Top positive review
Rheingold Met 2010 - performance 5 stars, staging 4 stars
on 15 August 2013
Glad to have the opportunity to review a Ring recording, one of the biggest works of art, and whether you love or loathe Wagner, music or man, it is a challenging and rewarding experience, every music lover should tackle it. With such a rich, complex work of art, there are perhaps as many meanings and interpretations as listeners, and as an allegorical struggle between good and evil, love and power, of relevance to us all. This will be interesting because we have a change of conductor mid-cycle, and I have these big Wagner works for breakfast. So. Here we go....
Musically a mostly excellent performance, but the interesting production design doesn't always add to the experience and has proved controversial. It replaces the superb naturalistic Otto Schenk / Gunther Schneider-Siemssen production, and revolves (pun intended) around the so-called Machine stage, basically a series of motor driven planks which can be rotated around an axis, allowing infinite placement and fluid movement. With interactive projections it represents, for example, under the Rhine, the Nibelung cavern, etc., and you get water bubbles, scudding clouds and stuff like that. When effective it's all very nice, but sometimes prior knowledge and imagination are required. The rainbow bridge is ineffective despite a vivid overhead spectrum. The production is more impressionist than literal, and looks both naturalistic and artificial, if that makes any sense. Fortunately there are plenty of close-ups of the singers and superb costumes, because the singers act well.
The cast is excellent. Bryn Terfel conveys the introspective side as well as the impatient, brutish nature of the young ambitious Wotan, he has a strong pleasing voice. Eric Owens relishes the role of Alberich, vocally strong, teeth flashing before huge scary dreadlocks. Richard Croft as David Cassidy lookalike Loge with huge quiff and shiny costume. Gerhard Siegel does a star turn as Mime. All good, including Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia), Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt) and Hans-Peter Konig (Fafner). Special praise to the Rhinemaidens, acting and singing suspended precipitously on harnesses and wires.
Alberich is usually described as an evil Nibelung dwarf who steals the gold intent on gaining power, but surely the Rhinemaidens are partly to blame for the theft. They tease Alberich for his appearance and lustful advances, openly boasting of the gold and how it can be forged into a ring of power. Really they shouldn't be too surprised when Alberich curses love, steals the gold and sets off on his evil quest.
I love Wotan's spear joust with the dragon's tail and when he and Loge are peering the wrong way for the tiny toad, I'm like 'It's behind you!' Sorry, fellow Wagnerians. Yes. Be serious. At 2 hours 38 minutes, this is towards the longer timings for Das Rheingold, the longest piece of unbroken Western music. Though I prefer hurtling speeds, it's all about phrasing, James Levine's conducting seldom feels slow, though the ascent fron Nibelheim feels more a trudge, a rare example of loss of momentum, and I would prefer a more bombastic entry of the gods into Valhalla. With my anorak on to compare timings in my collection, the fastest is Karl Bohm Bayreuth 1966 (marketed as 1967) 2 hours 17 minutes, Wilhelm Furtwangler Milan 1950 2 hours 29 minutes, the slowest is Reginald Goodall London 1975 2 hours 54 minutes (ouch).
Picture and sound quality are excellent, the Metropolitan orchestra superb. The stage plinth emphasises voices, despite the excellent cast the voices are too prominent, I would prefer more orchestral volume, though I'm just using a standard TV. The DVD is chaptered copiously and there are subtitles, so now I know what they're all singing about! Can't wait for Die Walkure and more Bryn Terfel....