Das Rheingold: Under the Boardwalk
Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
March 31, 2011
Starring Bryn Terfel, Richard Paul Fink, Stephanie Blythe, Arnold Bezuyen, Dwayne Croft, Franz-Josef Selig, Patricia Bardon, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Fabio Luisi cond.
I finally saw Robert Lepage's highly discussed new production of Wagner's Das Rheingold at the Met -- somehow, fall tickets to the new production were nearly impossible to snag, but I managed a cheap orchestra seat last night. The performance was supposed to have started at 8:00, but there was an announcement of a delay, and finally the performance started at 8:30. The "machine" started moving up and down along with Wagner's up and down chords. I don't know what exactly I expected. Magic? Transformation?
It's been discussed a million times by now, but the unit set of LePage's Ring (dubbed The Machine) is two series of metallic planks. One lines the apron of the stage, and is basically immobile throughout the night. It's also the place most of the singers plant themselves for 99% of the performance. The other set of planks twists and turns and there are lighting projections of pebbles, fire, water, and other images to set the scene. When the "characters" are directed to move across the top series of planks, the work is done by body doubles attached to very visible ropes. I could not help but think that basically, the set looks like a boardwalk.
|The dragon in Das Rheingold|
The costumes (by François St-Aubin) and props did not enhance the drama. The gods were dressed in old-fashioned breastplates, ratty mullet wigs, and raggedy skirts that look like they could have fit in Wagner's first-ever Ring production. The Nibelung dwarves and the giants Fasolt and Fafner were absurdly all dressed in dreadlocks and MC Hammer-like baggy pants. Besides being borderline offensive, they undermined the drama, because at the heart of Das Rheingold is the equally greedy, bad behavior of both the gods and the dwarves. To have the Nibelungs look like wannabe rappers and the gods like cartoon book heroes, they erased the nuance Wagner built into the libretto. Everyone looked hokey and cartoonish. The transformation into monsters was laughable -- what looked like huge rubber toys were pushed onto either side of the stage. Another unintentionally hilarious scene was when the gods were instructed by Fasolt and Fafner to "cover Freia in gold" and they proceeded to lower her onto a hammock, and cover her in toy gold pieces that look like something you'd win in a midway.
|This is the best costume design you could come up with?|
The heroes of the night were taken by the smaller roles, who are in Das Rheingold extremely important, as they always are in an ensemble opera. As the witty and mischevious Loge, Arnold Bezuyen made his Met debut and showed a light, pure tenor voice. Loge is one of the few well-developed characters in LePage's staging -- he always has a glow of orange about him, and serves as the wily voice of reason. Part Cupid, part Puck, part Devil. Wendy Bryn Harmer as Freia, despite being dressed in the most unflattering breastplate/skirt/mullet wig costumes imaginable, showed with her strong pure soprano why Fasolt and Fafner would be so gaga for her. Gerhard Siegel as Mime also brought some comic relief to the opera. I also liked Lisette Oropesa as one of the Rheinmaidens. Dwayne Croft as Donner, Franz-Josef Selig as Fasolt, Hans-Peter Konig as Fafner, all sounded good, even if the production didn't have them do much of anything. One disappointment was Patricia Bardon as Erda, whose voice way too light and mezzo-ish for this real contralto, mother-of-the-earth (literally) role. One longed for a voice like Ernestine Schumann-Heink.
Fabio Luisi subbed for an ailing James Levine in the pit, and it's times like this I miss Levine. The opening up-and-down chords were barely audible under Luisi, as the metal moved. Levine was always able to make the Met orchestra sound great. Luisi made the orchestra sound very routine, and sometimes barely audible under the clank clank of The Machine.
One positive about this production -- I bet the singers love it. It requires practically no movement or blocking on their part, other than not cramping another singer's favorite plank. The singers are pushed to the front of the stage, and the metal planks sound like great acoustic bouncers. After so much money and so much publicity, we seem to be left with a Ring production even more old-fashioned and static than the last one, if that's even possible. The Schenk production had a postcard prettiness if you fancied that sort of thing. LePage's production is just ... blah. Of course, Rheingold is justly thought of as an appetizer to the heart of the cycle, so maybe the production will get more exciting as the cycle progresses. One can hope.