It was to be the big, early present for Daniel Barenboim, who will be eighty in November: another new production of “Ring des Nibelungen”, staged within a week, as is actually only done in Bayreuth.
Barenboim's health is not good.
Even before the orchestra rehearsals it was clear that he would not be able to conduct the performances, so he asked Christian Thielemann to take over for him (Thomas Guggeis will conduct one of the three performance cycles).
It was only in June that Thielemann stepped in for the fallen Herbert Blomstedt with the Berlin Staatskapelle, which was his debut in front of the ensemble.
After the first two parts of the “Ring”, Thielemann was nominated the number one successor candidate for Daniel Barenboim by acclamation from the audience and those musicians from the Staatskapelle who were sitting in the orchestra pit.
The rejoicing for the Wagner specialist was tremendous on both evenings, and what could be heard from the deep ditch was actually unheard of.
Richard Wagner's music appears here as a gossamer fabric, sometimes only the trace of a scent can be sensed.
In the run-up to the premieres, the conductor pointed out how many similarities he recognized in Wagner's music to that of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who Wagner vilified as a Jew.
You really have to play Wagner like Mendelssohn, Thielemann demanded: light, clear, with a basic sense of cheerfulness.
The "Ring" as Wotan's great test arrangement
It can now be heard here with all the positive effects for the singers: every word is understandable, large parts of "Rheingold" and "Walküre" flow in an effortless parlando.
One thinks one is sitting in a play that is carried by a stream of sound that actually wants to make itself forgotten.
This is probably how Wagner intended his “invisible orchestra”.
Individual musical events protrude from it like pillars, to which Thielemann, with a sure sense of disposition, lends a characteristic feel: In "Rheingold", for example, the appearance of the two giants, accompanied by the broad rolling rattle of the deep brass.
This can hardly be surpassed in terms of drasticity and yet remains within the strict aesthetic framework of this performance.
Wotan's anger at Brünnhilde also comes to the fore in the third act of the Valkyrie, while his farewell is stretched out into a deeply introverted piece.
It is such markings that make it easy for the listener to get an organized overview of the disconcertingly vast work.
Thielemann's conducting of mastery and mastery is in harmony with the action on stage as set in motion by director and set designer Dmitri Tcherniakov.
Here, too, clarity and tidiness prevail.
Stimulated by Wagner's letters in which he referred to his works as "experiments", Tcherniakov understood the entire "Ring" as a single, gigantic experimental arrangement, supervised by Wotan as head of a research institute whose large number of laboratories, meeting rooms and lecture halls was roughly the corresponds to the difficult to understand ramifications of Wagner's score.
This institute (apparently located in a repressive state with massive police violence) examines human behavior in extreme situations.