It might seem an impossible feat to stage Wagner’s Ring in one evening. The cycle unfolds over about 16 hours and presents huge challenges to the director - from the depiction of the giants, to the flames which consume Valhalla. Despite all odds, an abbreviated seven-hour version premiered at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires last year. The performance is available on DVD and Blu-ray on June 3 in the UK – coinciding with the composer’s official bicentenary – along with a documentary, 'The Colón Ring – Wagner in Buenos Aires', capturing backstage drama that constitutes a saga in its own right. The production nearly didn’t get off the ground when the composer’s great-granddaughter, stage director and Bayreuth Festival co-intendant Katharina Wagner, abruptly withdrew. The 93-minute footage, a production of the Deutsche Welle in partnership with Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images, includes everything from her altercations at the theatre, as filmed from a smart phone, to the work process of composer and arranger Cord Garben.
The heroine of the documentary turns out to be the director Valentina Carrasco, who jumped in with just four weeks notice. Left with no choice but to build upon a stark, revolving set originally designed for Katharina Wagner, the Argentinian native, a long-time collaborator with the Spanish theatre group La Fura del Baus, chose to make chaos her friend rather than her enemy. She quickly devised the tetralogy as an allegory for Argentinian history in some of its most brutal phases, casting Wotan and Fricka as Juan and Eva Perón and the Valkyries as invading soldiers commissioned in the Falklands War. Sheets of plastic were hung in front of the open windows of the set to represent Nibelheim as a torture chamber, an allusion to the terror tactics of the Dirty War. In a reading which elevates the potential of humankind to avoid nature’s wrath, the Rheingold takes the form of a baby – a sign of purity in the director’s vision – and the river in which it is buried overflows as a flood of people in the final instalment, Götterdämmerung.
The successful premiere on November 27 last year did not come to pass without plenty of interpersonal tensions, of course. The documentary reveals the conductor Roberto Paternostro, who stepped in for Julien Salemkour, losing his cool as he attempts to prepare the orchestra in time. The musicians complain of falsely notated scores, which arranger Garben in turn claims were not proofed by the theatre as agreed. Carrasco also had to prove herself to a disoriented cast. Torsten Kerl withdrew from the role of Sigmund, and after extensive rehearsal with the understudy Marc Duffin, Carrasco was presented with yet another child of Völsung when the tenor Stig Anderson arrived. The production team sometimes stayed in the theatre until midnight, ploughing through three consecutive rehearsals. ‘It’s not a weak piece, the Ring,’ Carrasco says toward the beginning of the documentary. ‘It will survive all of this.’
Watch a trailer for the Cólon Ring on the Gramophone Player below: