Bass-baritone Martin Winkler gave his debut as Alberich in 2013 at the Bayreuth Festival. He had praise for both the conductor and the stage director, whose ideas, he says, echo the reality generated by modern media.
DW: After the premiere of "Rheingold," the audience was in a great mood because it had so much humor. Was it entertaining for you to work on?
Martin Winkler: It's thoroughly humorous. After all, the director, Frank Castorf, is a funny person. And since he knows no taboos and dislikes pathos, the singers were given a lot of independence during rehearsals and, as a result, definitely had a lot of fun.
Is Castorf also someone who tells his performers in minute detail what he would like them to do?
Castorf would say, 'Just do it!' and then the singers improvised relatively freely. His performers had, in general, a lot of wiggle room.
And how was the collaboration with Kirill Petrenko, the conductor?
He was amazingly well prepared. Plus, he seems pretty much obsessed with achieving a performance true to the original. So the singers worked extensively with him in rehearsals. I haven't experienced such an intensive work process as far back as I can remember.
You're singing the role of Alberich. He's the villain in the "Ring." But in Castorf's production, it's not really clear who embodies evil. Ultimately, you're all a little bit wicked.
It's a little like the TV series "The Sopranos," quite film-like and ambiguous as to who's good and who's evil. Everyone lays claim to part of the Rhine gold, and in the end, everyone is pursuing world dominance. That all seems pretty human. Alberich comes across as even the most moral and honest character in the "Ring" because he openly and directly shares his intentions and desires, without assuming a politician's persona. If he can't get love, he wants money. Intentions and behavior match up. He doesn't make any compromises. That ultimately ruins him.
Why, for example, does "Rheingold" have such a trashy stage design - why Route 66 during the 60s?
The stage design could definitely be even more out there if you ask me. The great, classical interpretations of the "Ring" are outdated. Castorf doesn't want to fulfill conventional viewer expectations, but, instead, delivers individual interpretations rich in contrast.
The live video sequences let people in on what viewers normally don't see: close-ups of the soloists or parallel scenes. What are all of these multiple layers saying?
Everything is in flux: the sets are in motion and change constantly. Castorf doesn't like things to be fixed. Nothing in terms of resolution is offered to the viewer; it's a miriad of images instead. In the era of modern media, reality and the virtual world are ultimately mixed, and clarity no longer exists. Contradictions and paradoxes are part and parcel of that. Castorf presents them as equals on stage.
This complexity is also part of Wagner's music. What's the role of Alberich like in musical terms?
It has a plethora of musical motifs and very progressive harmonies for that age. Wagner was ahead of his time. Learning the score was very demanding: the expressiveness of this role is really fantastic.
Austrian bass-baritone Martin Winkler debuted in Bayreuth in 2013 in the role of Alberich. After a stint at the Komische Oper Berlin in 2003, he has had numerous guest and festival engagements. Since 2009, he has been been part of the Vienna Volksoper ensemble.
Interview: Rick Fulker / gsw