My friends, I have made a disturbing discovery of late. After some years of listening to operas, I finally went to hear a Wagner opera, Das Rheingold, last Wednesday. The music was sublime. In general, I do not like music past Beethoven, and my favorite opera composer is undoubtedly Mozart. So I was surprised I found Das Rheingold engaging. The lack of recitative was nice, the lack of chorus was a bit odd. I enjoy Wagner's use of percussion.
Zubin Mehta conducted admirably, the orchestra and singers seemed more synchronized than usual at any rate. The singing was consistent, John Tomlinson was especially good Wotan and Franz-Josef Kapellmann as Alberich also had a strong voice. The Rhine maidens (Margarita De Arellano, Ann-Katrin Naidu, and Hana Minutillo) were a bit shrill taken apart, but sounded just lovely together.
The production was by the late Herbert Wernicke, and he was in charge of the staging and costumes as well. The stage was a theatre, the seats raked, boxes in the back, Corinthian columns stage left to suggest the outside architecture of the building. The stage looks more or less the same throughout the four scenes, which made the transitions exceedingly smooth, and there was no intermission. The main part of the stage, where most of the singing happened, was a platform of 18 feet just downstage.
The Rhine was suggested by an aquarium, complete with three goldfish, in the opening scene. Alberich would try to catch the fish when actually trying to catch the Rhine maidens, who staggered about around him in high heels and sequined evening gowns. When he steals the Rhine gold, he actually puts his left foot in the aquarium. There is an audience on stage, people in evening dress, and Erda is in the box to the left, with a large book. Erda stays there throughout, until she sings in Scene IV. The costumes throughout the production is more or less contemporary, only Erda has a costume that is somewhat theatrical, a black satin dress with a full skirt and an elaborate glittery head dress.
Scene II was the only one that took any time at all to set up, because they had to put the Greco-Roman styled model of Valhalla on to the seats near the back. The audience is gone, except for Erda. I was very confused that Valhalla involved a peristyle. But I realized later that Valhalla was actually a model of the Nationaltheater, where the opera itself took place. The furniture of the Gods exactly matched the decor of the opera house as well, white painted wood with pink velvet.
Scene III used a screen on which they projected black and white footage of mines, and later a dragon and a toad. Also, a ladder was placed in the center from which Wotan and Loge make their descent into Nibelheim. The audience has returned, and while Mime talks to the Gods, Alberich steals jewelry from the audience members.
Scene IV is just like Scene II, with the audience gone again. As the Gods go to Valhalla, various moving men take the furnishings up, including paintings of opera singers and busts of composers. The screen comes back down again and footage of opera goers entering the Nationaltheater is played. The symbolism is quite obvious.