Saturday, April 2, 2011

Liveblogging RHEINGOLD b'cast

* Prelude: smattering of applause at about point where set becomes fully visible. Not strictly Wagnerian, but I'm not going to tut-tut at a matinee audience having a good time and showing appreciation for this production -- a novel one criticized by some who criticized Schenck/Schneider-Siemssen for its stodginess, and admired by others, like me, who loved the Schenk prodn like an old teddy bear.

EDITED TO ADD: A friend who possesses the charism of opera-nerd infallibility points out: "The applause greeted the entrance of the Rhinemaidens 'flying' on their wires. It's an excellent effect."

* Eric Owens rules. Can't believe that he drew more snarks than any other cast member in last fall's run. As someone noted, Richard Paul Fink, the #1 Alberich of the Schenck years, who sang last Wednesday's performance, may still be the current allodial owner of the role, from whom all others hold only in fee. (Sorry, I do write a law blog on the side.) But the same observer noted that Owens's approach is more cantante. Well, that's good. Listen closely to Neidlinger, the all-time king of Alberichs. His portrayal, vocal no less than thespianic (I never saw him on stage), is monumentally evil, but he sings every note: his Alberich is almost bel canto. Owens is closer to that tradition than RPF. (Btw I loved RPF's Alberich in the last go-round of the Schenck production, and I have the posts on this blog to prove it.)

* Terfel. He doesn't sound like he did twenty years ago. Well, who does? But, does he sound like he did in last fall's run of RHEINGOLD? Or have this role and the concurrent rehearsals for the more difficult WALKURE Wotan been taking a toll? The RHEINGOLD Wotan is still within the capacity of this amazing voice, and I still like the match-up of Terfel with Owens: bass-baritone-leaning-to-baritone versus bass-baritone-leaning-t0-bass, duelling over the Ring. I'll be interested to see the attacks and defenses on this point....

* Selig as Fasolt, Konig as Fafner. As last fall, a perfect matching of basses to giants. Both are deep basses, but Selig has a touch of gentleness, and Konig has a touch of -- idk, The Revenge of Fu Manchu or something.

* That was a great "Vielleicht -- JA, VIELleicht" by Siegel: just the way Wieland and Bohm told Erwin Wohlfhart to do it in '67 (rehearsal footage from Bayreuth back then has made it onto Youtube -- notice also how Neidlinger here is crazily into the staging but sings an octave down in this rehearsal-room take).

* Arnold Bezuyen has has a rapid and well-deserved rise to fame as Loge, both in Europe (incl. Bayreuth) and in L.A., where Achim Freyer's grinning Mephisto costume for this role fits Arnold's naturally wide mouth. He certainly brings a lot of flair and giggles to the role. Too many giggles, anyone think?

* Owen's "Hab't acht" monologue: totally Neidlinger/Fink class. And Terfel's "Vergeh, frevelndner Gauch!" response -- there's really nothing wrong with our Wotan today.

* Stage mechanism noise: right then -- Alberich turned into a dragon -- was the first time I heard any (listening on WQXR over my laptop). Haven't heard any until now. And if a dragon can't creak, what can?

* Haven't mentioned conductor Fabio Luisi yet (subbing for Levine, who is recovering from back surgery), but the Scenes 3-4 interlude is a good place to start. I like his pacing. His rubati in this interlude are traditional but well-executed. All the way back at the beginning I liked the way he avoided the RING-original-sin of not holding the E-flat pedal longing enough (my hero here is Solti; even Levine sometimes offends on this).

Luisi has e'er now shown himself to be one of those Italian maestros gifted in German rep. The next Sinopoli? (NB My favorite Toscanini recordings, by far, are his Wagner excerpts. He could draw perfect playing from any orchestra in any rep, but, imo, he was above all a Wagner specialist.)

* Owens understated his first "Der Ring?" -- the way people sometimes gasp or whisper their first repetition of unbearable news.

* Well, that note on "Soll an Freude dir frommen mein Fluch" won't go down as Owens's happiest moment. Time to regroup forces for the actual Curse....

*....which he's doing. Sounds effortless again.

* Ok, ok, no need to hold "Knecht" too long if you're scraping the bottom of the voice-barrel. Good support there, Maestro! (A good opera conductor not only keeps the orchestra together but perceives when a singer needs the fire brigade.)

* Eric, you've just finished another performance of one of the most difficult roles in your rep, and it was great until the last few seconds -- which, unforch, are highly exposed. Now go rest, then see your coach. See you on fb!

* The Giants are back: Selig (Fasolt) sentimental, and Koenig (Fafner) bloody mean!

* Stephanie Blythe's Fricka, to me, neither adds much nor detracts anything. Am I missing something? Some of her fans admit as much but blame it on the production. I don't buy that. She just doesn't move well in any production, and has a good-but-not-great voice. I saw her WALKURE Fricka in the previous production -- and she tripped over a piece of the (admittedly very uneven) set. However, she recovered in character -- imperiously waving of support efforts from James Morris, who also avoided breaking character.

* Patricia Bardon (Erda) has a fine contralto voice, but I'd have sworn she got the melody-line slightly wrong in her opening line.

* I can hear some stage machinery noises again. Erda descending? And who's that backstage shouting something?

* AWESOME how Luisi slows things down ominously just before the Giants' fight scene.

* W-wait. Did I just hear some audience laughter? At what -- the body of Fasolt sliding down the plank, Sweeney-Todd-style? Sorry, that's not a laughing moment, I don't care if you are a matinee audience with buses back to Philly waiting for you....

* Call to the Mists: Dwayne Croft is a fine Donner. And his brother Richard was a fine Loge last fall. Is there some law that the Croft brothers can't ever appear in the same performance? (E.g. in PELLEAS....?)

* "Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge": Terfel sounding the best he has all afternoon; his familiar self.

* Entrance of the God: Luisi's pacing -- neither slow nor fast but steady and stately -- excellent!

* Big hand for Owens; he acknowledges "orchestra," meaning probably Luisi, I'm guessing

* Big hand as well for Bezuyen and Terfel

* Now Luisi on stage

* I don't like the Met's gradual abandonment of traditional Met curtain calls in favor of Broadway bows, but that's a separate post. Admittedly, in RHEINGOLD, the only difference is whether the curtain is (Broadway style) or is not (traditional Met style) up during curtain calls.

* "Von Morgen bis Abend" -- so much happens in such a short time in DAS RHEINGOLD: the gold is stolen, the Ring is forged, Valhalla is completed, the Ring is stolen and cursed, Wotan dooms himself and the gods though his momentarily hanging onto it (Erda is flatly wrong if she thinks Wotan can save the gods by getting rid of it -- maybe she's just on a seduction mission: dark temptress 'n' all that); and the gods take possession of Valhalla thinking they're in the catbird's seat when they're actually in the crosshairs.

Playing time? Two and a half hours, give or take. Slightly longer than Act II of DIE WALKURE. Shorter than Prologue + Act I of GOTTERDAMMERUNG.

Yes, later installments of THE RING proceed more spaciously: that's because they focus, much more than does RHEINGOLD, on the human dramas between the characters ("human" even when they involve interactions between gods and men, or passages from divinity to "mere" humanity).