Halloween came early to the Southland via the Kirov Opera production of Wagner’s tetralogy, “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” with “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure” heard over the weekend and “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung” to follow tonight and Wednesday, respectively. So far, so good musically. But when a company does not credit a helmer and merely chalks up the direction to a “production concept” by the evening’s conductor, Valery Gergiev, and set designer, George Tsypin, then something is more amiss onstage than it ought to be among these most troubled of gods.
Where Tsypin recently envisioned Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” in chrome and neon at the Metropolitan Opera, he brings Day-Glo and jack-o’-lanterns to Wagner here. His style is best described as Basic Monumental: He creates a big white, empty box and then dumps in any number of monoliths to fill up the space. In “Flute,” he borrowed from Stonehenge. For the Ring, huge effigies either float or stand to bring a whiff of Walpurgisnacht to the proceedings. In the watery “Das Rheingold,” they arrive covered with barnacles; in “Die Walkure,” these carcasses go from sprouting big twigs to human heads to animal skulls.
There’s also a gigantic rock in the second opera that, on occasion, pulsates light like those hairy pods in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” In “Das Rheingold,” the Nibelungen push around E.T.-like figures that sometimes glow in the dark; and even though those put-upon dwarfs don’t reappear in “Die Walkure,” the stage somehow remains scattered with their alien garbage, as if that big-box set requires more decoration.
How all this relates to Wagner’s story of philandering gods and incestuous mortals will, one hopes, be answered later this week when “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung” are unveiled.
So far, however, one thing is for sure: There is no direction. The principal singers mainly remain at the lip of the stage, pacing back and forth to show their consternation. The good news is that their downstage placement makes them always audible, and for a largely Russian cast, there is great attention paid to the words, which honors Wagner’s concept of “music drama.”
Placido Domingo has dropped most of the roles from the Italian and French repertory that made him famous. But here, in the baritonial tenor role of Siegmund, he sounds very much like he did more than two decades ago when he first took on Wagner.
Unfortunately, as the twin sister he loves and impregnates, Mlada Khudoley’s Sieglinde is strictly provincial. (Too bad the bright Freia of Tatiana Borodina from “Das Rheingold” couldn’t do double duty.)
Brunnhilde’s high-flying “hoyotohos” cause grief for Olga Sergeyeva, who brings more expression to her singing when the role descends to its basic mezzo range. (In the evening’s second round of “hoyotohos,” Liya Shevstsova shows how this highly individual greeting is supposed to be sung.)
As Brunnhilde’s father, Wotan, Mikhail Kit emerges over the course of the two operas as a most introspective god, but one who never gives indication of being particularly terrifying, as oft-reported in the libretto.
In the role of Wotan’s hectoring wife, Fricka, Larisa Diadkova is the standout, her characterization always urgent and unstinting in its vocal output.
Whatever his deficiencies as a stage director, Gergiev is a most supportive conductor in the pit, using Wagner’s mighty orchestration to cushion rather than overwhelm the singers. If his reading here is at times cautious and lacks the passion he brings to Tchaikovsky or Verdi, he never fails to give shape and drive to the music.
The Kirov “Ring” travels to Lincoln Center in summer 2007.