(photo by : Richard Termine/The New York Times)
Watching the opera beamed in live is an exhilarating experience simply because we are thrust on stage with the camera and the view is spectacular. e get huge close-ups of the faces. We hear their voices perfectly, (which apparently was not the case in the theatre itself where we heard the Met audience booing tenor Richard Croft because he could barely be heard. We had no trouble hearing him in the Coliseum and in fact his voice, and that of baritone Eric Owens, were the most dramatic performances of the evening. James Levine’s majestic reading of Wagner created a lot of excitement as well and the technology of HD was the perfect venue for Wagner’s music.
Obviously, selected camera angles and foreshortening of the lens sometimes deprived us of the global view of the stage but it did have the advantage of bringing us close to the singers so we could appreciate the voices, the facial expressions, and all the details of the stage effects which were no doubt the aspect of this production that most excited our curiosity. I had seen Patrice Chereau’s controversial staging of Wagner filmed in Bayreuth and the erotic charge of his work with the singers created a physical tension which had never before been seen on that stage. Lepage’s staging of this opera is supposed to rejuvenate the genre and give more traditional stagings a new impetus as we move into the 21st century, however it did not have the same emotional charge and in several cases, it even seemed to hamper the singers’ performances.
Das Rheingold did, however, begin beautifully with the three Rhein mermaids frolicking in the water, perched on top of those huge slats of wood, transformed into waves. The trio flipped their fishtails and rolled about with great glee. We could see they were attached to long cables that made them appear to be floating about, dancing on the crests of the waves, and plunging into the depths of the river as they spouted bubbles in this watery world. The pebble covered beach where they later cavorted with Alberich was recreated by moving images projected onto a wide series of moving panels. This adaptation of a cinematographic language to the three dimensional space of the stage, was, and always is, the source of Lepage’s stage magic. Here, this series of long strips of wood linked together, were able to undulate and move up and down, or back and forth individually, creating , among other places, the Niebelheim cave where Alberich’s slaves are toiling, or the entrance to Valhalla, or even a long stairway that slides over the stage and seems to spread out indefinitely. The endless transformations almost create the illusion that we are watching shots from a film and this visual technique, along with the dramatic lighting effects and all the staging devices, recreate the vastness of the spaces summoned up by Wagner’s music. We could see the immense world of the Gods , the absent world of the Giants drawing their hostage Freia away into their shadowy retreat. We were also spirited away into the watery world of the Rhein maidens and then further down into the lower depths of Niebelheim, a dark space lit with burning fires as the molten gold is transformed by Alberich’s slaves into precious objects that Wotan and his family come to take away, to pay Freia’s ransom.
There is no doubt that even Wagner would have seen parts of this performance as the very incarnation of his notion of Gesamtkunstwerk, especially as the voices of the gods flowed up to the heavens while the singers crossed over a bridge into Valhalla against the glow of an inflamed sky. Yet all this extraordinary attention to the scenography sometimes made us feel that the human beings were somehow in the way.
At times, it was almost as though the directors had decided to ignore the singers and let the visuals carry the day. We saw some awkward staging when Wotan, with his family confront the giants Fasolt and Fafner (whose stuffed arms and bodies made them look like monstrous little teddy bears) during the discussion over Freia’s release. A strange lack of emotion on the part of Wotan (Bryn Terfel) who stood stolidly like some heroic statue with no expression, no movement, and an apparent lack of energy while the others wandered around not quite knowing what to do, except take on a heroic stance. One had the impression that no one was really at ease in those constantly shifting spaces that had the singers climbing up slopes and walking along at almost right angles to the stage. In spite of the cables and various supports in place, and in spite of the fact that there were stand-ins during the most physically difficult passages, there seemed to be exude a certain malaise, standing as they were, in the shadow of all that technology .
Only the “ugly hairy gnome” Alberich had any fire and passion in his belly, his limbs and his face. He too had to climb up those panels , and then slide down them when those heartless Rheinmaidens pushed him away, refusing his advances. The staging interpreted these encounters as a rather timidly physical game of “ now I’ve got you now I haven’t “ with these slippery beauties . However, one could have imagined a much more lusty encounter between the enflamed Alberich trying to get hold of one of those nasty little teasers taunting him as they rolled away just out of his grasp. Eric Owens sang and acted his heart out ,even until the very moment when he grabs the treasure and runs off with it, just to avenge himself on the women. When the gods finally get the better of Alberich, beat him up, humiliate him and take away all his worldly (stollen) possessions, he at least reacts! His defeat is just as passionate as his triumph, his fury just as moving as his lust. In all ways, he was the best presence of the evening
We also had a surprise on opening night. Almost immediately after the broadcast begun, the screen went dark! Sun spots apparently interferred with the transmission and to keep the audience happy, The Met beamed in a documentary of a rehearsal with Lepage that included some backstage interviews with the singers just before the curtain went up. This was an added delight to the evening, and to make it even better, the opera began when the problems were solved. Thus Das Rheingold itself started 30 minutes late but we did not miss a minute of the performance.
Therefore, even though the staging appeared to be hampered by a total reliance on the seductive energy of Lepage’s superstaging, to the point where the scenography seemed at times, to work against the singers themselves, Das Rheingold was still worth the price of the ticket.
You can see the next screening live of Das Rheingold on November 20, at the Coliseum Cineplex
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht. Photo by Richard Termine (The New York Times. )
Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner
Beamed into cineplex Coliseum, Ottawa, Saturday, October 9, 2010
Can also be seen on Nov. 20 and 29, Live in HD at 13h00.
A production of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, based on the scenography by Robert Lepage and his production company ExMachina
Conductor James Levine,
Set design by Carl Fillion
Costumes by François St-Aubin
Lighting design by Étienne Boucher
Video imagery by Boris Firquet
Fricka Stephanie Blythe
Freia Wendy Bryn Harmer
Erda Patricia Bardon
Loge Richard Croft
Mime Gerhard Siegel
Wotan Bryn Terfel
Alberich Eric Owens
Fasolt Franz-Josef Sélig
Fafner Hans-Peter Konig