Performing Arts: Music
December 18, 2013
What better tribute to Richard Wagner, Severity and Maximalism Himself, than a heavily abridged Ring Cycle mimed by string puppets? Salzburg Marionette Theatre figured as much with their production of Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Graice Rainey Rogers Auditorium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Notably, this isn’t the first time Wagner’s four opera Ring Cycle has received a puppet treatment – a young Peter Sellars staged one at Harvard back in 1979. Still, ‘puppet Wagner’ is enough to peak most Wagnerites’ interests – will it somehow be revelatory? Or is it just another empty, postmodern abduction of a classic (like those Pride and Prejudice and Coprophagia novels)? In the case of Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s Der Ring, it’s neither. It is, however, a cute, kids-friendly introduction to both the composer and the medium.

A co-production with Salzburg State Theatre that originally appeared in March 2012, director Carl Philip von Maldeghem makes savage cuts to the music – enough to fit the typically sixteen-hour story into just two. The company presented a simplified, fast-paced rendition of Wagner’s myths, with English exposition and commentary breaking up selections from Sir Georg Solti’s classic Decca recordings of the work.

The two actors that voiced for the marionettes (Christiani Wetter and Tim Oberließen) also provided the narration. What detracted most from the production were these actors’ lame, almost-topical jokes throughout (let’s liken the building of Valhalla to the housing crisis). The puppets were better. In fact, the marionettes were quite lovable, and largely moved well – and even when they didn’t, that charmed, too (as with Brünnhilde waking from her slumber to find her head could only face the wrong way).

The Siegfried puppet was a dumb jock in sweats, Loge a red-sequined showbiz-type, Freya a ditzy goddess with fake breasts. It was Wagner as light entertainment – less of an abduction than a quaint pastiche. It could be the very thing to get a child to like opera from a young age. Yet, no matter how loving the creative team’s intentions, this production in the end feels like a reference to art, rather than anything substantial in its own right.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Geoff Lokke

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