This morning one of my music-loving web buddies from New York alerted me that the Metropolitan Opera would present a matinée performance of Das Rheingold at 1:00 pm EST—and that it would also be broadcast in live HD to movie theaters all across America. Now I’m hardly a big Wagner fan, though I do think he wrote some lovely music. Even though I keep trying to see what so many admire so much about Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen cycle of “music dramas,” I still think the obnoxious little creep’s reach far exceeded his grasp. Yet I had seen a couple of articles about the ambitious new Robert Lepage Met production and it seemed like much too good an opportunity to pass up. Happily, my music-loving wife agreed, even though she isn’t particularly fond of Wagner, either! Google confirmed that several Sacramento cinemas were showing the performance, so we hopped in the car and headed south.
Arriving at Natomas Regal Cinemas, we paid our $48 (a pittance compared to the cost of good seats at the opera house) and entered the theater. A casually dressed crowd of about 150 was scattered about the plush seats. All but a few were senior citizens. None were throwing popcorn or shouting taunts at rivals across the room, yet their excitement was nearly palpable. Clearly they had been looking forward to this for some time; their enthusiastic chatter reminded me of our kids before the start of a new installment of Star Wars.
The broadcast began with a brief filmed introduction to the Met’s Live HD series, some excerpts from a documentary about the making of the new Ring cycle, and Deborah Voight’s backstage interview with Bryn Terfel (portraying Wotan, CEO of the gods) outside his dressing room. Then the scene shifted to the Met stage as seen from the dress circle, maestro James Levine entered the orchestra pit, and the magic began.
That’s right, magic . . . for what followed cannot be described as anything other than a bewitching fusion of great music, compelling story, remarkable performances, and extraordinary stagecraft. Robert Lepage’s production defied and surpassed expectations, creating a mysterious, otherworldly setting that shifted shape seamlessly to support the needs of each scene. (Read about the technical wizardry behind Lepage’s “Valhalla Machine,” and see images from the production, at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/arts/music/19ring.html .)
From the Rhinemaidens’ first appearance, floating against a watery backdrop high off the stage floor, to the final ascent of the gods to Valhalla, Annie and I were completely captivated. This was easily the most satisfying production of Das Rheingold among the few I have seen, including the Met’s previous Levine/Large production and the famous Boulez/Chéreau production from Bayreuth, both on DVD. What made Lepage’s set design work so well was precisely that it did not call attention to itself—at least, not after the initial period of adjustment to the floating, shifting, rotating floor—but effectively vanished in service to the story. Bravo!
Of course a great set—and equally fine costuming—would hardly suffice to make a great production in the absence of great performances. No worries—this Das Rheingold abounds with them. The strong Met orchestra under Levine’s direction is a given in Wagner, as is Bryn Terfel in the role of Wotan. But virtually all the performers sang and acted their roles to near perfection.
Richard Croft’s Loge was the standout for me. His acting was fluid and credible despite an awkward costume encumbered with a body harness to pull him backwards up the tilting set, and the beautifully smooth tone of his singing voice was also rich with nuance. He easily held his own with Zednik and Jerusalem in this role, but played Loge as more clever than crafty, more playful than devious.
Other performances I especially enjoyed included Eric Owens’s Alberich, Gerhard Siegel’s Mime (I’m already rubbing my hands together in anticipation of Siegfried!), Tamara Mumford’s Flosshilde, and Franz-Josef Selig’s Fasolt. Yet the entire cast was superb and by singling out the foregoing for special mention I do not mean to imply that anyone else was weak. In short, it was a first-class production in every respect and made as fine a case for Wagner’s magnum opus as we’re ever likely to see.
There will be an encore presentation at most of the same cinemas on Wednesday, Oct 27, at 6:30 pm. Wagner fans—and even those who aren’t but are still willing to try The Ring under very favorable conditions—are heartily encouraged to attend! For more info about the Met’s Live HD broadcasts, including links to participating cinemas, see http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/hd_events_next.aspx