Das Rheingold. Lepage’s staging at the Met overpowers the performers.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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(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

Distribution

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

 

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