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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Das Rheingold

The Ring Cycle starts over.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Underwater love: the three Rhinemaidens cavort at the start of Das Rheingold.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Prelude to the Ring Cycle is either the ideal first Wagner opera--or a torture test for dyed-in-the-wool opera lovers who are forced to sit still for two and a half hours.  Das Rheingold begins underwater. Three Rhinemaidens are hit on by a sexed-crazed Nibelung dwarf, Alberich. Alberich copes with their rejection by stealing their treasure, the gold titular "Rhine gold." He uses the gold to forge the Ring, a powerful trinket that will pass from hand to hand until the end of the cycle 15 hours later.

Das Rheingold has no "human" characters, but at its center are Alberich and Wotan, the power-obsessed Germanic god (the role will be split between bass-baritones Mark Delevan and Greer Grimsley) who is willing to barter away youth, happiness and love for domestic security. He makes a series of bad bargains in this opera, eventually attempting to sieze the Ring for himself.

This production of Das Rheingold opened in the Fall of 2010. It introduced audiences to the multipurpose 24-plank,  stage mechanism "The Machine." This contraption (noisily) contorts and configures itself into river-beds, mountain-tops and the seemingly impregnable walls of Valhalla. But unlike past seasons where would-be Wagnerites were forced to pay for the whole cycle at once, individual tickets are available for Das Rheingold.

Das Rheingold opens April 6, 2013. Please note that April 6 is a matinee performance and starts at 1pm.

Recording Recommendations:
There are a number of complete, and excellent recordings of Das Rheingold, although many are out of print or available asboxed sets of the complete Ring cycles by greedy well-meaning record companies. For a Superconductor guide to complete Ring recordings, visit here.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Sir Georg Solti. (Decca, 1958)
Wotan: George London
Fricka: Kirsten Flagstad
Loge: Set Svanholm
Alberich: Gustav Neidlinger

The first studio recording of the first part of Wagner's Ring Cycle is from 1958, when stereo was a relative novelty. It brought together two great eras of Wagner singers. At the end of their careers, Kirsten Flagstad and Set Svanholm (who sang together often as Brunnhilde and Siegfried) give superb, characterful performances as Fricka and Loge.

The "new guard" is represented by a young George London, ideal as the optimistic Wotan. The supporting cast is memorable, particularly Gustav Neidlinger's harrowing portrayal of Alberich.
The Vienna Philharmonic provide the threads: golden sounds in the brass, swelling strings, and finely detailed wind playing.

Part of what makes this recording so much fun is its pioneering use of special "audio effects" to mimic the sounds that Wagner had in mind. These include a thunder machine (a huge piece of sheet metal above a giant bass drum, a "school" of 15 anvils banging away, and bars of lead, brought to the studio and clunked about to represent the Nibelung hoard. Add that to a driving performance by a young Georg Solti and the result is Wagner: adrenalized.

Read a Superconductor review of Das Rheingold from October of 2010.

Return to the 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview!

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