Opera lovers have long endured the self-serving aberrations of Regietheater directors. Now it is the turn of iconoclast maestros to tamper with pristine partiture and vitiate autograph scores to the point of musical mendacity. Teodor Currentzis decided to remediate La clemenza di Tito by adding chunks of Mozart’s Mass in C minor; René Jacobs plopped an unrelated Beethoven Lied into Fidelio and Stuart Stratford saw fit to abet Renaud Doucet and André Barbe by adding an accordion and Edith Piaf to La bohème. Now Constantin Trinks has wantonly transmogrified Der Ring des Nibelungen into Die Ring-Trilogie for the Theater an der Wien.

Marcel Beekman (Mime) and Daniel Brenna (Siegfried)
© Herwig Prammer

According to the production notes, the dubious raison d’être of the enterprise was “the question of how the actions and guilt of the grandfathers’ generation – Wotan and Alberich – influence the lives of the following generations at both a political and a private level”. This might be fine for the city of Freud, but the world of Wagner is not so hypothetical. The composer spent 26 years working on The Ring and was presumably satisfied with the final result. This metamorphosis by Trinks, in collaboration with director Tatjana Gürbaca and Dramaturg Bettina Auer, may have had psychological curiosity value, but makes for a catastrophic rupture of the musical continuity. 

The opera opens with a flash-forward to Götterdämmerung and Siegfried being killed by Hagen. Everything that follows is either a flashback or a reappearance of characters long since lost, such as Siegmund materializing to help his son in the manner of a benign Banquo’s ghost. The gains: Act 1 and a snippet of Act 2 from Die Walküre. The losses: Entire scenes which do not involve Siegfried disappear, such as the riddle duel between the Wanderer and Mime, the bitter altercation between the Wanderer and Alberich and the Wanderer’s dramatically pivotal dialogue with Erda. Also sent to the shredder is the foreboding orchestral introduction and Mime’s opening monologue as Trinks’ “Walfried” starts with “Als zullendes Kind”. Unsurprisingly, Siegfried’s bear also gets culled.

Daniel Brenna (Siegfried), Marcel Beekman (Mime) and Daniel Johansson (Siegmund)
© Herwig Prammer

Given the integral flashbacks, illogicality abounds. Siegfried watches the death of his father and sees his mother dragged off to safety by Brünnhilde, which makes nonsense of his speculating as to what his parents might have looked like. He also supposedly has never seen a woman until he removes Brünnhilde’s armour.

Tatjana Gürbaca had a couple of interesting production ideas, such as Fafner taking the form of a semi-cannibalistic troll who physically wrestles with Siegfried. The Woodbird also takes human shape as a spaced-out marijuana-smoking, garbage bag-toting gamine who curiously shows considerable affection for Fafner.

The relatively small orchestra pit of the Theater an der Wien restricted the usually enormous Siegfried instrumentation and the overall sound was almost chamber music like.  Whilst this worked nicely in the “Siegfried Idyll” passage, the loss of lower string support (only four double basses and five cellos) was lamentable. Despite the snarling Wagner tuba, brass impact was also significantly reduced due to fewer horns. Trinks conducted the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchestra Wien with visible verve and a precise baton technique although his overall tempi were somewhat rushed.   

Liene Kinča (Sieglinde) and Stefan Kocan (Hunding)
© Herwig Prammer

The singers were mostly satisfactory without being outstanding. Liene Kinča’s Sieglinde tended to be slightly shrill and pushed her upper register while Aris Argiris made little impact in the vastly reduced role of the Wanderer. With the wonderfully apt name of Mirella Hagen, the Woodbird was better acted than sung. Marcel Beekman was a suitably sly and ingratiating Mime, albeit a bit too affable. Daniel Johansson sang an acceptable Siegmund but his lyric legato phrasing in “Winterstürme” was only proximate. Štefan Kocán’s strong upper range was more comfortable with Hunding than Fafner. American heldentenor Daniel Brenna sang a resilient Siegfried with a clarion upper tessitura evident in his “Ho hos” as he forged Nothung – which comically looked like a cheap carving-knife. 

It was announced that Ingela Brimberg was unwell. There was certainly no evidence of her indisposition and she delivered a stellar Brünnhilde with an especially impressive top register. “Heil, Sonne” was secure and refulgent and there was a riveting fortissimo B natural on “Hort”. Only some blurred trilling on “heiter” revealed  a small lapse of technique. Instead of enjoying an extended snooze laying on her fire-walled rock, Brünnhilde was standing up and turning in slow circles with arms in the air like Shirley Maclaine in spiritual guru mode. Certainly enough to engender fear in any hero.

There was something deeply disquieting about this Ring-Trilogie experiment and one hopes that the alarming trend to rewrite existing operatic masterpieces soon succumbs to the fate of Valhalla.