Saturday, October 9, 2010

Das Rheingold

"The Ring is not just a story or a series of operas, it’s a cosmos."
- Robert Lepage

Slept in this morning, had a late brunch in Berkeley dining hall and walked over to Sprague Hall for The Metropolitan Opera's "Live in HD" performance of Das Rheingold.

Of course, it wasn't quite like watching Wagner performed live, but it likely was the best performance of any kind that I've been to in my pajamas.

Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold) is the first in the four-part Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) cycle of operas that took Wagner 26 years to compose. The momumental Ring was intended to be performed in succession as a coherent whole over four nights, with a total playing time of about 16 hours. The story, which follows three generations of protagonists, was inspired by Norse mythology and the eponymous Nibelungenlied, an epic poem in Middle High German.

As Bloomberg reports, "the prospect of a new Ring at the Metropolitan Opera has sent opera nuts into a state of hyper-excitement for months on end." The article then continues, "This may be the first production in opera history generating a stream of bulletins on the weight of the set," which weighs in at 45 tons. "The Met has suggested something in the range of $16 million for the production. Another $4.5 million was spent replacing the wagons that roll sets to the footlights. Reinforcing the main stage to support the set cost $100,000."

The effect is spectacular.

The most spellbinding segment of the performance was the opening scene. The 136-bar drone piece begins with a somber E flat, which gradually builds into more elaborate figurations of the E flat major chord, though which Wagner portrays the flow of the Rhine River. In the Met's rendering of this scene, the set itself began to undulate, mirroring the shape of the music. Against this stirring backdrop, the three Rhine maidens floated into view, supported by cables, and then, dangling 30 feet above the stage, began their song. (Listen to the Vienna Philharmonic on YouTube.)

Here is the Met's synopsis of Das Rheingold.