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Das Rheingold -- Opera Review

The Bottom Line

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Not to be outdone by the Los Angeles Opera, the Met is unveiling its productions of Richard Wagner's famed "Ring Cycle," beginning with its first installment/prelude. Featuring a multimillion-dollar 45-ton set (that notoriously malfunctioned on opening night), a staging by famed director Robert Lepage and a starry cast including Bryn Terfel and Stephanie Blythe, "Das Rheingold," scheduled to be broadcast Saturday on movie screens nationwide, provides a suitably splashy beginning.

Which is not to say that it is a total success. Although its lavish technical elements are impressive, the production doesn't always achieve the visual magic to which it obviously aspires. The singing is inconsistent, with Terfel's hulking Wotan more striking visually than vocally. It does, however, boast a wonderful contribution by conductor James Levine, returning after a lengthy illness-related absence, who led a stirring performance by the Met orchestra.  

"Das Rheingold," the shortest and least musically distinctive work in the cycle, is a problematic work under any circumstances. Despite Lepage's avant-garde pedigree, his staging is for the most part fairly traditional. Its chief innovation is the physically imposing set — designed by Carl Fillion — consisting of a series of giant movable panels that reconfigure themselves into any number of positions with impressive efficiency. A series of high-tech visual projections provide striking stage images, and such moments as when the performers seem to be walking vertically up and down a giant staircase induce gasps and a concern for their safety.

The best vocals come from Blythe, providing a moving, vocally gorgeous turn as Wotan's wife, Fricka, and Eric Owen, utterly mesmerizing as the Nibelung dwarf Alberich. Also impressive are Lisette Oropesa, Jennifer Johnson and Tamara Mumford as the three Rhinemaidens.  

Despite its unevenness, this first installment of the "Ring" cycle counts as a major event on the New York cultural scene. The second, "Die Walkure," opens April 22, with the others to follow next season.

Venue: Metropolitan Opera, New York (Through April 2)
Presented by: Metropolitan Opera
Cast: Patricia Bardon, Stephanie Blythe, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Richard Croft, Hans-Peter Konig, Eric Owens, Franz-Josef Selig, Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: James Levine
Production: Robert Lepage
Associate director: Neilson Vignola
Set designer: Carl Fillion.
Costume designer: Francois St-Aubin
Lighting designer: Etienne Boucher
Video image artist: Boris Firquet