Das Rheingold

Richard Wagner
Sofia Opera, Bulgaria
Released

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Valhalla and the gods Credit: Victor Victorov, Sofia Opera
Rumyana Petrova (Fricka), Miroslav Andreev (Froh) and Veselina Vasileva (Freia) Credit: Sofia Opera
The Nibelungs in Alberich's mine Credit: Victor Victorov, Sofia Opera

There’s a well-worn but apocryphal story of disgruntled stage-hands who positioned a trampoline behind the set of the Castel Sant'Angelo so that after a troublesome Tosca plunged to apparent suicide, she made an early, unscheduled reappearance in full view of the audience.

I’m sure director Plamen Kartaloff must have heard it before deciding that his Rhinemaidens, glistening like fish, would bounce joyfully on three such platforms at the opening of the opera. I couldn’t quite decide whether the result was brave or ludicrous.

Thankfully, the three gymnasts performing clever acrobatics (although none quite as clever as the DVD cover suggests) are surreptitiously replaced by singers, but even so, one has to admire the ability of this Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde in co-ordinating their "Wallalalala leiajahei"s while on the equivalent of a bouncy castle.

In fact, this entire production, recorded in 2010, might be regarded as a struggle between the voices of the fine all-Bulgarian soloists and pretty much everything else.

Lighting is erratic and, apart from some impressive get-ups for giants Fafner and Fasolt, the costumes are bizarre, like Elton John off-cuts sewn together in the wrong order. Wotan is covered in eyes, Fricka in spikes, and the unfortunate Froh in what appear at first sight to be fried eggs.

The biggest problem, however, is poorly recorded sound, taken presumably from a live performance not originally intended for release in this format, which means that singers occasionally disappear from hearing at crucial moments.

The set is dominated by cones within the inevitable blue ring that serve to bring a shaft of light onto the Rhine, turning its inhabitants into goldfish, represent the towers of Valhalla and then, sideways, as tunnels for the toiling Niebelungen, earth-bound reflections of the water-borne Rhinemaidens.

Any Ring cycle, of which this double DVD is the first part to be issued, is rewarding from the point of view of its director’s interpretation. One will have to wait for this one to be fully explicated, but Kartaloff seems to be making an interesting statement with the latex garb and plastic surroundings about the vulgarity and artificiality of a morally bankrupt culture dominated by a lust for money.

The acoustics are kinder to the higher voices, among whom Daniel Ostretsov is outstanding as a Loge, his sweet tenor always distinct, his manner one of happy manipulation—a man to have on your side. Krasimir Dinev’s Mime has a bright metallic sound and the third tenor, Miroslav Andreev as Froh, sings handsomely, as if that ghastly garb hung on someone else.

Nikolay Petrov, who is still singing the part of Wotan in the same production ten years on, could be a bit freelance with tempi, but had a mature manner to go with the smooth voice, and his fellow baritone Biser Georgiev was a good contrast as a growly Alberich.

The female roles, restrained by both Wagner and the production, are well performed by the rich-voiced Rumyana Petrova as Fricka, the delightful Veselina Vasileva as the delighful Freia, and briefly by Blagovesta Mekki as Erda.

Stefan Vladimirov as Fasolt seemed most comfortable in the mid-range, countered by a more dominant Petar Buchkov as the fratricidal Fafner.

The DVDs include a helpful scroll of coming action at the start of each act, but omit one surprise. At the end of the opera, like our Tosca, Rheinmaidens Irina Zhekova, Dorotea Doroteeva and Tsveta Sarambelieva make an unscripted (by Wagner) re-appearance, trampolining in the river. Perhaps they enjoyed the experience after all.

Reviewer: Colin Davison