D.he German-Russian orchestra academy organized by the Berlin-based production company RCCR at the Philharmonie in the Russian industrial city of Yekaterinburg has been bringing major cultural events to the region for a long time, and last year it even hosted the world’s only Beethoven festival with top international performers. As the highlight of the current year of German culture in Russia, RCCR has now conceived a first high-class, semi-staged performance of Richard Wagner’s “Rheingold” at the Sverdlovsk Philharmonic and in the Russian tank forge Nizhny Tagil, which generously supported the Foreign Office, and to which Katharina Wagner as Director of the Bayreuth Festival contributed a greeting. Wagner experts from Germany worked with Russian colleagues on site for the project. The original orchestra size of 123 musicians was prudently not based on the so-called Coburg version for a reduced orchestra without Wagner tubas and bass trumpets, which of course was increased to a good sixty instrumentalists. And because the themes of Wagner’s total work of art – our relationship to nature, our ever-growing demands – are so topical, the musicians from both countries also took part in eco-strategic fringe events.
Russia goes its own way in environmental protection
The Ural region around Yekaterinburg, which many guests think of as “typically Russian” with their old functional concrete buildings, lives from mining, which ragged the landscape and poisoned water. During a discussion on environmental issues, hosted by the Ekaterinburg Mining University, the Russian instrumentalists stated that they were trying to avoid rubbish by avoiding plastic bags and disposable dishes, but that they had little opportunity to exert influence. The major raw material companies are all the more challenged instead of investing in environmental technology in football, warned trombonist Tine Bizajl, who is of Slovenian origin. Russian mining students reported that since this year newly developed drones have been collecting data on air, water and soil quality in their region. The university rector Alexej Duschkin emphasized that Russia is definitely going its own way when it comes to environmental protection and is particularly positioning its population sparsely by international standards. Russia’s problem that many younger people are thinking of emigrating, as the guests from Germany were also able to discover in Yekaterinburg, is at least an advantage in terms of climate policy.
The soloists went to the sources of gold mining on a visit to the town of Berjosowski, near Yekaterinburg, where the Russian gold digging began in 1745 and where the heroes of the musical drama tried their hand at panning for gold. The instrumentalists, who had to visualize the sound of the forge’s hammer, were guided through the historic iron and copper works of Nizhny Tagil, which, founded in 1725 by the Demidov entrepreneurial clan, the Nibelungs of the Urals, functioned well into the perestroika era and, as an open-air industrial museum, provided a magnificent theater backdrop gives away. In order to let the treasures of the Wagner sound with its silky layers and foreboding leitmotifs shine in a nuanced manner, the conductor Christoph Stöcker developed the production, himself Bayreuth experienced as well as the violinist Andreas Neufeld, who stood by his side at the concert master’s desk. The fact that the orchestra was set back on the stage and acted behind a transparent projection curtain also produced a Wagnerian mixed sound, as the prelude’s creation music, based on pedal tones, made audible on top of that.