Review: Wagner’s Ring at the Wermland Opera

Karlstad Theatre, Wermland Opera's main stage. Built in 1893, opera house since 1975 and re-opened after renovation this year. Photo: Niklas Smith

While I have reviewed each individual opera in the Wermland Opera Ring Cycle, I would like to use this summary post to give my impression of the cycle as a whole.

Find my reviews of all four operas here:
Das Rheingold
Die Walküre

In my opinion the whole production was world-class, equalling the efforts of the world’s main opera companies. As I have already remarked in the individual reviews, the Wermland Opera assembled strong casts for the whole Ring Cycle. This is quite an achievement given that most of the singers were from Sweden, though they did have an advantage over large houses like the Met in that the singers did not need to have enormously powerful voices to be heard by the whole audience.

The sets (by scenographer Peter Lundquist) and costumes (Ann-Mari Anttila) were also well-chosen. The clothes and the sets of Götterdämmerung had a vaguely modern feel, but the intention was clearly not to try to set the cycle in any particular period. Instead, the timeless setting helps the audience focus on the timeless nature of the story of the battle between love and Neid (envy or the lust for power).

The Wermland Ring production team. From left: Peter Lundquist, Ann-Mari Anttila, Wilhelm Carlsson, Henrik Schaefer, Ulrika Nilsson, Torkel Blomkvist and Dan Turdén. Photo: Mats Bäcker

Likewise, the sets did not seek to impose any interpretation. A tilting turntable was the key device used to help scene changes and acted as a focal point for the characters on stage. The sets were always tasteful and in Siegfried even beautiful. Lastly, the inspired idea of using green lasers to create a surface of the Rhine floating above the stage was a great success, making both scenes with the Rhinemaidens very effective.

Wilhelm Carlsson’s direction supported the focus on the story very well, except for the odd behaviour of Gutrune in the first two acts of Götterdämmerung. Mr Carlsson’s direction was equally effective in the more psychological scenes (such as Fricka’s confrontation with Wotan in Walküre and Wotan’s long goodbye to Brünnhilde in the same opera) as it was in the key dramatic points (Fafner’s killing of Fasolt in Rheingold was particularly brutal, and the confrontation between Brünnhilde and Siegfried in Götterdämmerung was gripping). Here praise is deserved for Martin Andersson, who as chorus master produced a chorus who were both well-drilled and good singers for Götterdämmerung.

The orchestra was brilliantly conducted by Henrik Schaefer, who ensured that the sense of line through the operas never flagged. The orchestra’s unorthodox position in the Upper Circle was admittedly forced by the small pit, but it was nevertheless an innovation that other small houses should seriously consider: not only did the audience feel a closer connection to the action on stage, but the feeling of orchestral “surround sound” was very special. The orchestra was somewhat wind heavy (because of the limited size of the Upper Circle) but that was not disturbing, in part because the use of gut strings by the string section gave them a rich sound.

Lastly, would also like to single out four promising singers for particular praise, in addition to what I have written about the soloists in the individual reviews.

AnnLouice Lögdlund (Brünnhilde) was, in a word, terrific. From her very first entrance she showed a deep understanding of her character and acted very convincingly. Her voice was warm, but with only a moderate vibrato that meant that it was quite easy to follow the words she sang. This production is her debut as Brünnhilde but I expect it to be the beginning of a long and successful career in that role.

Unlike Ms Lögdlund, Marcus Jupither is already experienced as Alberich, having sung the role in Sweden, Norway, Germany and Latvia. His stage presence is almost magnetic – he created a sort of malevolent presence that dominated the stage whenever he was on it. Played by him, Alberich comes across as cruel and almost megalomaniac rather than just a nasty little dwarf.

Jonas Durán’s debut as Mime is as impressive as AnnLouice Lögdlund’s as Brünnhilde. His characterisation of Mime was excellent and his voice wonderfully expressive. Back in 2008 Seen and Heard International’s reviewer predicted that “with some more experience [Mr Durán] will surely be [an] important member of any ensemble”. That time has surely come.

Finally, Martina Dike deserves a special mention for her stunning performance as Waltraute in Götterdämmerung. In her single but crucial scene she described the despair of the gods so vividly that I could almost see the scene in Valhalla in my mind’s eye.

All in all, the Wermland Opera’s Ring Cycle was a very special experience. The day after hearing Das Rheingold my family bought tickets to the next (and final) cycle, beginning tonight. I am very glad to have the opportunity to see and hear this production again.

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The photo of Karlstad Theatre by Niklas Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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