The preliminary evening of Wagner's Ring in Budapest ended with a celebration. The small Wagner festival organised by Müpa in the Hungarian capital under the baton of Ádám Fischer  is now in its tenth year. In its course, all classic works of the Bayreuth master have been performed that are also regularly performed on The Green Hill. A whiff of Bayreuth also blew across the Danube as from the balcony of this modern building fanfares announced the performance three times. Yet this hall has no hidden orchestra pit, no curtain and no stage. At Müpa, Wagner's large-scale opera is given in a concert hall, on a podium of reasonable size.

Zsolt Haja, Zoltán Nyári, Tünde Szabóki, Atala Schöck, Johan Reuter, Gábor Bretz & Walter Fink © Zsófia Pályi | Müpa
Zsolt Haja, Zoltán Nyári, Tünde Szabóki, Atala Schöck, Johan Reuter, Gábor Bretz & Walter Fink
© Zsófia Pályi | Müpa

It is due to innovative conception which cleverly combining the necessity of a semi-staged performance with the possibilities of video technology that this version does not congeal to a "mere" dry concert performance. Das Rheingold already shows that this approach works well and that Budapest Wagner performances might be considered as an alternative to Bayreuth, where now many Wagnerians recoil from what is perceived as over-ambitiously conceived stagings - in particular as the musical cast in Budapest, too, promises top-class opera. Thus, many a conversation in the Palace of Arts that night revolved around the impression that "pure Wagner" might be presented here.

Hartmut Schörghofer's staging indeed makes Wagner's branched-out mythology easily approachable. In Das Rheingold the narration is so conclusive as if it were a tale of the here and now. Singers wear modern concert attire yet are most present in their acting. In the background, adding another dimension, the action is illustrated, and commented upon, on a screen, in part complemented by a group of dancers.

"At the bottom of the Rhine" it surprisingly begins: What is understood as pure, intact if bluffly wild nature in Wagner is transformed into mucky sludge full of waste, in which the three Rhinemaidens gracefully swim, brilliantly sung at the front of the stage. When the Rhinegold lights up for the first time, golden tongues flicker in the water and Ádám Fischer elicits iridescent colours from his orchestra which expand to almost impressionistic stereophony in the unique acoustic of the hall. The conductor generally uses all his Wagner expertise to create a highly differentiated shaping of the score into a symphonic flow full of suspense and whips the music in the right moments to great dramatic peaks such as to Alberich's curse, after Wotan has forcefully ripped the ring from his finger.

Zsófia Kálnay (Flosshilde), Gabriella Fodor (Wellgunde) & Polina Pasztircsák (Woglinde) © Zsófia Pályi | Müpa
Zsófia Kálnay (Flosshilde), Gabriella Fodor (Wellgunde) & Polina Pasztircsák (Woglinde)
© Zsófia Pályi | Müpa

The singer in the role of Alberich in particular gives vocal shine to this performance with his enormous expression. Peter Kálmán justly earns thunderous acclamations at the end; his acting alone is tremendously gripping, and in his singing he displays many nuances of this character that is one of the most colourful in the Ring. From Alberich's foolish infatuation with the Rhinemaidens in the beginning to his arrogant pride in the Nibelheim scene and the bitter hatred as he utters his curse, which greatly influences the development of the tetralogy, Kálmán is capable to show it all.

In the fourth scene, "An open space on the mountain-tops", a construction crane appears in the video. The performers of the gods dispute the issue of how the immense building project, Valhalla, will be paid for so intensively, that individual conflicts stand out clearly. Mezzo-soprano Atala Schöck's Fricka is a nuanced, realistic and at the same time sensitive wife, sung in perfect German diction with exceptionally beautiful voice. Danish baritone Johan Reuter shows a noble Wotan revelling in his great, illusionary plans, who takes an increasingly defensive position over the breach of promise regarding the Valhalla building costs.

Yet Loge (Christian Franz) appears as knight in shining armour, performed as masterful director of the plot against Alberich and presented most effectively with a broad expressive range of deviousness, cunning and wiliness. In this Rheingold, Franz makes Loge out to be the real adversary of the Nibelung, and this set-up indicates early that Wotan has already handed over the reins.

Erika Gál (Erda) and dancers © Zsófia Pályi | Müpa
Erika Gál (Erda) and dancers
© Zsófia Pályi | Müpa

Thus Erda's warning appearance becomes the most gripping scene of this first part as she advises Wotan to keep a distance to the ring. Now in big lettering runes appear on the screen as a portent of the coming downfall of the gods. Erika Gál sings this role with the necessary vigour and emphasises with great vocal authority. What follows is a fairly fragile happiness, despite all relief at Freia's return and all pathos about the taking possession of Walhalla. The projection shows a rather weak rainbow and then a panorama view of Budapest. On stage remains Loge in his doubts about the future of the gods.

 

Translated from German by Hedy Muehleck.