Das Rheingold

James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
9 October 2010
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Wotan Bryn Terfel
Donner Dwayne Croft
Froh Adam Diegel
Loge Richard Croft
Fasolt Franz-Josef Selig
Fafner Hans-Peter König
Alberich Eric Owens
Mime Gerhard Siegel
Fricka Stephanie Blythe
Freia Wendy Bryn Harmer
Erda Patricia Bardon
Woglinde Lisette Oropesa
Wellgunde Jennifer Johnson Cano
Floßhilde Tamara Mumford
Stage director Robert Lepage (2010)
Set designer Carl Fillion
TV director Gary Halvorson
The New York Times

James Levine Is Back for Met’s Opening Night

The Metropolitan Opera’s opening-night gala traditionally begins with an appearance in the pit by the conductor of the evening, who for the last 40 years has usually been James Levine, to take a bow before leading a performance of the national anthem.

But in another Met tradition, “Das Rheingold,” the first of Wagner’s “Ring” operas, begins in almost complete darkness. The conductor sneaks in, then cues the sustained low E flats in the orchestra that begin the piece so mysteriously.

Patriotism and eagerness to welcome back Mr. Levine trumped “Rheingold” tradition on Monday night, when the Met opened its season with the director Robert Lepage’s new production, the first installment of a complete “Ring” cycle. Mr. Levine, recuperating from surgery, had not conducted anywhere since February. When he appeared, he was greeted by a prolonged ovation. He led a stirring “Star-Spangled Banner.” Then, slowly, the house lights dimmed, and the music began.

Mr. Lepage’s “Rheingold” is the most intensely anticipated new production the Met has mounted in years. For the most part it was an impressive success: an inventive, fluid staging and a feat of technological wizardry that employs sophisticated video elements without turning into a video show. Wagner buffs tend to be a fanatical sort, and no doubt there will be debate about Mr. Lepage’s work. Here he received a mostly enthusiastic ovation with scattered boos. I had mixed feelings.

But let me start with Mr. Levine and the splendid performance he drew from the superb Met orchestra, which played brilliantly, and the excellent cast, as strong a lineup of vocal artists for a Wagner opera as I have heard in years. The formidable bass-baritone Bryn Terfel sang his first Wotan at the Met, a chilling, brutal portrayal; the powerhouse mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe was a vocally sumptuous, magisterial yet movingly vulnerable Fricka. And the bass-baritone Eric Owens had a triumphant night as Alberich.

Still, the state of Mr. Levine’s health and music making were major concerns going into this evening. When he took his bow during the curtain calls he looked a little wobbly and needed support. He seems to have lost weight. But there was nothing frail about his conducting.

Almost as if determined to prove something, he conducted the score with exceptional vigor, sweep and uncommon textural clarity. Inner details emerged, but always subtly folded into the overall arching episodes and spans of the opera. In the scene in which Wotan and Loge, the demigod of fire (here the tenor Richard Croft in a vocally suave and sly performance), try to wrest the booty of gold and the magic ring from Alberich in the lower realm of Nibelheim, Mr. Levine was an attentive accompanist, allowing the singers to exchange lines with conversational urgency, yet always there to nudge and juice the orchestral subtext. Mr. Levine clearly has some way to go in getting back his stamina and health. But this performance was an encouraging sign.

And the machine worked. Well, almost worked. There was one serious glitch at the end. The “machine” is what the cast and crew have taken to calling the 45-ton gizmo that dominates Mr. Lepage’s complex staging, the work of the set designer Carl Fillion. It consists of a series of 24 planks on a crossbar that rise and sink like seesaws, singly, in tandem or in patterns. To evoke the churning currents of the river where the Rhinemaidens protect the magic gold, the planks, bathed in greenish lights, undulate slowly. As in many traditional productions, the three aquatic sisters (Lisette Oropesa, Jennifer Johnson, Tamara Mumford) first appear dangling from cables. But when planks rise to create a wall of water for the maidens to rest on, there are video images of stones and pebbles on the river floor tumbling downward as the sisters rustle them.

Otto Schenk’s Romantic “Ring” production, which was retired in 2009, had passionate defenders. In talking up the Lepage “Ring,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, tried to assure everyone that this was not going to be some high-concept, Eurotrash staging. Mr. Lepage uses the latest in staging technology to “tell the story,” Mr. Gelb said repeatedly in interviews.

Actually, in many ways, even with all the high-tech elements, Mr. Lepage’s production is fairly traditional. François St-Aubin’s costumes are like glitzier, quirkier riffs on old-fashioned Wagnerian “Ring” outfits. Mr. Terfel’s Wotan has stringy hair that falls over the god’s blind left eye, and a rustic shirt missing an arm. Yet he sports a bronze breastplate right out of a storybook “Ring.” The giants, Fasolt and Fafner (the booming basses Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König) are like rugged bushmen, with scraggly hair and beards, and leggings covered with fur. Loge has a Peter Sellars hairdo (an inside joke from one director to another?), a ragtag outfit and hands that emit a fiery glow on command.

The production is also traditional in that Mr. Lepage essentially defers to Wagner. If he has strong personal takes on who these characters are, they did not come through here. One thing about those high-concept, updated “Ring” productions is that a director can put Wagner’s characters in a setting that makes you see them afresh. We will have to wait for the later installments of this “Ring” to see how, say, Mr. Lepage views Wotan’s role as a father to a rebellious daughter whom he loves and vicariously lives through.

There are breathtaking stage tricks in this production. When Wotan and Loge descend into Nibelheim, we see them walking down the planks as if descending a huge stairway. But, as presented, we look down on them from above: the Wotan and Loge that we see are body doubles harnessed to cables and walking the wall perpendicular to the stage. Mr. Lepage is like a magician eager to show off how a trick works, knowing it will still hook you. This one hooked me.

At other times, the use of body doubles seems gratuitous and distracting. When Fricka’s sister, Freia, whom Wotan has foolishly promised to the giants as payment for their construction job, first appears, she (actually a body double) careens on her stomach head-first down the planks, tilted like a playground slide. Really, this is just not a very godly thing to do.

The production worked well in scenes in which the machine turned into a stationary backdrop, and the planks became a video screen. In Nibelheim, for example, when on a lower level we saw Alberich’s slaves sweating over molten pots of gold, the wall above them was alive with shifting russet, earthen and blazing yellow colors.

Mr. Lepage deserves credit for coaxing vivid portrayals from his cast. And most of the action is played on an apron of planks that extend from the stage, which brings the singers into exciting proximity. Mr. Terfel’s singing was sometimes gravelly and rough. But his was a muscular Wotan, in both his imposing presence and his powerful singing.

Mr. Owens’s Alberich was no sniveling dwarf, but a barrel-chested, intimidating foe, singing with stentorian vigor, looking dangerous in his dreadlocks and crazed in his fantasy of ruling the universe.

The bright-voiced soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer was a sympathetic yet volatile Freia. The tenor Gerhard Siegel won your heart as the pitiable Mime, Alberich’s oppressed brother. The mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon was not the most earthy-voiced Erda, but she sang with grave beauty. Adam Diegel, a youthful tenor in his Met debut, was Froh; the Met veteran baritone Dwayne Croft was in good voice as Donner.

Alas, the machine malfunctioned in the final scene, when the planks did not move into place to form the rainbow bridge to Valhalla. So the gods just wandered off the stage. Given the complexity of the device, it’s a wonder that it worked so well on its debut night.

Anthony Tommasini |Sept. 28, 2010


The first night of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle is outstandingly well done in Robert Lepage’s 2010 production, which combines a relatively traditional staging with some impressive feats of engineering and high standards of musicianship.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the staging is the enormous device which dominates the rear of the stage. A series of 24 long planks, which can rotate around a central beam, is used to excellent effect in all four scenes, with the help of subtle lighting and projections. In scene 1, the three Rhinemaidens sit on part of the device, lit up as a pebbled river bed, and their various movements and orations provoke flurries of bubbles and pebble movements. When Wotan and Loge descend into Nibelheim, the planks appear to create a vast staircase, viewed from above. In the final scene, the planks arrange themselves into a well-conceived rainbow bridge, again viewed from above. The sets and Lepage’s direction are consistently well judged, only ever adding to the natural drama of the opera.

The quality of the singing and orchestral playing is exceptionally high. Bryn Terfel leads the cast with a complex and nuanced portrayal of Wotan. The manipulator of scene 3gives way to the pensive old man of the final scene with convincing characterisation. His singing is always full in tone, but he finds a softer, reflective voice for the more introspective corners. Loge (Richard Croft) makes a witty and intelligent accomplice. There is good humour in his dealings with the dwarves, but he also finds some beautiful lyricism in his “Immer is undank” passage, whilst he warms Freia with the lights glowing from his hands. He is also portrayed as the most astute of the gods, with a strong show of guilt in helping their cause in scene 4. He is left, as the curtain descends, staring after the others as they enter their fortress.

Eric Owens’ Alberich is a strong presence, singing powerfully with an edge of malice. His curses of love and the ring are very well delivered musically and dramatically, as is his rage after being tricked by the gods. The two giants, Fasolt (Franz-Josef Selig) and Fafner (Hans-Peter König) are both suitably imposing in their huge voices and primitive attire of thick brown costumes, with furry trousers and large beards.

Stephanie Blythe sings Fricka with a mixture of great power and delicate vulnerability in the face of the imminent demise of the gods. Her obvious distress and concern for her sister suggests a strong sense of compassion. Freia (Wendy Bryn Harmer) and Erda (Patricia Bardon) both sing their limited roles with sensitivity. Freia is a touchingly innocent younger sister to Fricka, and Erda sings with a rounded, maternal voice.

Froh, Donner, Mime and the three Rhinemaidens complete the cast with strong performances. The Rhinemaidens’ joyful celebration of their gold in the first scene is memorably spectacular in their fluid vocal lines and physical movements.

James Levine conducts without any hint of the spine troubles which he suffered during 2010. He draws a brilliant palette of colours from the Met Orchestra, glowing in the swirling E flat of the Vorspiel and blazing nobly in the final bars. The Wager tuba section supplies some particularly lovely playing in various hushed interjections.

There are a couple of peculiarities in the staging, which make for strange viewing. Freia and Loge enter by sliding head first on their stomachs down the steep slope at the back of the stage. The tarnhelm appears to be a rather flimsy piece of golden lace which is draped over the wearer’s head. Overall, though, this is an intelligently staged production, backed up by superb musicianship from all involved.

Rohan Shotton | 01 Dezember 2013

The Guardian

When Peter Gelb was appointed the new head of New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2005 he knew he had a huge and difficult challenge ahead. His task was to lure into the theatre a new generation of younger operagoers without unduly alienating the loyal and ageing devotees that currently keep it afloat.

His first and undoubtedly most ambitious response to that challenge has finally come to fruition five years later. The production, a new Rheingold that will eventually pan out to a full cycle of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen by 2012 – created for the Met by the Canadian theatrical polymath and Cirque du Soleil director Robert Lepage – kicked off the 2010-11 season last night. And, with a few qualifications, it was a triumph.

The performances were as glorious as was to be expected. Bryn Terfel, making his US debut in his celebrated role of Wotan, the lord of the gods, was brooding and dark. He was powerfully supported by Stephanie Blythe as his wife Fricka. Eric Owens made a skin-crawling Alberich, and Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König as the giants Fasolt and Fafner loomed over the stage like creatures from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Lepage was perhaps not an obvious choice for a Ring Cycle, a crucial commission for the Met, which has had financial difficulties recently. He specialises in high-tech wizardry of the Cirque du Soleil variety, the kind that makes your jaw drop in sheer admiration of its cleverness.

That alone made many fans of the Ring nervous, as there were suspicions that he would be too clever by half, allowing his technical brilliance to overshadow the only genius they want to shine out of the stage: Wagner himself.

At times that looked as though it might become a problem. The centrepiece of the production is a rack of 24 planks built out of fibreglass-covered aluminium that can rise and fall powered by hydraulics and can revolve through 360 degrees.

The overall set was so heavy the Met had to reinforce its stage, a massive undertaking that is said to have pushed the cost of the four-part Ring Cycle as a whole to $15m (£9.5m).

Lepage certainly makes the stage do extraordinary things. During the prelude, as the orchestra plays the mysterious and transfixing motif of the Rhine, it comes alive, undulating like the moving waters. As the Rhinedaughters appear, the stage lifts itself high into the air and becomes the sea within which they float, replete with video-projected bubbles.

Later, the planks twist and turn into a bridge that leads down into the underworld lair of the Nibelung, or reforms itself into two massive hands upon which the giants stand. It is predictably clever stuff, but at moments it does indeed detract from the music – either by dint of the stage machinery clanking or because of its visual brashness.

But those moments are rare, and for the most part Lepage has been careful to pay homage to the music, keeping the gadgetry low-key and respectful and intelligently enhancing Wagner’s mood rather than imposing his own. The production is also surprisingly literal, which will please the traditionalists – Wagner’s rainbow motif, for instance, is accompanied by a projection of rainbow colours.

The immaculately dressed first-night audience greeted the production with some very audible boos as well as robust cheers. My guess was the cheers just had the edge, which was a major achievement bearing in mind the Met’s notoriously change-averse regular clientele.

The true star of the night though was James Levine, who stood through his first full performance at the conductor’s podium for seven months due to a serious back complaint. As he has done so often over the past 40 years at the Met, he inspired a great orchestra to give of its best, culminating in a mesmerising climax.

At the end he had to be virtually dragged onto the stage by Blythe, and looked barely able to walk. But he received the most effusive applause from an audience overjoyed to have him back.

Ed Pilkington | 28 Sep 2010

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 11.4 Mbit/s, 12.9 GByte (MPEG-4)
HD Transmission
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.