky expert and conductor Antony Beaumont, persuaded her to let him look at it. With so much detail annotated in the short score it proved to be little more than requiring orchestration, which he duly did, to a commission from Hamburg State Opera, where it was premiered in 1996. Since then, it has slowly seeped into the repertoire of some of the more adventurous houses – it was seen at the Salzburg Festival a few years ago and this season has had two new productions, in Augsburg and Antwerp/Gent, and there’s a revival of Palermo’s production in Seville in June.

This latest one from Flanders Opera, though, does the work a serious mis-service. The engagement of a Ukrainian director, Andrij Zholdak, who has apparently made his name through unconventional reinterpretations of the classics should have been warning enough. What a newly introduced work such as Kandaules needs is sympathetic advocacy, not wilful distortion. This was less a case of casting light on aspects of the drama as throwing every cliché of Regietheater at it such to give the ‘anti-modernists’ fuel for their argument. Not only was the plot almost completely rewritten and distorted, with cuts to the music and text to suit the director’s ego, but it was subjected to so many superimpositions and layers of visual distraction that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Zemlinsky’s plot is itself full of ambiguities, but in short, a king who wants to share his good fortune – his wealth and his beautiful wife – is betrayed by those who benefit from his largesse. The psychologies involved are complex and motivation often unclear, and a reading of the libretto only really makes sense in tandem with the music, which is a masterpiece of suggestion and allusion. As the fisherman Gyges says at the start of the spoken prologue: ‘He who has good luck should conceal himself well! Better still, conceal his luck from others.’ Except that in this production he doesn’t – the whole text of this introductory monologue is omitted. Instead, we are presented with the king, his wife Nyssia and two boys, the latter (uncredited in the programme, though they play a leading role throughout the evening) not in the original, enjoying a family meal.

Those of us unversed in Dutch may not have been able to understand the explanations in the programme at the time, but with the help of Google Translate, I now read that the overall concept is an attempt to portray the hidden subtexts of the characters’ words and emotions through the interaction of the real and subconscious worlds, in what Zholdak terms ‘magic realism’. The two children, who interact with the king and queen as if they are their own children, represent Kandaules and Gyges at a time when they were on an equal footing, differentiated neither by wealth nor happiness. So far, so confusing to the uninitiated. But with a vertical set divided into six or so ‘rooms’, Zholdak doesn’t stop there. Instead he has two or three pieces of action happening at any one time, some of which are crass, others predictable, but none of them enlightening: servants are abused, as if to indicate the court’s degenerate nature, there’s a quite inexplicable appearance of two of the rats from Hans Neuenfels’s iconic Bayreuth Lohengrin, and some superfluous business with some giant fish costumes. Through all this, the two boys – mostly in male but sometimes in female attire – run riot, silent apart from some occasional bloodcurdling screams. We are used these days to multi-layered presentation of opera, allowing for parallel presentation of reality and imagination, but this was all taking things beyond the ridiculous. And this is quite apart from the gross liberties Zholdak takes with the story: he has Gyges kill his wife, Trydo, a while before he does so in the libretto, where his motivation is the revelation of her infidelity – here it seems to be to get her out of the way of his pursuit of Nyssia, the queen. Much of the original plot revolves around that fact that Nyssia is kept veiled from prying eyes, and that a magic ring found in the fish that Gyges has provided for the king’s feast allows its wearer to go around unseen, and thus Gyges tricks Nyssia into believing she is making love with her husband. Needless to say, there is no veil, the ring’s powers seem irrelevant and interaction between the three main characters is reduced to a stormy and steamy menage-a-trois with a higher than prescribed body count by the closing bars.

Fortunately, the musical rewards were far greater. Russian tenor Dmitry Golovnin gave a vocally focused account of the king, and Elisabet Strid’s Nyssia grew in tonal opulence as the evening progressed. Gidon Saks’s Gyges may have had only one dynamic level – forceful – but there was no denying his total engagement with the music. The collection of sycophantic courtiers gave admirable, well differentiated performances and the non-singing roles of the two boys, Trydo and servants deserved applause for their fortitude in following the director’s demands. In the pit, Dmitri Jurowski coaxed Zemlinsky’s powerful, iridescent score into potent life, and although the orchestra had a few moments of insecurity, its playing gradually firmed up, treating us to an overwhelmingly powerful account of the prelude to Act III.
I’m not convinced a repeat viewing would make any more sense of Zholdak’s impositions, and Jurowski should have made a better case for not tampering with the music and libretto – the loss of its spoken passages was especially unfortunate. And it would have been nice to say that the dazzling virtuosity of Zemlinsky’s music-dramatic vision shone through rather than that it was in fact severely compromised – it surely deserves much, much better than this.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Tannhäuser – Antwerp Opera House – 14 October 2015

Venus (Ausrine Stundyte) and Tannhäuser (Burkhard Fritz). Photos: Annemie Augustijns
Review from the March 2016 issue of The Wagner Journal

Tannhäuser – Burkhard Fritz
Elisabeth – Annette Dasch
Venus – Ausrine Stundyte
Wolfram von Eschinbach – Daniel Schmutzhard
Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia – Ante Jerkunica
Walther von der Vogelweide – Adam Smith
Biterolf – Leonard Bernad
Heinrich der Schreiber – Stephan Adriaens
Reinmar von Zweter – Patrick Cromheeke
Young Shepherd – Merel de Coorde

Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of Opera Vlaanderen

Conductor – Dmitri Jurowski
Director – Calixto Bieito
Designer – Rebecca Ringst
Costumes – Ingo Krügler

Lighting – Michael Bauer

Act II in the Wartburg

As one might have expected from director Calixto Bieito, his concept of Tannhäuser offers a mixture of insight and bafflement, revelation and frustration. In an interview in the programme he recalls that it was the first opera he ever saw on stage, in Barcelona at the age of 15, and it made an abiding impression, which begs the question of why it has taken him so long to stage it for the first time. This Flanders Opera presentation is his third Wagner production, following stagings of Holländer and Parsifal in Stuttgart, and from what I have seen of those in brief video snippets and pictures there’s a shared vision of an apocalyptic milieu with this Tannhäuser. If that teenage experience inspired him and his younger brother to play at being medieval knights, there’s unsurprisingly none of that in the adult Bieito’s concept. And less than a contest between sexual and spiritual love, or between hedonism and socio-religious conformity, he treats the drama as a battle between the natural world and a stultifying civilisation, with Venus the representative of the former, Elisabeth of the latter. But it’s not quite as simple as that. The mise-en-scène for the Venusberg is a forest, with choreographed, upside-down trees suspended from visible stage machinery ‘performing’ the Bacchanal (Act I is given in the Paris version, Acts II and III in the Dresden), and through which Venus runs backwards and forwards like a wild child of nature. The setting is at once threatening and enticing, as is she. By contrast, the Wartburg of Act II is a sterile construction of glossy white pillars, with a dinner-suited populace among which Elisabeth obviously feels alienated: she is at the mercy of her uncle, the Landgrave, and we first see her dressed identically to Venus and writhing on the ground in self-pleasure, a nod perhaps to the idea of a battle of the sexes with earthy, free-spirited womanhood rebelling against rule-bound, controlling masculinity. This idea has certainly already been suggested in Act I, where Tannhäuser escapes Venus’s clutches only to fall in with his one-time compatriots and is subjected to a fraternity-like blooding as his fellow singers exert their macho propensities as a way of luring him back into their circle. By Act III, the two worlds have collided and merged: the trees of the Venusberg have overrun the pristine whiteness of the Wartburg, nature has reclaimed the space occupied by order and, as the final tableau suggests, Venus as the symbol of the natural world is triumphant. It shows that the opera can encompass different readings as wide as exact opposites: here the triumph of chaos over order, in other productions that of civilisation over the excesses of transgression.

Amid this broad scenario, Bieito explores the relationships between the characters with visceral physicality – relationships that all seem to be one-way and unfulfilled. (Apart from plenty of groping, unusually for Bieito the nudity is confined to the printed programme – a reproduction of Gustave Courbet’s L’origine du monde provocatively greets one on opening the cover.) As Tannhäuser attempts to pull himself away from the lure of Venus, she uses every ruse, verbal and physical, to try and claw him back. At the Wartburg, we seem to be witnessing a kind of love triangle, with Wolfram after Elisabeth, who only has eyes for Tannhäuser, who in turn seems to have a thing for Wolfram. Tannhäuser himself is portrayed as a rebel, likened by Bieito to Brecht’s Baal. He eschews the formal attire of the Wartburg until he is forced to change for the song contest, and he has the kind of personality that enjoys winding people up with outrageous talk, his ever more scandalous responses to his fellow minstrels’ tame descriptions of love being the epitome – and, of course, his undoing. It might be fair to talk of Wagner pre-empting Freud in his psychological insight of character, but to invoke the name of Schopenhauer, as Bieito does in the programme interview, is to credit the composer with too much foresight – he didn’t encounter the philosopher’s work until nearly a decade after Tannhäuser’s initial completion, and it would be reading too much into the Paris revisions to suggest they were informed by it.

Pushed into the background more than usual – literally so in the sense that the pilgrims’ voices are always offstage – is religion. It’s as if Bieito sees the plot’s premise of Tannhäuser seeking redemption in Rome for his supposed misdemeanour as so ridiculous, even as presented through the prism of Wagner’s very 19th-century view of medieval faith, that it can safely be ignored. ‘It is about something other than religion’, he states. In a sense his is a reading of the medieval legend of the troubadour Tannhäuser, before Wagner added the counterweight of the whole song-contest and Wartburg paraphernalia, and in which our ‘hero’ chooses eternal damnation and Venus once his salvation is seemingly rejected by the Pope. It also fits his rejection of Baudelaire’s celebrated summing up of the plot as the struggle between flesh and the spirit, which he labels ‘pretty simplistic’. ‘Simplistic’ is something this production is certainly not. There are levels of interpretation that only become apparent some time after the final curtain has descended, and there are small touches everywhere too numerous to take in at a single viewing. In other words, it’s a concept that intrigues, even beguiles, but most importantly forces its audience to think. If it is not entirely successful in every respect it is perhaps more down to individual aspects of presentation than the thinking as a whole: there are still some details floating around in the memory that fail to make sense.

Wolfram (Daniel Schmutzhard) and
Elisabeth (Annette Dasch)
Bieito asks a lot of his singers, and despite a double-cast Tannhäuser and Elisabeth during this ten-performance run, there was never anything short of total commitment from all involved. At this penultimate performance, Burkhard Fritz may not have been the most heroic-sounding of Wagnerian tenors, but there was subtlety and lyricism in his shaping of line and projection of the text (the intimacy of Antwerp’s opera house is generous in this respect). Ausrine Stundyte’s Venus proved a rich characterisation, employing the vocal reach of a Kundry (a role that she has also sung to great acclaim) to seduce, cajole and ultimately entrap. Annette Dasch’s Elisabeth was less satisfactory – vocally somewhat monochrome and with her control sometimes lost to the permanent distraughtness of the depiction. Daniel Schmutzhard’s Wolfram, too, seemed to exist in a perpetual state of angst, which occasionally disrupted what was largely a detailed, suitably Lieder-esque delineation of the role. The Opera Flanders Symphony Orchestra made a ravishing sound under the direction of Dmitri Jurowski, though his overall tempi were perhaps just a little too on the stately side – it certainly made for a long evening with such a late start time as 7.30pm.

Das Rheingold – Jahrhunderthalle, Bochum (Ruhrtriennale) – 12 September 2015

Alberich (Leigh Melrose) steals the gold from the Rhinemaidens. Photo: Michael Kneffel
Review from the March 2016 issue of The Wagner Journal

Wotan Mika Kares
Alberich Leigh Melrose
Loge Peter Bronder
Mime Elmar Gilbertsson
Fricka Maria Riccarda Wesseling
Fasolt Frank van Hove
Fafner Peter Lobert
Freia Agneta Eichenholz
Erda Jane Henschel
Donner Andrew Foster-Williams
Froh Rolf Romei
Woglinde Anna Patalong
Wellgunde Dorottya Láng
Floßhilde Jurgita Adamonytė
Sintolt the Hegeling, Servant Stefan Hunstein


Conductor Teodor Currentzis
Director Johan Simons
Designer – Bettina Pommer
Costumes Teresa Vergho
Lighting Wolfgang Göbbel
Electronic music Mika Vainio
Sound design Will-Jan Pielage

Nibelheim (l to r): Loge (Peter Bronder), Alberich (Leigh Melrose), Mime (Elmar Gilbertsson), Wotan (Mika Kares)
For his first major production as artistic director of the Ruhr Triennale for 2015–17, Dutchman Johan Simons staged Das Rheingold in a former gas turbine hall, a building originally used to provide the heat for the neighbouring steel works’ blast furnaces. A site of exploitation of both natural resources and manpower: the perfect venue for a critique of capitalism. As Simons remarks in the programme, ‘In Das Rheingold Wagner told the history of the Ruhr. A story of industrialisation that destroys nature, of labour and exploitation and finally the fall of the powerful.’ The director’s aim was to return Wagner’s drama to the crucible of revolutionary ideas from which it was born in the late 1840s, and, taking advantage of a festival situation where experimentation is expected, he did more than simply stage Das Rheingold as it stands. In collaboration with Finnish Techno specialist Mika Vainio, he audaciously ‘broke open’ the uninterrupted 150-minute span of Wagner’s score with a handful of interpolations of newly composed electronic music. At least the originally billed four hours had been reduced to under three by the time the production came to fruition.

At one level this intervention was highly effective: as soon as one enters the turbine hall in advance of the performance one is surrounded by the deep throbbing of E flat major harmony, from which the first written notes of the music eventually emerge. It is a neat way of expressing the primeval, always-been-there nature of the opening chord, the matter from which Wagner’s Rhine and whole musical world is conjured and which has by then had time to seep into one’s very being. The first hiatus in which an electronic roar intervenes at the moment of Alberich’s curse is somewhat more crass, but the longest and most significant ‘break-out’ from Wagner’s score comes during the descent to Nibelheim, where the hammering of the anvils is taken to enormous lengths and extremes such that it feels as if the whole edifice in which we are sitting is being hammered into submission. Meanwhile, over the top of this tumult, the gods’ ever-present servant Sintolt the Hegeling – an extra character in Simons’ staging named after one of the silent heroes brought to Valhalla during the Ride of the Valkyries – finds a voice at last and launches into a sustained, yelled denunciation of capitalism: the worker revolts. Patrice Chéreau’s comparable exposé of the work’s political theme in his famous 1976 Bayreuth staging was demure by contrast. And there, perhaps, stands the crux of this one-off production: overall, and perhaps in keeping with the industrial architecture that surrounds it, it is raw, aggressive and unsubtle.

Treating Das Rheingold as a stand-alone music drama is a not unreasonable project: it is self-contained enough in that it has a beginning, a middle and an end and the loose ends that remain can be tied if, as here, it is taken as a parable on the evils of money. Indeed, I have rarely seen as downbeat or pessimistic an ending as in Simons’ vision: the Valhalla that the gods have bought from the giants’ handiwork proves to be nothing more than a façade and the over-stuffed dynasty is left to shuffle off in despair, while Alberich and Mime huddle together for comfort in a stagnant pool with the Rhinemaidens brooding over them and Fafner desperately clings on to the lump of gold over which he has killed his brother. This bleakness and its visual power, when set against the surging D flat of the closing music’s false pomp, make up for some of the rather predictable gaucheness elsewhere: Freia the goddess of love portrayed as a dominatrix, teasing the servant with her whip; Alberich mounting sex-doll alter-egos of the Rhinemaidens; Fricka going berserk when she can’t break down Valhalla’s door. But there are aspects, too, that are more perceptive, such as Erda’s presence from the start, grimly viewing the rape of her natural domain; or Wotan and Loge disguising themselves as miners to secrete themselves into Nibelheim (the Tarnhelm, appropriately, is a miner’s helmet). What is missing, though, is the sense of myth that Wagner himself stated was the way by which an audience could take in his political messages. So no ‘magical’ elements: no toad, no Riesenwurm, not even a rainbow bridge.

The staging is divided between a towering Valhalla façade behind the orchestra and, in the foreground, a trio of shallow pools among the crumbling remains of a plaster ceiling, complete with upside-down chandelier, to represent the cyclic nature of civilisation’s rise and fall, of building anew on the ruins of the old. This layout necessitates quite a bit of traffic flow of singers between the desks of long-suffering instrumentalists, who seem in danger of having their music stands kicked over at any moment. It nonetheless gives a central, visual focus on the orchestra itself and its ranks of brass, line-up of requisite six harps and forge-full of anvils is undoubtedly an impressive sight – we thus see the players as workers, too, just like the Nibelungs, if under a less fearsome overlord than Alberich in Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis. As a rather audacious counterpoint to all this infidelity to Wagner’s original score in formal terms, the orchestra plays on period instruments, with Currentzis’s Perm-based orchestra MusicAeterna imported specially for the festival run. The sound produced was far from the lean, ascetic one that often goes with HIP territory and string tone was full and generous, the woodwind characterful in the best sense and the brass penetrating yet rounded. Despite the deliberate interruptions, Currentzis’s conducting was broad-spanned yet allowed plenty of detail to emerge. And he wasn’t above a bit of showmanship, getting his string players to stand for the most climactic moments, such as Nibelheim’s hammering rhythm, and he had the whole orchestra on its feet for the closing bars.

Given the size of the acting area, the volume of the venue per se and the presence of the additional electronic music, it was perhaps understandable that the singers had to be miked-up. But, at least from where I was sitting, there was no dislocation between sight and sound and what amplification there was proved unobtrusive and the balance natural. And whatever doubts one might have had over the effectiveness of the staging and concept, there were no such misgivings when it came to the singers. Mika Kares’s Wotan had plenty of colour in his voice and despite the driven nature of his characterisation never resorted to bluster. As his nemesis, Leigh Melrose’s Alberich was a character possessed and, while his singing sometimes veered towards Sprechgesang in its expressive veracity, his vocal accomplishment and acting were compelling. Peter Bronder’s experienced Loge was put to good use as the one figure who manages to rise above the general greed and immorality. Maria Riccarda Wesseling’s Fricka, though a little over-acted in places, was vocally warm and sincere and there was a real treat in Jane Henschel’s sonorous Erda. There were no weaknesses among the rest of the cast, among whom must be commended actor Stefan Hunstein’s meticulously performed Sintolt ‘the Marxist’, the anger and force of whose outburst sum up the mixture of admiration and frustration that are the abiding impressions of this Wagnerian experiment.