A subscriber writes:
The good news is that the Budapest Ring was a staged performance over four consecutive days with (some) outstanding singers and a fine orchestra, performed in a modern, comfortable and acoustically fine venue, the Bela Bartok National Concert Hall. This format does not lend itself to any significant interpretative direction: no updating for 1930’s militarism, no environmentally wasted planet, no outlandish costumes (actually, no costumes at all), no straining to ignore references to swords, spears and tarnhelms in a 20th century setting, no Bayreuth style regietheater. Whether this is good news or bad is a matter of personal opinion. One might think of this production as a good way to hear the singers and the music without much distraction of sets and costumes, perhaps as a refreshing way to get back to basics.
While the four works were staged without a set, there was a prominent four panel screen that portrayed Ring elements such as water for the Rheinmaidens, a sword for Siegfried, and of course, fire for Brunhilde’s rock. Supernumeraries carried elements of the Ring including large heads on poles for the Giants, and horses’ heads for the Valkyries. As noted, most of the references were to obvious elements of the works, but occasionally objects appeared without any obvious connections, such as the four bearers of the lower portion of a large arm during the scene where Fafner kills Fasolt. Also, there were regrettable video distractions during some profound moments such as during Wotan’s lament in Die Walkure, and during the Mime and Wanderer contest. On one occasion the video displayed diagonal streaks of light gradually moving across the screen that was nothing so much as a blown up version of an old screen saver. The image of the Rhine could have been a blow up of a film shot of a washing machine window during a particularly dirty rinse cycle. One of the worst video distractions was shown during the Rheinmaidens’ scene at the beginning of Act III of Gotterdammerung: an unattractive woman, past middle age, with long red hair, in a white swimsuit, swimming in what appeared to be a pool.
The quality of the singing was uneven. Egils Silins as Wotan/Wanderer gave solid performances in all three operas, on consecutive nights. Christian Franz was acceptable as Loge in Das Rheingold, less so as Siegmund in Walkure, and quite strained as Siegfried in Gotterdammerung. Irene Theorin as Brunnhilde was strong in Walkure, but off pitch and rather shrill in Gotterdammerung. Petra Lang sang the part well in Siegfried. The outstanding performances were from Gerhard Siegel as Mime and Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried in Siegfried. For many in the audience this was the highlight of the Ring, and some were heard to say that this is now their favorite Ring opera. Alas, the high quality was not maintained in Gotterdammerung; Oskar Hillebrandt as Gunther and Kurt Rydl were clearly over the hill. One audience member commented that the singers must have been recruited from an old-age home. The orchestra was excellent throughout. This was a wonderful opportunity to hear the Ring on four consecutive nights, as Wagner envisioned. It was not perfect, but then what Ring is?