Sunday, July 3, 2011

Notes from Das Rheingold, Die Walkure and Siegfried

Some brief highlights from this production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which featured a sort of postmodern American interpretation of the Ring:

Loki being a wonderfully smarmy asshole in Rheingold. He’s actually a pretty complex character, but he had some wonderful scenes where he’s taunting the gods with the last golden apple. In particular, he wanders up to Fricka (who is fearing she has aged) and tricks her into looking a mirror; she freaks out and runs away, and he sits there chuckling. But at the very end of the opera, he has this great little blurb where he says in so many words “I hate the gods. I’m ashamed to even be related to them. Perhaps I should start a tremendous fire and burn them all. I don’t know. Who knows what I may do?” and then exits. That was fabulous.

The Ride of the Valkyries, dressed as aviators, was everything I hoped it would be.

The giants Fasolt and Fafner are not only eight or nine feet tall, but they have enormous mechanical hands.

The producers go out of their way to set up the gods as more corporate CEOs than rulers outright, who try to oppress the little guy (the giants, the working men). This doesn’t always work, but it makes for some cool sets; the battle between Sigmund and Hunding takes place under a bridge, with trash all around, and Siegfried and Mime live in an abandoned trailer that’s presumably in the middle of some dump. In Siegfried, Wotan and Alberich and Mime are all dressed as bums, and the visual cue helps you understand their status and how it has changed.

Fafner is a giant robot dragon. Or more accurately, in this production he builds one and pilots it himself.

The forging scene in Siegfried and the fire scene in Die Walkure were both utterly fantastic, in their stage direction and in the way they were played/sung. And the scene where Siegfried awakens Brunhilde was beautifully done. Incidentally, we lucked out in the production we saw; Sieglinde was the understudy for her part, but was absolutely wonderful, and Brunhilde was a first-time Brunhilde. Talk about finding talent in the right places!

The conductor summed up Wotan pretty well in his pre-concert talk: he tries to do the right thing, but he can’t even play by his own rules. He cheats, lies and tries to wriggle out of his obligations whenever he has them.

Stage direction surprises 1, 2 and 3: at the end of Rheingold, the Rheinmaidens run up to the gangplank and beg Wotan to give them the ring, which isn’t scripted but worked excellently. In Die Walkure, when Brunhilde is telling Sigmund about the glories of Valhalla and its population of fallen heroes, about 12-15 soldiers march slowly past in the background. The stage is flooded with golden light and the heroes, who are all dressed in Army uniforms from various states and time periods, are carrying giant portraits of their own faces. It was incredibly effective.

Finally, Siegfried’s plot depends heavily upon a random songbird who appears out of nowhere and tells him the secrets of everything. Usually, the bird is offscreen, but in this production she came onstage and was following him around. She had some hilarious gestures (trying to take dictation before they can understand each other, waving her hands in the air when Siegfried fails at playing the flute) and also had an amazing voice. Best. Bird. Ever. (That's in any field; this was by far the most helpful avian I have ever seen in any medium.)

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