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2015年2月5日 星期四

Van Zweden's Das Rheingold (梵志登之萊茵的黃金)

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) has always been a controversial figure. At the beginning of his writing career, the no less controversial German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) praised Wagner in his early work "The Birth of Tragedy of the Spirit of Music" (1872) as the greatest German artist because of Wagner's adoption of what Nietzsche thought of as the Dionysian ethic of abandon but when Wagner began to turn to Christian appeasement later, Nietzsche reversed his opinion of his youthful idol in his later work "The Case of Wagner" (1888) where he even questioned if Wagner was human at all: " Is Wagner a human being at all? Is he not rather a disease? He contaminates everything he touches--he has made music sick." . Whatever the truth may be, we had a sample of Wagner's work in the concert I heard just before my trip to Huang Shan. Wagner was certainly ambitious: he wished to combine all the arts into a single "mega-art": the theatrical and operatic musical drama. To give a sample of one of Wagner's most impressive "operas": Das Rheingold ( which in fact forms part of a much larger oeuvre of 4 parts collectively called "Der Ring des Niebelungen"), Van Zweden managed to assemble an impressive coterie of world class operatic singers, including Matthias Goerne (as Wotan, chief of the gods), Michelle de Young (as Fricka Goddess of Marriage and Fidelity), Anna Samuil (as Freia, goddess of youth and love), Kim Begley (as Loge, the god of fire), Charles Reid( as Froh, the god of light), Oleksandr Pushniak (as Donner, the god of thunder and lightning), David Cangelosi (as Mime, one of the dwarfs of Niebelung) Deborah Humble (as Erda, the goddess of earth and wisdom), Peter Sidhom (as Alberich, the chief of the Niebelung dwarfs), Kwangchul Youn (as Fasolt one of the two giants who helped Wotan build Valhalla, his dream palace over the Rhine) Stephen Milling (as Fafner, the other giant who helped built Wotan's palace), Eri Nakamura (as Woglinde, one of the three guardians of the Rheingold), Aurhelia Varak (as Wellgunde, Woglinde's sister and another of the Rheingold guardians) and Hermine Haselböck (as Flossilde, the third such).
Although we didn't have any  stage scenery that evening, we had a wonderful innovation which made the songs, arias etc much much more meaningful: all the English translations of the lyrics being sung in German by the relevant singers in front of the orchestra were flashed in real time on a screen lowered from the ceiling of the concert hall. I wish the HKPO would do that each time we have singers who sing in a foreign tongue because the majority of the audience in Hong Kong do not know German, Italian, Spanish or even French. The instant translations made the emotions being conveyed by the singers' voices much more comprehensible and for that reason adds enormously to their appreciation and enjoyment.

The libretto of the Das Rheingold, written by Wagner himself and in which he mixed in both German and Nordic mythical elements and which tells of the story of creation and man's strive for power, his deceits and his redemption through love, as depicted in 4 distinct "scenes" is complicated but very roughly, go as follows:

Scene 1: In the depths of the Rhine, 3 mermaids Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flossilde,who are supposed to guard the Rheingold at the bottom of the underwater fortress there, were frolicking until they met Alberich, an ugly but lovesick dwarf (who spent his life mining and forging underground gold) who was attracted by the glimmer of gold but was told that only he who renounced love can get his hand on the the gold they were guarding but that if he did, then he could make a gold ring which would give him power over everyone.h Alberich then diverted the maiden and stole the gold.

Scene 2: Wotan wanted to build a magnificent palace, the Valhalla, with the help of two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, promising them as their reward Freia (sister of his wife Fricka) but when the palace was built, he reneged from his promise. The giants took Freia away by force. Then the god of fire Loge arrived and told Wotan that Alberich now had the ring of Nieberlung and suggested the Wotan could steal it from Alberich and give it to the giants in exchange for relinguishing Freia, a new deal to which the giants reluctantly agreed.

Scene 3. Wotan and Loge then went down to the Niebelung's underground caves where Alberich was forcing the workers there to work day and night for more gold. Alberich's brother, Mime had in the meantime made the Ranhelm, a magical helmet which would enable its wearer to transform himself into any shape he wished. When they met Alberich, they tricked him into transforming himself into a toad by wearing that magical helmet and when he did, they immediately captured him. 

Scene 4: Wotan now forces Alberich to get the Niebelungs to deliver up their hoard of gold and snatches the magical ring from his finger but as the ring of Alberich was removed from his finger, he utters a curse upon it, saying that whoever got the ring will see only death and destruction. Wotan and Loge then return to meet the Giants who accept the gold given them by Wotan but when they asked Wotan for the promised ring, Wotan again reneged from his second promise Then Erda appears and urges Wotan to do so. Wotan reluctantly agrees. But once they got the ring, the two Giants begin to fight over it, fulfilling Alberich's curse whilst Wotan and Loge return to Valhalla to the song of lament of the Rhine mermaids lamenting the loss of the Rheingold.

Although the 2.5 hour concert took place without a single break, it was more than worth all the trouble. There's hardly a dull moment. A veritable feast!