The Rheingold by Richard Wagner
I had a very good meeting with David Gale earlier this week, where we discussed my ideas for my final dissertation. I showed David my first draft of the essay. In my research on Wagner and the Ring Cycle, I have noticed that it seems like the design for the opera cycle did not change much - or at all - for a long period of time from its premiere in 1876. My idea is to look at the history of productions of The Ring Cycle from a designer’s perspective and try to find the point or period where something shifted in design. David gave my very good advice on how I could narrow it down and also put me in contact with Aidan Kelly, who sent me a list of useful references:
1. Adolphe Appia
This for me is the radical refocusing of stage design and they still look modern to me. His settings are very 'bare' - anticipating Weiland Wagner's post -war Bayreuth designs.
2. Alfred Roller
- created designs for Mahler's productions in Vienna - these used 'slabs' of colour in a sort of post-expressionist style. [Wagner's widow Cosima prevented many changes from being developed at Bayreuth - Roller, I think, may have been jewish so that would not have helped in 1930s Germany]
3. Weiland and Wolfgang Wagner - also used lighting alone with very little stage objects - they also used very abstract costume designs (I have some photos of these from a rare book - written by someone who attended all the post war performances up to 1945) to almost decontextualise the works - perhaps to convey their 'essence' more clearly. One could of course read this as an attempt of rid Wagner productions of some at least of the Nazi symbolisms acquired during WW2 under influence of Winifred Wagner.
The 1955 ring cycle has been released on Testament - and the cd booklets have many pictures of costumes used that might be otherwise difficult to track down. I would, at some point, be very interested to hear your views on this subject.
Wagner and Bayreuth
In my reseach in the history of productions of the Ring, I have come to the conclusion to focus on productions at Bayreuth in the dissertation. A full production history of the Ring is very complex and as the essay should not count more than 5000 words, I think it is important to narrow it down.
The Bayreuth Festivalis a music festival held annually in Bayreuth, Germany, at which performances of operas by Wagner are presented. Wagner himself conceived and promoted the idea of a special festival to showcase his own works, in particular his monumental cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal. The festival was first held in 1876 and opened with the premiere of the Ring Cycle.
I am very interested in the political interpretation of the Ring Cycle. The Ring is now often presented as an environmentalist drama suffused with an anti-capitalism sentiment. I found for example an interesting article in the Guardian about Politics in the Ring interesting, and Friedman's essay, Gold Rules: The Politics of Wagner’s Ring in the book Inside the Ring: Essays on Wagner’s Opera Cycle is also very useful. Friedman talks about that male characters usually represent classes of people in European society, whereas female characters tend to express cultural principles. The Rheindaughters innocently express the way of thinking that prevailed before the industrial revolution and was looked back upon nostalgically by the Romantics of Wagner’s generation: they enjoy the beauty of nature without trying to exploit it. To “renounce love” in Wagner’s allegory means to give up that romantic view of nature and look at it in the cold light of reason, as an object to be manipulated and exploited.
In my design proposal, I want to bring the story to the present and am trying to find paralells in modern society. I have been asking questions like:
What does the Rheingold represent to modern audience?
The gold can be made into a ring – which lets the bearer rule the world. What does the ring represent?
Is it possible to find parallels in modern society – or is this world that Wagner has created always something far from reality?
Who is the real villain of the ring?
The characters are all very complex, are Wotan and Alberich maybe two sides of the same coin?
Possible interpretation of the characters:
The Rhinegold: Natural Resources
The Gods: The ruling aristocracy / upper class / aristocrats of noble birth / Politicians / Bank people/ business men / waking up hungover after a huge party / Wotan is a sort of a tycoon, but still has the respect from everybody
Giants: Powerful industrialists / big builders, captains of industry and finance, established and prospering – often from government contracts.
The Dwarfs: Working class / lower middle class / small-scale manufacturing, crafts, services / Artists
Nibelungs: Lower class / Industrial workers, larger factories
Albereich: Ambitious small business man / looks for a source of power that lets him compete with the big players
Erda: A conservationist
The Rheinmaidens: Cashiers / Bank employees / national park guards / The land owners / Farmers
The apples: The votes
Meeting with a Mentor
Today I met the theatre and opera director Martin Constantine, who is my mentor in developing my design proposal for the Rheingold. Martin knows the piece very well, and it was very inspiring to talk to him about the opera. We agreed that the story could well apply to modern society, and discussed it in detail. I told Martin the ideas I have about how to stage the piece and showed him the reference images I have been looking at, and my initial sketches. He gave me useful comments and things to think about.