Saturday, October 9, 2010

D'you Remember Alberich?

I wasn't sure whether I would write about seeing the HD simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera's Das Rheingold today. Much has been written in print and online to which I couldn't add much, being far from an expert in things Wagnerian. In fact, as I mentioned when I wrote about Eugene Onegin recently, with the exception of Mr. Verdi's worthy offerings, it often surprises me to learn of music after 1850 that is beautiful. And frankly, this was my first Rheingold ever, and my first HD simulcast. Still, write I must, as it is my calling. Instead of tea and madeleines whilst writing my memoirs, just bring me cookies and Diet Coke while I write pithy commentary.

It is hard to imagine anyone--well, anyone who might have stumbled upon this blog--not having heard about this new production of Das Rheingold. Wagnerphiles are a passionate and demonstrative lot (unlike us dignified, composed Taminophiles), and the blogosophere has been humming with commentary. Any new production of Wagner's Ring, the cycle of which this opera is a bit of a prequel, causes excitement. The greatest notoriety in this production belongs to the remarkable stage machinery. For the one or two of you out there who haven't read about it, I can best explain it by comparing it to about 30 or 40 see-saws side by side, rising and fall independently, in patterns, and in groups, with projections on them. The pivot point for the see-saws moved, as well. Click on the picture to embiggen it and see what I mean.

Mechanically, the set was quite a sight. It was used to quite amazing effect, particularly for the Rheinmaiden scene, when it started out as a blue backdrop with for the three little maids from school, showing bubbles placed precisely by some magic having to do with motion sensors and virgin sacrifice, I'm sure. It morphed, soon showing gravel tumbling at the bottom of of the river (I finally decided it was indeed pebbles and not about five gazillion eggs spewing forth from the maidens), and the lighting eventually changed to highlight the gold hidden within the gravel. From time to time it was a bit of a distraction, however, as when at least one god made an entrance sliding head-first down the incline as on a playground slide. "Really, this is just not a very godly thing to do." writes Mr. Tommasini of The New York Times. The rainbow bridge to Valhalla, after failing on opening night, seemed to function correctly, but after all the press, the anticipation far exceeded the actual event. Your intrepid reporter found himself wondering far too often what the set was going to do next.

As for the costumes, the less said the better. Well, OK, Fricka's and Erda's costumes were lovely, but only because they looked like ball gowns.

The performances. Oh My Gawd Becky, the performances! After the opening one of my Twitter acquaintances posted "Two words: Eric Owens!", and now I can say I know why. The Dallas Morning News says "Eric Owens has a house-filling snarl for Alberich, and aptly shifts from clumsy lout to chilling tyrant" and I couldn't agree more. Stephanie Blythe, the other stand-out from the cast, sang Fricka with a power and beauty I haven't heard in quite some time. This is the first time I've heard her in an entire role, so I must now find more of her singing to listen to.

Published reviews of Richard Croft's Loge have been mixed. Frankly I found his singing just fine--very nice, in fact. I finally realized, however, that the boos and hisses at curtain call were for the character Loge, but this Loge wasn't nearly slimy enough to earn such a response. He seemed to me like Wotan's assistant, with an occasionally useful talent for manipulating people.

Bryn Terfel as Wotan. Well, OK. His singing was mostly solid, he certainly portrayed Wotan's emotions well, but overall I wasn't sure I'd seen magic from him. (I know there will be consequences at home not raving about him, but I really can't.)

There were no cast members whose singing I didn't like, but I am not excited enough to single any more of them out.

Update: After talking with friends who'd seen the show in the house, I can report that Mssrs. Croft and Terfel were both very difficult to hear, and that indeed explains the boos for Mr. Croft. No one would dare boo Mr. Terfel, for he is a Big CD-Selling Artist. There has been criticism of his singing, however.


Alfredel said...

This was an interesting and insightful review. As someone who does not buy into the whole HD concept, I am always a skeptic. The power is in the live performance to me, but I suppose that getting this sort of production to the people is one way of earning money for the MET. You lose a certain energy when the performers and orchestra are not right in front of you. I would encourage you to see any part of The Ring live and you may have a slightly different take.

Taminophile said...

I agree this is totally different from a live performance, and shouldn't really be compared as such. But these HD simulcasts are bringing the Met to new audiences--and faithful followers, too--and also making money for the Met. I wish some other deserving opera companies had this sort of thing going on.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, David! The friend I attended the broadcast with, though, said the booing for Croft (appalling, in my eyes) was probably due to the fact that he can't be heard in the house. And that's Levine's fault, not Croft's. And I couldn't agree more about Eric Owens!!

I also understand what you and Alfredel said about comparing an HD broadcast to an in house performance. Certainly NOT the same experience, but there is certainly a sense of occasion when you attend a HD broadcast!

Alfredel said...

What I fear (as a middle aged opera goer) is that in the minds of the newbies it will have the "good enough" label slapped on it and folks will view this "virtual opera" as the real thing. To me, there is nothing worse than singing to an empty house. I do not have a clue if ultimately this is a "good thing" for the opera world, but it is absolutely cashing in on a brand...the MET.

Anonymous said...

"Singing to an empty house?" Aren't these simply broadcasts of a live performance before an audience, or would the camera crews and equipment ruin the experience for the audience in the live theater? Shirley (she hath worn our briefs :-) they wouldn't waste an auditorium's worth of ticket sales unless they had to for logistical or aesthetic reasons.

Taminophile said...

Al's concern is that the movie theater showings will detract from ticket sales for opera companies. I don't think that is necessarily so, especially in places far from NYC.

Anonymous said...

well, when a singer can not be heard it is one of this issues:

1. The singer has a technical issue
2. The singer is unsuitable for the role\
3. the orchestra is too loud
4. The set is done in a way that asffects the sound

Given how Mr. Croft has been singing for at least 20-25 years with no vocal issues, we know that it is not a technical issue. Add the fact that this role is not for a dramatic tenor and that in fact, Mozart tenors like Phillip Langridge have done it successfully, and the theory of unsuitability crumbles like feta cheese.

So the rest remains, although I do not believe that the culprit can be pinpointed.

Lucy said...

Indeed, Eric Owens!! I was astounded by the dramatic complexity and vocal verve of his opening night performance, and from what I hear from you, and other friends attending later performances, it sounds as though he is going from strength to strength. I couldn't be happier; he's a singer I've admired and enjoyed for a while and more opportunities to hear him would be great.

My flatmate, who went to the opening with me and Saturday's HD screening with her father, said that the costumes looked much better from the house than under the scrutiny of close-up. I'm surprised to hear that there were issues with hearing Mr. Terfel; there were one or two moments when he blended into the orchestra at its most Wagnerian, rather than going through/over it as he can at his best, perhaps, but... Hm.

Thanks to various respondents for the theorizing about Croft, and many thanks to Tamino for the wonderful Anna Russell reference, as well as the review. :)

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Oh yeah! I totally forgot to tell you that Eric Owens rocked! (I also enjoyed Erda and one of the Rhinemaidens). I probably forgot to tell you because I wasn't blown away with all the set and special effects. Reason I wasn't blown away: opera is not the only form of live theater I attend. All I have to say is, "Welcome to the 21st century, Met. I'm so happy you've come."