Friday, October 01, 2010

In the beginning

Opening night has brought out, as it does, even some people who were supposed to be gone (the latter with a giant pile of news that deserves a more thorough look soon), but there isn't, in fact, much to write about. The show succeeded, because (there's no "[a]ctually" or "however"/"oddly" about it) it was quite deeply traditional, certainly more so than any Ring production you'll see outside the United States.

If we learned anything from Robert Lepage's Damnation of Faust, it was that he has little interest in the singers (and characters) in these shows except as figures in his setscapes. And if Lepage and/or the Met learned anything, it was that because of this unbalanced interest, he should be given license to create stunning setscapes -- insofar as they don't swallow the singers or their doings. Thus we got no fewer than four assistant stage directors -- and, as one would expect, no particularly singular perspective from that end of things (though there were some nice touches). It was the stage picture that was most individual.

But that, too, was largely traditional. For all the elaborate and famously expensive machinery and software used in the show, its most striking view -- the white midair bridge towards Nibelheim -- was a old-school shot of lighting and contrast. In fact, between the impressive burst of tech wizardry at the beginning (the pebble-displacing, underwater-bubbling Rhinemaidens) and the impressive wizardry-that-wasn't at the end (the Valhalla malfunction left us only with a soothing '70s-style rainbow light show as the gods walked offstage), Lepage's screens and projections became mere swirling shadow-clouds behind the gods and the detailed but static red-earth caves of Nibelheim itself, and his revolving set mostly an acoustical aid for the singers. Walls and wallpaper, in other words, and the lesson here is apparently that it's very expensive to make a unit set that doesn't look cheap or cheesy. (The men's costumes could use some help on that front, though.)

*     *     *

Given a helpful and engaging stage (and not a tyrannically overstuffed one), the singers and house directors had room to play out their mostly standard business. The here-unabashedly sympathetic Fasolt (Franz-Josef Selig) got some unexpected attention, with Freia (Wendy Bryn Harmer, making a notable impression) more sympathetic to him than usual -- and more affected by his murder. The rest of the body language was perhaps a bit too much stock-Wagnerian, but that's the Ring.

In fact, though the gods got star casting, the show was stolen by Eric Owens' Alberich, who showed enough of the divine spark for his role as the series' demiurge (it all starts, after all, with the Rhine-daughters' mostly-innocent flirting) to make some real sense. None of the others did poorly, but Bryn Terfel -- an almost literally unbelievable source of thrills in the spring's Toscas -- seemed rarely interested in what was going on, showing a bit of life only on hitting conflict near the end. But Rheingold is only really accessible to listeners familiar with the whole subsequent cycle: Terfel, I assume, will find more to his part when he learns and sings Wotan's later variations. Valkyrie does, after all, offer more red meat.


  1. Surprised to hear Eric Owens' Alberich stole the show. Opening nights are always special, and the imperfections and newness of everything are what make them so interesting and filled with character.

  2. Wonderful review...and I couldn't agree with you more about Owens. WHAT a performance. I posted similar sentiments (and stolen pictures too!) at I hope you have a movement to check it out (new to the blogosphere).

    And welcome back! I'm glad to see posts happening again on this blog!


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.