Das Rheingold

Fabio Luisi
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
6 April 2013
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanMark Delavan
DonnerDwayne Croft
FrohRichard Cox
LogeStefan Margita
FasoltFranz-Josef Selig
FafnerHans-Peter König
AlberichEric Owens
MimeGerhard Siegel
FrickaStephanie Blythe
FreiaWendy Bryn Harmer
ErdaMeredith Arwady
WoglindeDísella Làrusdóttir
WellgundeJennifer Johnson Cano
FloßhildeRenée Tatum

The Met’s Ring Cycle begins with an impressive Das Rheingold

Robert Lepage’s staging took giant quantities of flak when it first came out, which I’ve deliberately not read in detail before writing this review (I’ll read it before doing my end-of-cycle roundup). Personally, I loved the sets, as did several audience members around me. All the action revolves around a giant mechanical structure of angled parallel beams, which twist, lift and are relit to transform into many different shapes and places: the rippling waters of the Rhine, the stony riverbed (video projection makes the pebbles shift when the Rhinemaidens swish their tails), the path from Midgard down to Nibelheim, the rainbow bridge.

Inasmuch as it’s possible to be faithful to Wagner’s original stage directions, Lepage has done a fine job of it – and if you read some of Wagner’s originals, you’ll see quite how creasingly embarrassing they seem to 21st-century eyes. Each of the effects is impressive and seems to me to be a good effort at capturing the intent of Wagner’s original while using modern technology and minimalism in place of 19th-century painted backdrops. And Lepage doesn’t take himself too seriously: when Alberich is changing shape into a dragon and a toad, the animals are entertainingly plastic, with dragon truly gigantic and awesome. The toad prompted laughs from the audience, which I’m sure were intended.

I can’t say the same about most of François St-Aubin’s costumes, which mostly lacked invention, veering towards traditional straight-out-of-Norse-mythology-book images without being of sufficient quality to carry it off. One exception was Loge, whose fringed and strapped outfit was brilliant lit by Etienne Boucher to give the fire-god effect: Boucher’s lighting was excellent throughout, as was the sparingly deployed videography. Another was Alberich’s: any costume that successfully portrays Eric Owens as dwarf-shaped deserves respect.

Without exception – and Rheingold has a lot of roles – the singers were up to the quality you’d expect at a leading opera house. But some stood out more than others. Rheingold doesn’t have any big lyrical set pieces or even important moments for pure vocalism to shine (in which the later Ring operas abound): it’s all about getting the story across, so what matters is the depth of engagement of the singer with the character. For me, the outstanding performer was Stefan Margita as Loge. When he appeared on stage (a somewhat belated appearance, in the story line), Margita was in charge: mercurial, impish, manipulative, petulant and wickedly entertaining – a brilliant portrayal of the trickster god who (being only semi-divine) is a misfit with the others, never to be trusted.

As Fricka, Stephanie Blythe has fewer opportunities to shine, but she took all of them: hers is a voice that commands attention. Mark Delavan, singing Wotan, has a smooth, clear bass-baritone, particularly comfortable in the high register; his characterisation seemed a little muted compared to the radio broadcasts I’ve heard from him, so I’m expecting him to come into his own in the more lyrical later parts of the cycle. Meredith Arwady only gets a brief cameo as Erda, but made an impression with it. The giants Fasolt and Fafner were sung robustly by two big German basses, Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König, standing high above the rest of the action and dominating proceedings as they should – until Loge’s intervention.

Fabio Luisi kept everything moving along nicely at tempo, and blended the orchestra nicely with his singers. However, I was slightly disappointed by the overall orchestral sound, which I felt was rather on the thin side. This is my first time at the Met, so I don’t know whether this is a function of the orchestral playing or the hall acoustics. Whichever is the case, there is a lushness and body that can be achieved with Wagner’s music that didn’t come through to the extent I would have wished.

Ultimately, Das Rheingold is about the story: its function is to set the scene for the more substantial operas in the rest of the cycle, to introduce the audience to the characters and to prepare their ears with the musical material with which they will become increasingly familiar in the coming operas. As a piece of pure storytelling, last night’s performance worked extremely well, setting us up in fine style for the rest of the cycle.

David Karlin | 26 April 2013


An excellent cast triumphs over the machine in Met’s “Rheingold”

Someone involved with the Robert Lepage staging of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Metropolitan Opera must have done something nasty in a previous lifetime. The multimillion-dollar machine—which (in theory) raises, lowers, and splays the massive planks of Carl Fillion’s unit set—has broken down repeatedly since the production bowed in the 2010–11 season, and acted up again at Saturday afternoon’s Das Rheingold season premiere.

According to a company statement, there was “a technical problem with the track and trolley system used to guide the acrobat doubles in the transitions to and from the Nibelheim scene.” Wotan and Loge, then, made no dizzying treks to and from the steamy realm of the dwarves but simply pottered about the stage apron. The misbehaving contraption, like a self-serving prima donna, once again made the show all about itself.

A pity, because Saturday’s musical performance was honorable, and Lepage’s staging is, if nothing else, an improvement on the Met’s old Otto Schenk production, which was studiedly naïf. Many critics have noted the tendency of Wagner’s music to mimic sound that emerges from some “unmediated” or “untainted” source—the primal hum that opens Das Rheingold, say, or Siegfried’s forest murmurs—and related it to his distaste for the modern world and those he blamed for its woes. With its creaks and thuds, Lepage’s gimpy machine reminds us that what we are seeing and hearing is an elaborate artifact, thus offering a healthful measure of distance from the more toxic aspects of Wagner’s overpowering art.

In any event, several members of the fine Met cast were seeing to the overpowering themselves. Stephanie Blythe was a regal and sympathetic Fricka, lustrous in tone and trenchant in her delivery of the text, most memorably when rebuking Wotan for bartering away their sister Freia “without shame.” Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König lavished black, craggy sound and verbal bite on the giants’ music while admirably differentiating the brothers in mien and affect—Fasolt more callow and impulsive, Fafner more wily and decisive.

Eric Owens’ Alberich remains a marvel, both hateful and poignantly human whether clambering after the Rhinemaidens or still and sullen, a singularity of rancor, as he ponders the theft of the Rhine gold. His voice gave way briefly when cursing the ring that Wotan and Loge have wrested from him, but he otherwise sang the dwarf’s intricate, wide-ranging music with unflagging energy and skill.

Even in such remarkable company, Stefan Margita’s Loge was the performance’s driving force. François St-Aubin’s costume for the fire god flashes and twinkles, and Boris Firquet’s video imagery and Etienne Boucher’s lighting sheathe his feet in flames as he slithers up and down the set. It t is the sizzle of intelligence and wit, though, that makes Margita’s clear, perfectly projected voice glow. On Saturday afternoon he sometimes mugged—Wagner’s music needs no whoops and cackles to embellish it—but how giddily he mocked the gods of Valhalla, turned grau, greis und grämlich (“wan, grey, and weary”) when deprived of Freia’s golden apples, and how nimbly he embodied a natural element that is merry and lethal all at once.

Mark Delavan is a capable and intelligent artist, but unlike Bryn Terfel, who created the role of Wotan in this production, he lacks the gift of making you believe you are in the presence of a god with sheer beauty of sound. Aloof and morose, he was coldly brutal in his dealings with Alberich—no “Licht-Alberich,” as the Wanderer names himself in Siegfried, but a power darker and more evil than his dwarfish counterpart.

As the Rhinemaidens, Dísella Làrusdóttir, Jennifer Johnson Cano, and Renee Tatum sang, frolicked, and taunted Alberich with captivating elegance. For reasons unknown, Erda in this staging of Das Rheingold is just a chick in a bad wig; Meredith Arwady sang well but with little in the way of otherworldly oomph. Franz-Josef Selig was an admirably frantic and repellent Mime; Wendy Bryn Harmer a sweet and dewy Freia (this despite being saddled with the world’s most unflattering costume); Dwayne Croft an alert and virile Donner; and Richard Cox an able Froh.

For many years now the Met orchestra under James Levine has played Wagner as well as any band in history. Of late, New York audiences have enjoyed similarly gorgeous—and ponderous, and ruminative—Wagner readings by such maestros as Daniel Barenboim and Daniele Gatti. Saturday’s Das Rheingold under Fabio Luisi, by contrast, was taut and effervescent. The orchestral passages to and from Nibelheim were all needle-sharp terror; Erda’s chromatic swoons chilled the blood; and the gods’ entrance into Valhalla shone with the urbane grace of the music that inspired it: the radiant finale of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. Rossini’s score celebrates the return of liberté among humans, while Wagner’s tells of falsity and violence infecting the gods. The Met musicians played it spectacularly well and to uproarious cheers; too bad they and Wagner didn’t have a staging worthy of their efforts.

Marion Lignana Rosenberg | April 07, 2013

The New York Times

When Cold Machinery Is Not the Musical Solution

Back in 2010 two disappointments stood out in New York’s opera scene: Robert Lepage’s new production of Wagner’s “Rheingold,” the first installment of his “Ring” cycle at the Metropolitan Opera, and the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca.

Mr. Lepage’s high-tech production was billed as an agile, sophisticated approach to Wagner’s mythical realms. But it was dull and vague, with more attention paid to the projection effects than the characters and their relationships. The heavy, expensive set malfunctioned at the premiere and many times after.

Around then Ms. Garanca, appearing at the Met as Carmen, was giving one perplexing performance after another, her golden voice wedded to temperamental blandness. There was a mystifyingly large gap between her seductive sound and her stolidity.

It was possible on Saturday to revisit both “Das Rheingold” and Ms. Garanca. In the afternoon the Met opened a revival of Mr. Lepage’s “Ring” cycle. In the evening Ms. Garanca gave her first New York recital at Carnegie Hall.

What has changed in three years? Not much. Mr. Lepage’s production once again malfunctioned. And in an exquisitely sung program of Schumann, Berg and Strauss with the subtle pianist Kevin Murphy, Ms. Garanca’s smooth, even voice and great beauty still distracted — but not enough — from the cool calculation of her artistry.

The only significant difference was when the breakdown occurred in “Rheingold.” In 2010 the rainbow bridge that leads the gods into Valhalla at the end failed to materialize. On Saturday the set — 24 planks that loudly shift into different configurations — abruptly halted as it rotated into the wide, tilting staircase that the gods Wotan and Loge use to descend into Nibelheim.

But even when the machinery has worked, the performances have been mechanical. As in the past, there was some good singing but little excitement in this “Rheingold,” which Fabio Luisi conducted with cheerless, brisk efficiency.

Mark Delavan has a tightly massed, focused baritone and a steady presence, but he gave little sense of Wotan’s agony. The bass-baritone Eric Owens, as the dwarf Alberich, was overpowered by the full orchestra, but both sumptuous and snarling in his curses. Stefan Margita made a lithe, sinister Loge, his tenor insinuating and strong.

There were two brief yet memorable moments of quiet melancholy. One came from Wotan’s wife, Fricka (the commanding mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe), as she revealed her worries about her husband’s fidelity.

The other was the giant Fasolt’s lament at losing Freia, the goddess he has been promised in exchange for building Valhalla. Sung with unexpectedly moving sensitivity by the bass Franz-Josef Selig, it was a reminder that the key to the “Ring” is not the loud, flashy parts, but the small eddies of emotion that find no home in Mr. Lepage’s frigid production.

Ms. Garanca’s recital was not without surges of feeling, either. But as in the “Rheingold,” they did not build into much.

Her voice remains radiantly beautiful. It has become larger in the last few years without losing its control, building up resonance in her face before soaring richly into the hall.

She was alert to the texts in a first half of Schumann songs. When “The Walnut Tree” indicated that she should whisper, she reduced her voice to a mist. In “Now You Have Caused Me My First Pain” from the cycle “Frauenliebe und -Leben,” the line “The world is void” was stark and stunning. In “Since Seeing Him,” the first song in the cycle, her voice became ever so slightly bare on the word “allein” (“alone”) in the line “Him alone I see”: a hint of darkness in a joyful moment.

Ms. Garanca’s work was more detailed than in the past. She clearly took this program seriously and prepared every note precisely. Yet the overall effect was just that: precision. In slower, lyrical passages her meticulousness was like an astringent that kept things from getting sentimental, but when the mood and tempo grew upbeat, her brightness felt ersatz.

She sang Berg’s “Seven Early Songs” with glowing tone but little sense of the cycle’s worldliness. And to work their full magic, Strauss’s songs need intimations of ecstasy that Ms. Garanca was not prepared to provide.

It was only in her second encore, a Latvian song, that she seemed fully to unite the sheen of her singing with depth of feeling. It is a combination that also sadly eludes the Met’s expensive, empty “Ring,” which values technical achievement over ideas and passion.

“I’m analytical, not wild,” Ms. Garanca told an interviewer in 2009. “When I’m onstage my brain is running like a computer.”

If that is no way to be a singer, it is also no way to direct an opera. And when the computers in Mr. Lepage’s “Ring” go haywire, there’s nothing substantial to compensate. After the malfunction on Saturday, as stagehands reached up to pull down the wayward planks manually it was clear that it was time for the Met to consider cutting its losses and abandoning this wasteful “Ring.”


User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 357 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast (Sirius XM)
A production by Robert Lepage (2010)
This recording is part of a complete Ring.