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03 May, 2012

Das Rheingold at the Met: complex stagecraft with great vocal story-telling.

Das Rheingold. Wagner. Met Opera NYC. Thurs 26th April 2012.

I attended the Met Rheingold having seen this production twice before, once in the cinema in Sydney and once at its opening in the theatre in March last year.  All three were splendid performances of the radical new production by Canadian Robert Lepage and his team.  This time I was also fortunate to be in central seats up the front of the theatre so that I could see the whites of their eyes!  It was an added privilege to see the conductor side-on for the entire performance as he directed two and a half hours of incomparable continuous drama, vocalising and orchestral playing. 

In fact the performance was truly magnificent in every way.  Not one singer let the side down they all possessed large and elegant voices.  For me the greatest pleasure of Rheingold was again hearing Stephanie Blythe in the role of Fricka.  Her voice is an acoustic flow of glorious vocal caviar, served up to a receptive and doting Met audience (as well as the world of cinema screens).  Her dramatic credulity is supreme as a mature authority figure even though her considered advice is ignored by Wotan her uncommon law husband. 

The surprise of the night for me was bass baritone Bryn Terfel playing Wotan the wanderer.  He had seemed ill-at-ease in this role last year but now assumes a dramatic confidence and vocal output which approaches the ideal in this challenging part (he is in the first three Ring operas).  It would seem that Mr Terfel may be completing the difficult transition from a lighter Mozart/Puccini/Verdi singer to becoming a true Wagnerian.  It might be like a sprinter becoming a marathon runner. 

Brothers Alberich (Eric Owens) and Mime (Gerhard Siegel) need to have not only pleasant voices but also ones capable of expressing anger, fear, pride and sometimes ugliness itself.  They too were perfect for the job.  The giants are again played by Messers Konig and Selig, an ideal deadly duo.  Loge was well played by Adam Klein as Stefan Margita was indisposed (nothing is easy in opera management).  Adam Diegel made a handsome Froh (spring) with a voice to match along with his partner demi-God Dwayne Croft as Donner (thunder). 

The stage effects were awesome using the new 50 tonne multiple see-saw machine.  The Rhinemaidens floating introduction was almost unbelievable with weightlessness, bubbles, sandy-bottom pebbles and other quasi-realisms amongst the fantastic.  The lateral twisted staircase for the journey to Neibelheim was cleverly evocative.  The rainbow bridge at the end was a vertical climb by under-weight stunt-persons with string-like technicolour projections forming the bridge itself which flattened out on the enormous set as the last strains of the opera were heard. 

Maestro Fabio Luisi, producer Robert Lepage and their artistic and musical colleagues deserve many accolades for this marvellous addition to the Wagner canon.  This production could be the closest to Wagners detailed instructions for the operas, some of which are seemingly impossible to physically enact on stage (like the famous ship sinking in La Gioconda).  With the projections and moving-plank stage virtually anything is possible.  No longer is there a lighting director (Etienne Boucher) working in isolation since every scene has its own cascade of video images, requiring Boris Firquet the resident Imaging Artist (done by Pedro Pires in Siegfried). 

My apologies to readers for this incomplete Ring summary some might find it heresy.  I am trying to digest the multifarious aspects of the following two operas as well as preparing myself for Gotterdamerung.  Readers may have read that Jonas Kaufmann pulled out of Die Walkure at short notice and that subsequent events made a story in the next days New York Times.  Next weeks Die Walkure will see Australian Stuart Skelton again in the role of Siegmund.  

Andrew Byrne ..