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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Das Rheingold

The Ring begins. (Do I really need to embellish more?)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Wotan and Loge take the "Machine" express down to Nibelheim in a
key scene from Das Rheingold. Photo © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
Gods, dwarves, mermaids and giants on an enormous pinning mechanical stage set. What's not to love about the opening opera of Wagner's Ring?

What is Das Rheingold?
Das Rheingold is the "preliminary evening" that starts Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, the longest work in the standard operatic repertory. It is a story of theft, corruption and power plays among gods, giants, mermaids and dwarves. At two and a half hours it is the shortest chapter of The Ring but it has no intermissions.

What's the plot
Under the Rhine River, a dwarf, Alberich, curses love and steals the gold, using it to forge a Ring of power that will let him rule the world. Meanwhile, Wotan, the king of the Gods is forced  barter the Ring to pay for his new castle Valhalla. At the end of the opera, the curse on the Ring has already claimed one life, and many more are to follow. The Gods step blithely into their new home, even though they are hastening to their doom.

What's the music like?
Das Rheingold starts with a resonant E flat chord that rises slowly up, played by eight horns in canon, the sound of the creation of the world. Wagner uses this as the seed to grow a vast tree of "leitmotifs", the themes that develop throughout the cycle and represent people, places and things. Spectacular moments abound but the part that is heard most often is the bombastic "Entry of the Gods into Valhalla", in which the orchestra cuts loose at full power.

Tell me something else cool!
Wagner wrote the libretto of the Ring "backwards" and thus did the story for Rheingold last, basing it on Norse sagas and German mythology. The music however was written first, making it the first section of the Ring to be completed.

How's the production?
These performances mark the  return of Robert Lepage's sometimes stunning, sometimes problematic multi-million dollar stageset, known at the Met as "The Machine." Mounted on two huge towers, the action takes place on a series of gigantic parallel planks that rotate on a central axis. By changing their angles and locking the planks in place, the Machine creates trees, mountains, valleys and even huge flying animals when necessary. Digital projections render the scenery in vivid patterns, a high-tech solution to Romantic 19th century opera.

Who's in it?
These performances star Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Tomasz Konieczny as Alberich, Jamie Barton as Fricka, Norbert Ernst as Loge and Gerhard Siegel as Mime. Philippe Jordan conducts his first Ring performances at the Met.

When does it open?
There are only four performances of Das Rheingold this season. Three are being sold as part of complete Ring cycles, and the fourth is a stand-alone performance on March 14.

How do I get tickets?
The best way to see the Ring is to get a subscription for the four operas. Call the box office at (212) 362-6000.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats