Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Met Ring: Rheingold

The Metropolitan Opera
Monday, April 27, 2009, 8:00 pm

Das Rheingold

Conductor: James Levine
Freia: Wendy Bryn Harmer
Fricka: Yvonne Naef
Erda: Wendy White
Loge: Kim Begley
Mime: Dennis Petersen
Wotan: Albert Dohmen
Alberich: Richard Paul Fink
Fasolt: René Pape
Fafner: John Tomlinson

Production: Otto Schenk

Due to this recessionary time, I had to make this an economical trip, so I slept on a friend's floor & did this Ring in standing room at the back of the family circle. I lined up at the Met around 8:30am on Monday & had enjoyable chats with other standees. The Met box office was considerate in selling standing room tickets for complete cycles, so we did not have to repeat the box office line each day.

From standing room, I could look down on almost every player in the pit. The orchestra sound was very clear, & the balance between singers & orchestra was excellent. I never ceased to be impressed by the fact that Wagner asks for 6 harps in the pit (plus 1 off-stage) & that the Met supplies them. A couple of times each evening, I would watch the harp players march into the pit, play for a few minutes, then march out.

The cast was very even, which was true of every performance I heard. Albert Dohmen's Wotan sounded fine throughout. Wendy White was a solid-voiced Erda. I liked Richard Paul Fink's nasty Alberich. He did a long maniacal laugh as the scrim came down on Scene I & often growled like an animal. He expressed great desperation in his curse scene. I liked both giants, especially John Tomlinson's deep, resonant & mean Fafner. His was the most arresting singing of the evening.

My understanding is that this 20-year-old Schenk production is an audience favorite, but I found it bland. In takes place largely in rocky landscapes & looks dated now. The sets are a bit worn as well, & the stage is often dimly lit. Rheingold has a lot of theatrical challenges, but the directors don't seem to have come up with good solutions for any of them, & the show had many unintentionally comic moments. The dragon was a snake head on a stick. The hoard was a pile of garbage bags which Fafner claimed by easily tossing them off stage. When Fafner kills Fasolt, Fasolt falls into the wings while Fafner, still on-stage, repeatedly mimed pummeling him with his spear. It was just too ridiculous.

Levine was in the pit after missing a performance the previous week. Unexpectedly, I found his conducting to be quite slack. It was certainly not rushed, & none of the big musical moments seemed to stick out as climaxes. Some speculated that this may have been deliberate & that it is meant to lead up to something. I didn't know what to make of it, & I left the performance with doubts about the rest of the cycle.

The most impressive performance I saw that day was given by the Opera Tattler, who joined the ticket line on Monday morning straight from the red-eye, with luggage in tow. She then spent the day walking around the Upper West Side & through Central Park before standing for the entire performance of Rheingold. So stark!


The Opera Tattler said...

I'm really glad you mentioned your harp obsession.

Sheer terror of Wagner certainly kept me on my toes!

Axel Feldheim said...

Yes, I did develop a bit of a harp obsession during the week. But who needs 6 harps? 2 seems excessive!

I believe Wagner wants you to be scared.