An account of the final performance of Das Rheingold this season at the Metropolitan Opera from the Unbiased Opinionator.
* Notes *
Director Robert Lepage gave an extensive interview in New York City last fall about his conception of the Ring. He spent considerable time in Iceland, and said that no one who lived in the Icelandic hinterlands for any length of time could ever doubt the existence of gnomes, giants, or mythic Gods. Hearing him speak, it is impossible to doubt his seriousness and integrity.
Unfortunately, the production's stage machinery, designed by Carl Fillion, seemed to overwhelm the evening. The set consists of gigantic, undulating planks, which morph into visually paradoxical, Max Escher-like planes. Complex, computer-generated effects and lighting were projected atop this. Only Wagner's gigantic score seemed unsubjugated by this restless behemoth. Particularly distracting were the all-too-visible cables from which the soloists were suspended as they moved in hazardous sideward and slanted trajectories across the cantilevered components of the set.
The audience applauded and tittered in delight at the cavorting Rhine-mermaids and their taunting of Alberich, and certainly Wagner would have approved of this. The dragon/dinosaur transformation, aided by the Tarnhelm, was also very effective.
Of the cast, Eric Owens' tremendous Alberich dominated the show, even though he seemed to tire during his final curse. It is a rare evening when Alberich is a more powerful dramatic and vocal presence than Wotan. The admirable Bryn Terfel's rendition of the God lacked the heft and thrust required of the dramatic bass-baritone voice type for which this role was conceived.
Stephanie Blythe, a singer in a class unto herself, poured out tremendous waves of sound, yet failed to capture the hectoring character of Fricka, as she agonizes about the fate of her sister Freia (sung with steely power by soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer), who is held as a downpayment by the giants Fafner and Fasolt for their building of Valhalla. Ms. Blythe seemed to fashion her vocal expression according to the surface contours of Fricka's vocal line, and not to the underlying text. Beautifully, in fact, overwhelmingly well sung, her rendition seemed lacking in dramatic comprehension of the character.
On the other hand, Bayreuth veterans Gerhard Siegel (Mime) and Hans-Peter Koenig (Fafner) inhabited their roles in such a fashion that one never thought of vocalism. They performed their roles with a perfect unison of text, powerful vocalism and dramatic intent. Patricia Bardon's dark-hued, threatening rendition of Erda's "Weiche Wotan" was, for this reviewer, the highlight of the evening.
Another Bayreuth veteran, Arnold Bezuyen, captured the essence of Loge, part scheming diplomat, part crooked lawyer, although one was often distracted and concerned for him as he slid down and then scaled backwards the steeply angled set. Tethered by a cable, his freedom to gesture and act with his body was severely inhibited. Possessed of a solid character tenor voice, he seemed somewhat underpowered in the large Met auditorium.
Having heard many performances of the Ring conducted by James Levine, it is difficult for this reviewer to make a fair assessment of Fabio Luisi's reading. Luisi drew from the Met orchestra an almost chamber music-like, transparent performance that served the singers well, but one missed the elusive combination of weight, grandeur and forward momentum that Levine achieved in this music. The brass section was uncharacteristically fraught with mishaps.
No doubt the composer would have been delighted to have had at his disposal the modern machinery used in the Lepage Ring, machinery which would have freed him from the two-dimensionality of the set design and lighting available to him at the time. One wonders, however, if he would not have employed these resources in such a way that the protagonists of his music-dramas were not relegated to the visual and dramatic background. One awaits eagerly the upcoming Walküre for a further assessment of the new Met Ring.