Sunday, October 10, 2010


Wotan...................Bryn Terfel
Fricka..................Stephanie Blythe
Alberich................Eric Owens
Loge....................Richard Croft
Erda....................Patricia Bardon
Fasolt..................Franz-Josef Selig
Fafner..................Hans-Peter König
Freia...................Wendy Bryn Harmer
Froh....................Adam Diegel
Donner..................Dwayne Croft
Mime....................Gerhard Siegel
Woglinde................Lisette Oropesa
Wellgunde...............Jennifer Johnson Cano
Flosshilde..............Tamara Mumford

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............Robert Lepage

The Metropolitan Opera has invested deeply in its new Ring cycle.  As Peter Gelb explained, they have even shored up the building to support the incredible piece of machinery that serves as the set for all four operas.

I really loved the beginning of Rheingold.  The rippling Rhine and the floating Rhine maidens were fabulously exciting.  And the staircase image going down to Nibelungenland was striking.  The rest was comme si comme sa.  I think we in the movie theater have the best view.

Loge and the Rhine maidens were on wires.  All of Loge's attention was focused on maintaining his balance on the wire, and nothing was left over for developing a character.  Bryn Terfel and Stephanie Blythe had "no wire walking" clauses in their contracts, I'm sure.  Or?  Was Bryn on a wire in the staircase scene?

Rheingold is a very funny opera, and I laughed out loud several times.  Nibelungens screaming and running here and there were especially amusing.

My son thought the tempos were too slow, but I was fine with it.  James Levine looks very frail these days, but the music is still there.

I would have thought that Bayreuth in the 50's would have proved once and for all that it isn't about the set.  In fact, it's never about the set.

It's about the singers:  how they sing, how they PHRASE, how they move, how they look, how they sing, and how they understand and conceive their roles.  They make the drama, not the stupid set.  The main role of the director is to conceive the characters within the drama and communicate that concept to the singers.  Who are they to one another?  How do they feel?  If your concept is that they are sticks of wood or at best pretty pictures, your opera will fail.

I don't know what to say about the singing.  No eggs were laid.  Eric Owens was an amazing Alberich.  I wanted to see this before I actually saw it.  Bryn was a terrible disappointment.  If he wants to impress me, he's going to have to try one hell of a lot harder.

The Ring is scored for an absurdly large group of brasses.  Even such a large orchestra as the Metropolitan Opera orchestra would have to call in extra players, players who had never played The Ring before.  I'm making excuses.  The performance of Das Rheinglold included a lot of out of tune brass playing.

This has to be contrasted with the really quite wonderful San Francisco Die Walküre. Maybe I'll go after all.



Chris Baker said...

Not that it was to slow, but that it was emotionally dead. I was just listening to the audio so I'm only reacting to that. I thought it just plodded along.

It didn't feel to me that the singers were emotionally committed to their characters. For me it's all about Woton and Loge. I need Loge to ooze charm as he gleefully plays everyone against each other. I need to feel Woton's sweat as he tries to keep all his plates spinning. I need to feel everyone break over the idea of wielding unlimited power or having it wielded against them.

I need stark emotional contrasts. The deadly seriousness of the gods vs the mirthful nonchalance of Loge.

I need to feel just how dangerous a game Woton is playing. One little story and suddenly everyone is willing to sacrifice everything. Loge's words are acid that burn through everything; anyone singing the part needs to cut just as sharp. One minute we've got the proud king of the gods showing off his new digs; the next we've got the basest of vultures fighting for control of a dead carcass.

I heard a bunch of singers trying to sing the ring. Who cares?

Dr.B said...

So an absence of eggs will not do it for you? Bryn was interviewed before the opera and seemed to think Wotan should hang back and stay out of everyone's way in this opera. Maybe the problem has been that he just doesn't want to sing Wotan.

Dr.B said...

There is an article in the upcoming Opera News about why audiences are so blase these days. This week is an interesting illustration.

Figaro was carefully and interestingly staged, and the parts were all very well cast. And as a result the audience responded with enormous enthusiasm and extended applause. It is, after all, Gockley's favorite opera.

The Ring was all about the set. And when you get down to it, who really cares about the set?

Chris Baker said...

First off I don't think that Woton works as a wallflower. He is the ultimate p-hound action man. He's the billionaire that rides a motorcycle without a helmet.
I do think that Bryn has it in him to be in the roll, I just don't think he's figured out yet how to tailor the role to fit him. Heck, I hear more Woton in his Vaughan-Williams.

Loge's another story...

You're absolutely right about the set. This was a very American Rheingold. Packaging over product. Problem is that that's the ultimate joke of the Ring: It's impossible to stage. Shit, he burns down the f'ing set at the end. To obsess about it is a trap.

It's hyper-romanticism. You have to milk every drop out of it, and that requires singers that are fearless. If I wanted high wire acts I'd watch Peter Pan.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Barbara (I know this makes you sound like a television personality). Regarding your complaint about out-of-tune brass playing in the Met Rheingold,this could simply have been an off night for the them. They are one of the best brass sections in the world,and I haven't noticed their playing in recent years as being faulty in intonation.
Actually,the Met orchestra does have a very large brass sections with co-principals. There are in effect two separate horn sections there which alternate. But they combine when doing the Ring,which requires 8 horns,4 of which alternate with the Wagner tubas,and other operas with very large brass sections,such as Elektra and Die Frau ohne Schatten,which also use the same 8 horn system as the Ring,something which Strauss obviously copied here.
Playing the Ring and Wagner in general, is unbelievably taxing for brass players. Das Rheingold requires 2 and a half hours of non-stop playing without an intermission.
My late horn teacher,Arthur Goldstein,played in the Met orchestra many years ago frequently,and he said that when you play a Wagner performance,"Your lip is tired before the curtain goes up!"
The Met also uses experienced substitutes who are generally not new to the music when needed.
As in symphony orchestras, the Met uses an assistant principal to help the first horn through these Wagner performances,to take over from the principal periodically during a performance so he or she can save his or her lips for solos and difficult passages,and sometimes to double the louder passages. This assistant is the principal's lifeline,and it would be a fate worse than death not to have one.
Goldstein was also the author of those wacky "Professor Schmutzig" horn lesson book satires. Professor Schmutzig was his alter ego,and many years ago,he gave me an autographed copy.
I'm now on twitter,and go by the name mrclassicalmusic,(no c),because I couldn't get the c on as my username,and thought that it looked rather interesting without the c.

All the best, Robert Berger.

Dr.B said...

I'm happy to sound like a television personality as long as I don't have to be one.