Bryn Terfel and Stephanie Blythe in Das Rheingold Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera 2010
On Saturday, I was in New York for the fourth performance of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Das Rheingold
. The new vision, created by Canadian auteur Robert Lepage, replaced an over-two-decades old storybook version by the venerable Otto Schenk. Yet after millions of dollars, structural stage reinforcements, and immense amounts of hand wringing, the most notable thing about this new production is how remarkably similar it is to the one it replaced. Outside of a precious few special effects, perhaps the only real difference between the two is that disposal of the old sets raise concerns over formaldehyde and asbestos while ridding the world of Lepage and his team’s handiwork will bring up issues over mercury and other hazardous metals. The large 24-plank set piece undulates and repositions itself with relative ease and does produce some memorable images such as the first appearance of the Rheinmaidens floating high above the stage on wires in front of an interactive projection of an underwater world. But for all the trouble and money, the massive rotating set does surprisingly little.
But no amount of machinery can take the place of actually directing a cast of vocal artists. And onstage Lepage has surprisingly little to say, new or otherwise, about Das Rheingold
or its action. The principals wander around downstage for hours gesturing with little to do in costumes that are at best unfortunate. From Bryn Terfel as someone’s special homage to Pete Burns (or perhaps Ratt's Stephen Pearcy circa 1984. See above), to Patricia Bardon’s Erda whom my friend Jim described as the Cindy Brady of Erdas, no one gets out of this show without either a mess to wear and/or having to slide down the large planks of the set at some point while doing so. The laughter produced by the dumping of Fasolt's body off the set seemed unintended but was just one of such moments.
l-r: James Levine with Stephanie Blythe, Adam Diegel, and Wendy Bryn Harmer Photo: mine 2010
On the plus side, the musical qualities of the performance were quite high. Maestro Levine may not be bounding on or off stage for bows with ease, but his conducting seems unhindered in any way. The orchestra was superb throughout. Vocally, the revelatory performance of the afternoon belonged to Eric Owens. This is a big and well–deserved success for this personable and very interesting artist, and gauging by the audience response, he’s arrived here in New York. Oddly he was not evenly matched in the triad at the center of this opera. Bryn Terfel’s Wotan had a beautiful tone but was strangely removed and uninvolved. Richard Croft’s Loge was underpowered and neither particularly mischievous nor scary. He seemed like he stepped out of some buddy movie or video game. On the women's side, I was fairly impressed with Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka, who was never shrill, though I never got any real sense of the relationship between her and her husband in the staging.
Of course, I don’t want to go so far as to say that this design is so flawed that there is no hope for the many hours of Ring operas planned to follow in Das Rheingold
’s wake. Lepage’s large set could be used more actively and provides many interesting possibilities that have yet to be explored. And furthermore, given that the Met is finally letting go of an older production that had more than overstayed its welcome is an important step. But Lepage’s new Das Rheingold
is undoubtedly a half-measure. It needs to go much farther in terms of its ambition and scope to deliver something worthwhile and that doesn't mean just delivering more technological wizardry. But unlike Wotan and the gods of Valhalla, there is still some time to change this production’s eventual destiny, and hopefully Lepage and his team are thinking more creatively about their next steps.
Labels: Met opera reviews 10/11