The first "Ring" cycle concluded Monday to mixed reviews and a polarized audience. Most agree, however, that conductor Christian Thielemann and the singers saved the underdeveloped production.
Human and divine worlds parallel in Tankred Dorst's myth-based rendition of "The Ring"
"Completed in Wahnfried on Nov. 21, 1874. I have nothing else to say!!" wrote Richard Wagner on the last page of the score for Twilight of the Gods.
The composer may not have anything else to say, but critics and Wagnerians have plenty to get off their chests, even 130 years after the first Bayreuth Festival and premier of the "Ring" cycle.
Opinions were sharply divided when the first complete performance of the cycle came to a close Monday evening and both "boo" and "bravo" were heard on the Green Hill.
"By now, one has to wonder if (director Tankred Dorst) ever managed to develop an interpretation of 'The Ring' or if his inspiration on Wagner was exhausted after just a few decorative thoughts," wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Two years is too fast for four operas
Gerhard Siegel as the "Mime" in what Dorst conceived as Siegfried's physics classroom
Eighty-year old dramatist Tankred Dorst agreed to create a new production of Wagner's marathon masterpiece just two years ago, which left little time for polishing the rough edges and experimenting with new ideas.
The result lacked "dramaturgical conclusiveness" and "well thought out characterization," wrote one critic.
In an interview with AP after performances of only "Rhinegold" and "The Valkyrie," Dorst handed responsibility for the less-than-perfect character development to the singers.
"I encouraged the singers to personify their roles themselves," he said. "But not everyone has the talent for that."
However, the high quality of singing "generally contributed to the fact that this 'Siegfried' musically outweighed the disappointment of a hopeless production," continued the FAZ, referring to the third opera in the cycle.
Virginia-born tenor Stephen Gould struggled with nervousness at first, according to several sources, but pulled through with a generally convincing performance as Siegfried.
In contrast to Jürgen Flimm's last "Ring" production in 2000, Dorst decided against a brief-case carrying Siegfried and avoided heavy social or political messages. The problem was, according to critics, that he didn't manage to convey any convincing message.
Thielemann on fire in the pit
The unanimous favorite in Bayreuth this week was neither on the stage nor behind it. Conductor Christian Thielemann was under the stage, where he had extra ventilators installed to keep cool during one of Germany's hottest weeks ever.
Thielemann, a Berlin native, has been one of the most sought after opera conductors since the early 1990s and is a veteran of Bayreuth, having conducted "Tannhäuser," "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," "Parsifal" and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony there in previous years.
Behind his specially ordered fans, the 47-year-old conductor probably had the best seat in the house, as temperatures rose to over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Serious Wagnerians typically arrive at the festival in tuxedos and evening gowns -- not the most ideal attire for the sticky, narrow theater filled to the brim with some 2,000 spectators.
It's not surprising that many guests were seen rushing to the nearby Kneipp water therapy facility during the intermissions to cool their feet in the shallow baths. (Sebastian Kneipp was a 19th century Bavarian priest who used water to treat all kinds of ailments.)
Another chance awaits
Don't show up in shorts, even though it can get toasty in the 19th century theater
The summer heat will ease into fall and Tankred Dorst will have the opportunity to revise his "Ring" production before next year's re-run. That's the advantage behind the workshop-style festival, where new productions are typically performed over three to five seasons.
Dorst said he was only able to implement 70 to 80 percent of his original ideas in the final production, whether due to time constraints or conflict with the authoritative leadership. Having told AP that he doesn't want to do another new production, it remains to be seen how motivated he is to refine this one for a more convincing clash between the human and divine next summer.
"The Ring" will be performed in its entirety twice more during the 2006 Wagner Festival, which runs through Aug. 28.