Das Rheingold, Metropolitan Opera live relay, October 2010Posted on 10 October 2010
Building a glorious monument with borrowed money is a dangerous business, as many of our politicians have now realised. It’s a lesson they could have learned from Wagner’s Rheingold whose consequences lead to three more operas in the Ring cycle. When the two brothers get their payment for the elaborate folly of Valhalla one kills the other to take the powerful ring, reminding me of recent events in British politics. The brother giants get their payment in treasure stolen from Alberich by Wotan, but Alberich in turn stole it from the Rheinmaidens who were guarding it in the river Rhein. There’s word play in German between Rhein and rein (pure), and although one might regard the Rheinmaidens as pure they are not unsullied by very human failings, and it’s their teasing rejection of Alberich that causes him to forswear love, a necessary precondition for creating the ring from the gold.
One cannot help feeling sympathy with Alberich as he cries out, “O Schmerz!” (What pain!), and Eric Owens sang and acted the role brilliantly. His dark, rich voice expressed his anguish and determination, and my only quibble — a really minor one — is that he looked such a nice guy! Truly he was the star of the show, along with Bryn Terfel as Wotan, who managed to look ruthless and show fierce determination to retain the ring after stealing it, until Patricia Bardon as Erda warned him off such nonsense. She was terrific in that small role, looking and singing like a goddess.
As that other goddess, Wotan’s wife Fricka, Stephanie Blythe sang strongly and gave a warmly human portrayal. Loge, whose schemes let Wotan off the hook he’s made for himself, was well sung by Richard Croft, and I liked the costume and the lighting for him. In fact the whole production, by Robert Lepage, was very well lit by Etienne Boucher with good costume designs by Francois St-Aubin, including those for the giants who were made to look large without using stilts or artificial heads. Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König as Fasolt and Fafner both gave fine portrayals of these giants, and I loved the way Fasolt turned his head sympathetically as Fricka sang of a woman’s value, Weibes Wonne und Wert. Fafner was thoroughly menacing, and we shall presumably hear him again in his transformation as the dragon in Siegfried. Carl Fillion’s set design, with multiple strips of wood that could tilt at various angles was certainly clever, and I liked the placing of the giants at a higher level, and loved the rainbow bridge at the end. This high-tech production sets a standard that will be hard for other opera houses to beat, and I look forward to the broadcast of Walküre next May.
As to the conducting, it was wonderful to have James Levine back in the pit, and the orchestra played beautifully under his direction.
Well said, Mark! I watched it in a theater in Ithaca, NY with trepidation – prior exposure to Wagner not leaving me in the best of moods. It was an experience. Even Maureen Dowd, NY Times political op-ed columnist, liked it – totally out of character (she likes nothing). http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/opinion/10dowd.html?_r=2&th&emc=th
Glad you liked it, John. I thought the production was very good, though I found Terfel a little disappointing and as youngish god in this first Ring opera I would prefer a voice with more energy and drive.