Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Metropolitan Opera's Das Rheingold

So I want to write about how wonderful WNO's Magic Flute was, but I've been very distracted by the Met's Das Rheingold (the first instalment of their brand new Ring Cycle) which opened on Monday night.

The excitement has been building for ages, what with all the chat about Robert Lepage and his 45 ton, 17 million dollar 'machine' of a set. The Met's publicity department has gone crazy (Bryn Terfel's face is supposedly being featured on the side of most of NYC's public transport) and you can even get The Ring as your ring courtesy of the Met's free Wagnerian ringtone downloads (click here to get yours).

As I live in Yorkshire rather than New York and would hardly have had a ticket to the star-studded gala performance if I did, I was listening to it via live audio stream with the rest of the world's non-celebrity opera fans. As such, I was ignorant to what was actually taking place on the stage, and I'm now thinking that was probably a good thing. As much as I love the look of Lepage's revolving planks (because that's basically what they are) and fantastic light and video projections, it seems that for most critics, all the money and the hype resulted in the success or failure of the opera resting with the visuals. Given that there was lots of clumsy clunking and creaking, and that the rainbow bridge to Valhalla at the end of the production completely malfunctioned, I'm glad that my rapturous joy was untainted by any of this.

Instead, my own opinions were based on the lush sounds of The Met Orchestra (energetically conducted by Maestro James Levine in his first outing since back surgery) and the wonderful, wonderful voices. For me, the most sublime moment was Stephanie Blythe as Fricka waking Bryn Terfel's Wotan from his mountain slumber. Terfel's portrayal of the mighty Wotan has been described as dark and brooding, which it certainly is, but it is also vocally rich and warm and that fabulous, distinctive tone sets him apart from the rest of the cast. The moment the first sound escaped his lips, I found myself doing a little excited cheer.

I was less excited by the photographs of the production which were all over the internet the following morning. Commentators on the radio broadcast spent the hour before Levine picked up his baton describing how wonderful the cast all looked in their Fran├žois St-Aubin costumes. Blythe (who was said to be in beautiful, flowing green) looked like she'd rented a cheap 1980s plus-size ball gown for the occasion, and poor Bryn who looked so masterful and sexy in the well-lit publicity shots (see below!) had clearly borrowed part of his outfit from MC Hammer and rented the rest from the 'dress as a super hero' section of a budget fancy dress shop. The Rheinmaidens are pretty cool (but then, mermaids do tend to be).

All in all, it is rather magnificent and I am really excited about getting to see the next instalment, Die Walkure, at the cinema thanks to The Met Live in HD. I'm happily anticipating the development of Terfel's Wotan (which is surely going to be definitive) and can easily get past the bad costume if he's going to continue to make that gorgeous sound.