The Wagner tubas lead the orchestra to a climax. The gods pass over the rainbow bridge into Valhalla. The curtain falls and, after a brief pause, you hear a round of applause that can only be described as “polite”. Things slightly improve after the curtain rises again and the singers begin taking their bows. The “bravos” steadily increase as the lead singers appear. Conductor James Levine is greeted with a pleasing roar. All were pleased to see the beloved maestro who has recently been recovering from severe back problems. Then, the members of the creative team, headed by Canadian director Robert Lepage, make their appearance. All at once, a substantial portion of the audience starts booing.
Those who have followed the Met for the past two years know that this is nothing new. Das Rheingold is merely the fourth opera to follow the pattern of bravos for the singers and boos for the creative team. Other booed Met productions include Mary Zimmerman’s Armida and La Sonnambula and Luc Bondy’s Tosca, last year’s season-opener. All booed productions have been either avant-garde and/or extremely modernized. Tosca and Rheingold replaced beloved traditional productions.
Although the reaction to Rheingold was not nearly as intense as the reaction to last year’s Tosca, it still does not bode well for an opera company that has gone deeply in debt producing this $16 million monstrosity. Although Robert Lepage, of Cirque du Soleil fame, has worked at the Met before, he has never created a Wagnerian production for them.
Lepage stated early on that he wanted the theatrical elements of his production to complement, not overwhelm, the musical elements of the opera. All that goes out the window the second the viewer sees opera singers, in costumes that can only be described as weird, dangling in the air like acrobats. Instead of being able to enjoy the music, the audience members spend the entire time praying that the 45 ton steel set (that’s right! 90,000 pounds) does not collapse and cause a horrifying disaster.
Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel was the evening’s Wotan. Although this statement may offend many Terfel fans, it has to be said that the role of Wotan is simply not for him. The timbre of his voice is not suitable for the character and every high note sounded strained and tremulous. It is understandable if many listeners are predicting that he will struggle with Die Walkure’s notoriously high tessitura.
However, any vocal problems that Terfel or any other members of the cast had can easily be forgiven. It is impossible to concentrate on singing when one is working through a strange new production and worrying about possible injury.
Die Walkure, the Cycle’s next installment, will premiere on April 22, 2011.
Lundborg, Zinta “Athletic Rhinemaidens Dangle 30 Feet Above Met Stage”
CBS News Article “Lepage Brings Wizardry to Met Ring Cycle”