The October 9 arrival of Das Rheingold, the first installment of Wagner’s Ring Cycle – Der Ring des Nibelungen – has music lovers full of anticipation. Two live telecast venues for Das Rheingoldhave been added in the Berkshires (the Beacon and Clark Museum in addition to the Mahaiwe) to handle the demand. It marks the scheduled return of James Levine to the podium of The Met after what seems like years of health issues. Because of back problems and surgery he has not conducted a performance at The Met since February, but reports say he has been “almost pain free” at the early rehearsals for this opera.
Summary: Das Rheingold marks the expanded season of The Met: Live in HD series which starts again on October 9 at 1:00 pm. In the Berkshires, it can be seen at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, the Beacon Cinema complex in Pittsfield, and at the Clark Art Museum (phone only) in Williamstown. Tickets have been selling so fast that the Mahaiwe has already scheduled an encore performance on October 17. Full details of the season schedule and pricing differences can be found in our earlier article. .
There has been a ticket buying mania which reveals the pent up demand for Wagner operas. And this is, after all, the return of the most expansive – and expensive – series of operas ever written. In the new version, the sets and staging are stunning and innovative, as if the set designers for Cirque du Soleil’s KA were given the task of providing surrealistic settings.
Carl Fillion and Robert LePage created “The Valhalla Machine”, a weird and weighty contraption with movable planks that required The Met’s Opera House stage in Lincoln Center to be reinforced with steel to accept the huge load. It weighs 45 tons. Computerized images and effects will be projected on the leviathan set, and then combined with some old theatrical tricks, like Rhinemaidens on cable and pullys.
“This is not meant to be a light show. These changes are subtle and in the context of the story. It’s art harnessing technology, not the other way around. At least that is the intention.” - Peter Gelb, General Manager of The Met
Of course it remains to be seen (literally) just how Wagner fans, who tend to be traditionalists, will judge this futuristic production. In Europe, Wagnerians have taken to calling their modern presentations Eurotrash, and can be a very harsh crowd. Then again, age seems to come into play, with younger audiences often as enthusiastic as the older crowd is dismissive of updated Ring Cycles.
The first performance of the risky new Das Rheingold opens the Met’s 2010-11 season on September 27, and then on October 9 the much anticipated matinee telecast will take place which we can see here in the Berkshires,” live in HD.”
The new production, which relies on the complex set described earlier, involves the most challenging staging the Met has ever produced.
Bryn Terfel brings his much-anticipated portrayal of Wotan, lord of the gods, to the U.S. for the first time, and Stephanie Blythe makes her Met role debut as his wife, Fricka. Eric Owens adds a new role to his Met repertory as the evil Alberich, and Gerhard Siegel is Mime.
The cast also includes Wendy Bryn Harmer as Freia, Patricia Bardon as Erda, Adam Diegel in his Met debut as Froh, and brothers Richard Croft and Dwayne Croft as Loge and Donner, respectively. The giants Fasolt and Fafner are portrayed by Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König, and Lisette Oropesa, Jennifer Johnson, and Tamara Mumford are the Rhinemaidens. Richard Paul Fink sings the role of Alberich on March 30.
Robert Lepage’s production team consists of set designer Carl Fillion, costume designer François St-Aubin, and lighting designer Étienne Boucher, the latter two in their Met debuts. The video images are by Boris Firquet, and the interactive projections are by the Quebec-based company Réalisations.inc.
• Lepage on the Ring: “It isn’t just a story or a series of operas, it’s a cosmos. I try to be extremely respectful of Wagner’s storytelling, but in a modern context.” Levine on the Ring: “It’s one of those works of art that you think you know, but every time you return to it, you find all kinds of brilliant moments that hadn’t struck you with the same force before.”
Lepage, one of the world’s most creative directors of opera and theater, is indeed someone who has been involved with Cirque du Soleil. But he also made his Met debut in 2008 with La Damnation de Faust. He and his production team bring cutting-edge technology and visionary imagination to Wagner’s great music drama based on Norse mythology. “The Ring is about change,” Lepage said. “I try to be extremely respectful of Wagner’s storytelling, but in a very modern context. We’re trying to see how in our day and age we can tell this classic story in the most complete way.”
• This will be the first new Ring at the Met in almost 25 years. It is called the world’s greatest theatrical experience, and for good reason. The Met staged the U.S. premiere of Wagner’s masterpiece in 1889; Lepage’s production is the eighth in the company’s history. The new production has technical innovations that are bound to move it into new territory.
The unique set features 24 moving fiberglass-covered aluminum planks that rotate on a mobile steel axis suspended between two large elevator towers.
Along with the set’s extraordinary flexibility, projections are used to create the many different scenes and special effects of the four Ring operas. Interactive video projections are cued by live sound and movement. “It was important that we create a set machine that would have versatility, but at the same time feel very organic,” commented Lepage.
The cycle’s second installment, Die Walküre, opens later this season on April 22, and the Met will present the complete Der Ring des Nibelungen in the 2011-12 season. Das Rheingold is produced in collaboration with Ex Machina and is a generous gift of Ann Ziff and the Ziff family, in memory of William Ziff.
James Levine’s 40th Anniversary at the Met
The 2010-11 season marks James Levine’s 40th at the Met. The Met’s music director has conducted nearly 2,500 performances with the company, more than anyone in the company’s 127-year history. In addition to the opening night Das Rheingold, Levine conducts the Ring’s second installment, Die Walküre, in a new production opening April 22. He also leads performances of Don Pasquale, Il Trovatore, Simon Boccanegra, and Wozzeck this season. The Met is honoring Levine’s milestone anniversary with the release of two commemorative CD and DVD boxed sets of the music director’s performances, nearly all of which have not been previously available. The collections, which will be available through the Met’s website and in the Met Opera Shop beginning September 21, span Levine’s unparalleled career at the Met, and include 11 complete operas in DVD, 11 complete operas on CD, as well as highlights from historic concerts.
Live Opening Night Screenings in Times Square and at Lincoln Center
In keeping with a tradition begun on Opening Night in 2006, this year’s Das Rheingold premiere will be transmitted live to numerous large screens in Times Square and on Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza. Attendance is free at both locations. Tickets are required for admission to the Lincoln Center plazacast, and information on ticket distribution will be released at a later date. The Times Square relay of the Opening Night Gala does not require a ticket. Approximately 2,000 seats will be available for the public on a first-come first-served basis, with additional standing room provided. In Times Square, a number of giant screens, including the News Corporation–Sony Times Square screen, the Reuters/Nasdaq screen, and the MTV screen will carry the live performance.
Das Rheingold Live in HD and on the Radio
Das Rheingold kicks off the fifth anniversary season of The Met: Live in HD when it is transmitted live to movie theaters around the world on October 9. Deborah Voigt, who later in the season sings her first Met Brünnhilde in the new production of Die Walküre, hosts the transmission of Das Rheingold. Last season, the groundbreaking Live in HD series reached an audience of more than 2.4 million people. The transmission is made possible through funding from Bloomberg L.P. with additional leadership support from the Metropolitan Opera Guild.
The Das Rheingold premiere on September 27 will be broadcast live on Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS channel 78 and XM Channel 79. Performances on October 4, and April 2, will also be broadcast live on the SIRIUS/XM channels. The opening performance will also be streamed live on the Met’s website, www.metopera.org.
Synopsis of Das Rheingold
In the depths of the Rhine, the three Rhinemaidens guard the Rhinegold, a treasure of immeasurable value. The Nibelung dwarf Alberich is dazzled by the sight of it. The girls explain that whoever wins the gold and forges it into a ring will gain power over the world, but must first renounce love. Frustrated by his unsuccessful attempts to catch one of the girls, Alberich curses love and steals the gold.
Wotan, lord of the gods, is reproached by his wife Fricka: he has promised to give Freia, goddess of youth, to the giants Fasolt and Fafner in return for their building a fortress for the gods. When the giants demand their reward, Loge, the god of fire, suggests an alternative payment: the ring Alberich has forged from the Rhinegold, and his other treasures. The giants agree, and Wotan and Loge leave for the Nibelungs’ underground home.
Here they meet Alberich’s brother Mime, who has forged the Tarnhelm, a magic helmet that transforms its wearer into any shape. Mime tells Wotan and Loge how Alberich has enslaved the Nibelungs to work for him. Alberich appears and mocks the gods. Loge asks for a demonstration of the Tarnhelm and Alberich turns himself into a dragon, then into a toad, which the gods capture. Dragged to the surface, the dwarf is forced to summon the Nibelungs to heap up the gold. Wotan wrests the ring from his finger. Shattered, Alberich curses the ring: ceaseless worry and death shall be the destiny of its bearer.
The giants return and agree to accept the gold. The gods have to give up even the Tarnhelm, but Wotan refuses to part with the ring. Erda, goddess of the earth, appears and warns him that possession of it will bring about the end of the gods. Wotan reluctantly gives the ring to the giants, and Alberich’s curse claims its first victim as Fafner kills his brother in a dispute over the treasure. As the voices of the Rhinemaidens are heard, lamenting the loss of their gold, the gods walk toward their new home, which Wotan names Valhalla.