Wagner: The Ring Cycle Tour. Berlin 28 October – 6 November 2022

Sally & Antony Jeffrey’s Musical Journeys

Wagner: The Ring Cycle Tour. Berlin 28 October – 6 November 2022

Our wonderful collaborator/ agent Claudia Czaak told me a few months ago that she had been offered a small swag of seats for the new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Berlin’s Staatsoper in October. We said yes but wondered if it was a foolish idea as usually we need a year or more to plan one of our musical journeys. To sum up, it wasn’t a silly idea. We had a lovely group of 10 people who got on so well with each other and enjoyed 10 tremendous days of music, art, wine and food in endlessly fascinating Berlin.

To start with, Berlin in autumn is a terrific time and we were told, as we wandered around its green and gold streets, that this year it’s unseasonably warm and sunny. We stayed in the Australian owned Adina Apartment Hotel in Hackescher Markt, a perfectly location in a trendy, slightly down-at-heel inner suburb, rather equivalent to Newtown in Sydney, just 5 minutes walk from Berlin’s great boulevard, Unter den Linden, and another few minutes to the Staatsoper itself, Berlin’s oldest opera house, beautifully restored to its old glory. Berlin’s such an easy city to get around with it’s state-of-the-art public transport, wide streets, easy-going and friendly people from every corner of the globe, and above all its amazing musical and artistic life and institutions.

The Ring Cycle

In the absence of Staatsoper Music Director Daniel Barenboim through illness, Christian Thielemann, director of prestigious Semperoper Dresden conducted all performances. Everyone agreed his musical direction was superb and the cast of soloists nothing short of exemplary. The stage direction and design team was almost all Russian, led by Barenboim’s choice as stage director Dimitri Tcherniakov. Set out below are the casts. Especially noteworthy were the Wotan, Michael Volle; Brünnhilde, Anja Kampe and Siegfried, Andreas Schager. Singers like Rolando Villazón as Loge was luxurious casting. Newcomers like Vida Miknevičiūtė as Sieglinde and Mika Kares as Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen were superb. I have set out at the bottom the cast details for anyone interested.

Unlike our uniformly positive responses to the musical performances, the stage pictures and direction were controversial to say the least. Set in a complex labyrinth of indoor spaces intended to be the interiors of an institution devoted to the study and experimentation of human responses to all sorts of stimuli, it often bordered on the absurd, but in other respects if was really interesting to translate Wagner’s power games and structures to a modern, if rather bizarre setting. There was always something unusual happening, sometimes comic, and it was never dull. Rheingold in my opinion was the most successful, giving the audience opportunity to observe a contemporary version of institutional politics at work, drawn from Wagner’s ideas and dramaturgy in the 1850s. In the other operas, it worked less well. The solemn Todesverkündigung scene between Brünnhilde and Siegmund went for nothing and the staging of the Magic Fire Music by sketching flames on a glass wall with a red texta pen was ludicrous. Siegfried’s antics dressed in a bright blue track suit made him the epitome of the irritating anti-hero so that it was almost a relief for him to be despatched on a basket ball court with a basket ball pennant in the back. 

Berlin Philharmonic Concert at Philharmonie

After we’d seen Rheingold and Walküre, we had a very different experience at the Philharmonie, Berlin’s wonderful concert hall dating from 1963, the first of the modern-style concert hall of there ‘hanging gardens’ variety where the stage is almost in the middle of the auditorium and surmounted by a huge upside down mushroom that throws the sound equally in every direction.

We heard Berlin Philharmonic musical director Kirill Petrenko conduct the orchestra in an odd but brilliant program that started with a contemporary piece by American composer Andrew Norman called Unstuck, that banged, crashed and exploded into life showing the orchestra’s virtuosity to perfection. It was followed by Mozart’s first concerto of any kind, for violin composed when he was seventeen, with the concertmaster as soloist. A more complete contrast could not be imagined – sweet, lyrical, with the orchestra reduced to chamber size. The audience loved it so he played, in a similar vein, an encore by Hindemith of a set of variations on a tune by Mozart.

During the interval we wandered around the huge ground floor foyer, full every night with music loving Berliners and admiring tourists like us. Back in our excellent close-up seats, we now heard Erich Korngold’s last major work, his Symphony in F sharp minor dating from 1952. Another sonic tour de force, it’s an eclectic mélange of late-romanticism, sounding like a Bruckner slow movement, here, and a lush film score of sailors and pirates, there. For me the highlight was the conducting by Petrenko, driving the orchestra to extraordinary levels of virtuosity.

Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny at Komische Oper

Two days later we visited the Komische Oper, the smallest of Berlin’s three opera houses and devoted largely to musical theatre, operetta and contemporary music drama. Australia’s Barrie Kosky has until recently been director for many years, and Mahagonny was his last production while intendant of the theatre. It was a challenging production with a minimal black set and everyone wearing starry black costumes. A harsh driving score seemed monotonous and devoid of humour thus diminishing the effect of it’s 1920s era satire of indulgence and cruelty

Museums and Excursions

Some of our most enjoyable and intriguing experiences were on our daily excursions, notably visits to the art museums on Museum Island, the newly re-purposed and enormous Humboldt Forum, a cruise up the Spree, an elegant lunch and climb up the dome at the Reichstag, wandering up Unter den Linden and dining at two or three favourite eateries in Hackescher Markt close by. Perhaps best of all was our day out past Potsdam to the St Cecilien palace where the Potsdam Conference was held between Stalin, Churchill (and then Attlee after the former was ousted in the post war British election), and Truman. The magnificent mansion and gardens beside a lake were perfect settings for the post-war carve up of Europe taking place inside that we were able to inspect in detail. Despite it being a rainy day, we then took a bus to the Alexander House, a small holiday cottage on a lake built in the early 1930s for the family of a leading Berlin doctor who was Jewish. Despite his being one of Germany’s most honoured and successful doctors, by 1936, he was forced to take his family to England and there followed a veritable social history of war-time, post-war and GDR history through the vicissitudes and ultimate loving restoration of the house by a descendant of the Jewish doctor.page3image13679856

Cast of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Staatsoper Berlin

Musical Director: Christian Thielemannpage3image14117232

Director/ Designer: Dimitri Tcherniakovpage3image14118064

Costumes: Elena Zaytsevapage3image14114944

Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky

Video: Alexei Poluboyarinovpage3image14122640

Dramaturgy: Tatiana Werestchagina, Christoph Lang


Wotan: Michael Volle

Alberich: Johannes Martin Kränzle

Loge: Rolando Villazón

Donner: Lauri Vasar

Froh: Siyabonga Maqundo

Fricka: Claudia Mahnke

Freia: Annet Fritsch

Erda: Anna Kissjudit

Mime: Stephan Rügamer

Fasolt: Mika Kares

Fafner: Peter Rose

Woglinde: Evelin Novak

Wellgunde: Natalia Skrycka

Flosshilde: Anna Lapkovskaja


Siegmund: Robert Watson

Sieglinde: Vida Miknevičiūtė

Hunding: Mika Kares

Wotan: Michael Volle

Brünnhilde: Anja Kampe

Fricka: Claudia Mahnke

Valkyries: Clara Nadeshdin, Christiane Kohl, Michal Doron, Alexandra Iones, Anett Fritsch,

Natalia Skrycka, Anna Lapkovskaja


Siegfried: Andreas Schager

Mime: Stephan Rügamerpage3image14108496

The Wanderer: Michael Volle

Fafner: Peter Rose

Brünnhilde: Anja Kampe

Erda: Anna Kissjudit

The Woodbird: Victoria Randem


Siegfried: Andreas Schagerpage3image14121392

Gunther: Lauri Vasar

Alberich: Johannes Martin Kränzle

Hagen: Mika Karespage4image14109328

Brünnhilde: Anja Kampepage4image14117024

Gutrune: Mandy Fredrich

Waltraute: Violeta Urmana

Erda: Anna Kissjudit

Norns: Noa Beinart, Kristina Stanek, Anna Samuil

Woglinde: Evelin Novak

Wellgunde: Natalia Skryckapage4image14118272

Flosshilde: Anna Lapkovskaja


Antony Jeffrey November 2022

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