Das Rheingold

Herbert von Karajan
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
22 November 1968
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanThomas Stewart
DonnerSherrill Milnes
FrohDonald Grobe
LogeGerhard Stolze
FasoltMartti Talvela
FafnerKarl Ridderbusch
AlberichZoltán Kelemen
MimeAndrea Velis
FrickaJosephine Veasey
FreiaSimone Mangelsdorff
ErdaLili Chookasian
WoglindeLilian Sukis
WellgundeEdda Moser
FloßhildeAnna Reynolds
The New York Post

The Met’s Stunning New ‘Das Rheingold’

When the curtain went up on the Metropolitan Opera’s presentation of its sinister “Das Rheingold” last night we were engulfed in black. Then, like the Modern Museum’s sable painting that yields very subtle differences as you engulf yourself in it, the simulated black Rhine yielded a hint of light. Symbolically and literally the light expanded and illuminated itself during the two hours which followed without intermission, into a Wagnerian production that is ominously magnificent throughout.

Under the musical and dramatic direction of Herbert von Karajan this is a spellbinding “Rheingold.” Fortunately, there is not a postcard picture in it, with Guenther Schneider-Siemssen’s sets, with George Wakhevitch’s costumes and with Rudolf Kuntner’s lighting.

The mood is overwhelmingly suggestive. It broods with overtones and undertones. It seethes with foreboding. As my French friend said, sitting beside me, “I’m really frightened.” From a Frenchman, a good indication of triumph. “Rheingold” has more actual light when needed than von Karajan’s “Walküre,” but it remains a triumph of subtlety.

Superb Cast

For once the Met has assembled a singing cast, in toto, eminently suited to its task; flexible enough to respond to Karajan’s emphasis on fluid movement, yet full-throated and stylistically aware. They were able to fulfill musically the tragically heroic aspect of this futile struggle for power and gold. He had doom penetrating every minute and bar, yet the human qualities he drew from his singers gave us personal empathy as well as awe in their symbolism.

In fact, so much in “Rheingold” is timely – rationalizations, moral machinations and evasions – that a return to it in such compelling terms is sharply cutting. Karajan moved from buoyancy in the orchestra to weight with sensitive rhythmic and melodic mobility. It was a great, culminating, symphonic conception. Don’t look for a glamorous castle as you hear the majestic Valhalla music, It’s an ominous crag jutting from nowhere into nowhere. It exists mostly in the imagination.

The most spectacularly different and powerful setting is Scene III, Nibelheim, with Alberich perched through the mist like a crown on his pyramid of gusty gold. Alberich, as superbly sung and portrayed by Zoltan Kelemen in his Met début, has never seemed more vehemently evil. Loge, sung by Gerhard Stolze, (also a début) is a mysteriously Oriental bald Yul Brynner, and a master of vacillation. But almost all the newcomers were superb: Josephine Veasey as Fricka, Simone Mangelsdorf as Freia, Anna Reynolds as Flosshilde, Edda Moser as Wellgunde. Donald Grobe was tentative as Froh, but well cast.

Of others better known to us, Thomas Stewart is a far more impressive Wotan than he was in “Walküre. Lilli Chookasian is perfectly cast as Erda and she is perfectly set in a gray-white light far in the distance. Sherrill Milnes is wasted in the part of Donner, Martti Talvela has a gorilla-like appearance as Fasolt, and with his first-class singing it is a disturbingly effective combination. Andrea Velis, a gargoyle chimpanzee, is first class on all fours.

This is an arcane “Rheingold” of projections, play of light, of mysteries, of necromancy. As Fafner kills Fasolt, he falls from the big stage staggering into an abyss. Only his hand and arm on the rock enabling sight on the rock enables Fafner to grab the magic circle from his finger. It sends the shivers. And the small ring is fluorescent. Never has a fleeting, eerie, elusive dart of light expressed more.

Harriet Johnson

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 336 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by Herbert von Karajan (premiere)