German director to stage Wagner operas in Seoul

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German director to stage Wagner operas in Seoul


Left: Singer Esther Lee and Director Achim Freyer during a media showcase for “Der Ring des Nibelungen” on Wednesday. Right: A scene from the opera “Der Ring des Nibelungen” during its media showcase on Wednesday.[YONHAP]

Achim Freyer, a renowned German stage director, has embarked on a three-year project in Seoul to stage one of the most challenging operatic works ever written: “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” or “The Ring of the Nibelung” in English.

Composed by 19th-century musician Richard Wagner, the opera cycle has a running time of about 15 hours.

The German-language epic musical drama is made up of four operas - a trilogy and its prelude - and is based on Norse and Medieval German mythology. The cycle was composed over a period of 26 years and is ideally performed in sequence over four days.

Freyer will kick off the massive stage work with the prelude opera, “The Rhinegold,” at the Seoul Arts Center in central Seoul from Nov. 14 to 18.

The remaining three acts - “The Valkyrie,” “Siegfried” and “Twilight of the Gods” - will in turn be staged in June and December next year and May 2020, respectively, according to the organizer.

The massive opera cycle depicts the fatal struggles of gods, men and mythical creatures to secure a magic ring that gives its owner the power to rule the world.

The first act gives the background of the story, including the dwarf Alberich’s stealing of gold from three nymphs of the Rhine, with which he later fashions the magic ring.

For Freyer, the upcoming Seoul show is his third production of the Wagner epic, having previously staged it at the Los Angeles Opera and the Mannheim National Theatre in Germany. After completing the three-year production here in Seoul, he will restage the Seoul version in Germany’s Bonn Theater, according to the organizer.

Freyer tweaked his original production to put the Korean show in the context of the country’s own politics, in keeping with Wagner’s attempt to weave the politics of his own time into the opera.

“I took note of the political situation South Korea is currently in,” the German director said in a media showcase of the November performance. “There are some parts directed with the fact in my mind that Korea is a divided country.”

“A totally different production will be staged in comparison with the productions in Los Angeles and Mannheim,” Freyer said, adding the focus will be on illustrating the historical context.

“It would be received as if the story resonates with today’s situation although it was composed back then.” One of the main characters, Alberich, may have represented Adolf Hitler in the 20th century, but he could be any dictator of today, he indicated.

The production, to be staged in the original German language and lasting 160 minutes without intermission, employs colorful but hefty costumes and stage sets for the actors and actresses, challenging audiences, as well as performers, to sit through the two-and-a-half hour show.

“I hate to be wearing even a hat while I sing. And wearing a mask [while I sing] is my first time ever,” said Yang Jun-mo, double-cast as Wotan, the chief of the gods, who competes to obtain the ring. “The costume is also very heavy, so I need to work out more before finally going onstage,” he said.

Esther Lee, who is part of the cast and also the head of World Art Opera in charge of the organizing the show, said that the organizers are currently in discussion with the North Korean side to cast North Korea singers in the performance, possibly beginning with the first opera.

“We are making efforts to make it a stage of unification and peace where top-rung opera singers from South and North Korea could perform in the same performance for the first time ever,” she said.

To that end, the German government is currently in touch with Pyongyang through the North Korean Embassy in Berlin, and the North has responded positively so far, she noted. “We expect [North Korean singers] can join us in the rehearsal from next month.”

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