Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: Das Rheingold
Broadcast of Saturday, April 6, 1 P.M.
Alberich (Owens) in Nibelheim
© Beatriz Schiller 2013
The 2012–13 Metropolitan Opera broadcast season is sponsored by
Toll Brothers, America's luxury home builder®, with generous long-term support from
The Annenberg Foundation, The Neubauer Family Foundation,
the Vincent A. Stabile Endowment for Broadcast Media,
and through contributions from listeners worldwide.
Music and text by Richard Wagner
THE CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
Woglinde soprano, MEREDITH HANSEN
Wellgunde mezzo, JENNIFER JOHNSON
Flosshilde mezzo, RENÉE TATUM
Alberich bass-baritone, ERIC OWENS
Fricka mezzo, STEPHANIE BLYTHE
Wotan baritone, MARK DELAVAN
Freia soprano, WENDY BRYN HARMER
Fasolt bass, FRANZ-JOSEF SELIG
Fafner bass, HANS-PETER KÖNIG
Froh tenor, RICHARD COX
Donner baritone, DWAYNE CROFT
Loge tenor, STEFAN MARGITA
Mime tenor, GERHARD SIEGEL
Erda mezzo, MEREDITH ARWADY
Conducted by FABIO LUISI
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Production: Robert Lepage
Associate director: Neilson Vignola
Set designer: Carl Fillion
Costume designer: François St-Aubin
Lighting designer: Etienne Boucher
Video image artist: Boris Firquet
Musical preparation: John Keenan,
Robert Morrison, Howard Watkins,
Carrie-Ann Matheson, Carol Isaac,
Assistant stage directors: David Kneuss,
J. Knighten Smit, Paula Williams
German coach: Marianne Barrett
Prompter: Carol Isaac
|Production a gift of Ann Ziff and
the Ziff family, in memory of William Ziff
In collaboration with Ex Machina
|THE SCENES || ||Timings|
|Sc. 1||Bottom of the Rhine ||1:00–|
|Sc. 2||Mountaintop || |
|Sc. 3||Nibelheim|| |
Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel and
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni
and Elena Park
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In the depths of the Rhine, three Rhinemaidens — Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde, carefree daughters of the river's spirit — laugh and play as they swim. Their song attracts the dwarf Alberich, who tries to catch them. They tease him, luring him on and then escaping, until a golden glow from above lights the murky waters. The maidens joyfully hail their treasure, the Rhinegold, foolishly answering Alberich's questions about it: Woglinde says whoever wins the gold will gain world power but to do so must renounce love forever. Since the ugly creature is luckless in love, he scrambles up the rock and steals the gold. Darkness envelops the scene as he escapes, and the Rhinemaidens lament their loss.
High on a mountain, Fricka, goddess of marriage, wakes her husband, Wotan, king of the gods, to show him their newly built castle. He is delighted with it, but Fricka reproaches him for promising her sister Freia, goddess of youth, to the giants Fasolt and Fafner as payment for building the fortress. Suddenly Freia runs in, pursued by the giants; Wotan, who claims he never really meant to keep his bargain, manages to stall them until further aid arrives with the gods Donner (thunder), Froh (spring) and Loge (fire). The crafty Loge suggests alternative payment — the Ring that Alberich has forged from the Rhinegold, plus other gold the dwarf has mined. The giants agree, dragging Freia off as hostage until dusk. With the youth goddess gone, the gods begin to age, so Wotan and Loge hurry down through the earth to find Alberich.
In Nibelheim, home of the Nibelungs, Alberich forces his brother Mime to give him the Tarnhelm, a magic helmet Mime has fashioned, which can transform its wearer into any shape or carry him anywhere in a second. Alberich tries it on, turns invisible and torments Mime before going off to terrorize the other dwarfs, who work as slaves in his mines. When Wotan and Loge arrive, Mime complains to them about Alberich's tyranny. Reappearing with his treasure-bearing subjects, Alberich scatters them with threats and then scoffs at his guests. He plans to conquer the world and enslave the gods, too. Loge asks for a demonstration of the Tarnhelm; Alberich obliges, turning himself into a huge serpent, then, at Loge's instigation, a tiny toad, which the gods capture easily. Loge snatches the Tarnhelm, and as Alberich resumes his old form, they bind him and drag him off.
Back on the mountain, Wotan orders Alberich to summon his workers to heap up the gold for Freia's ransom. Loge keeps the Tarnhelm, and Wotan wants the Ring. Alberich would rather die than give it up, but Wotan wrests it from his finger, suddenly overcome with lust for its power. The shattered Alberich, freed but powerless, hurls his curse at Wotan — ceaseless worry and death for anyone but Alberich who wears the Ring. After the dwarf has left, the gods assemble with the giants and Freia. Fasolt, who loves the goddess, agrees to accept the gold only if it completely hides her from view. Donner, Froh and Loge heap up the gold, even adding the Tarnhelm, but Fasolt can still see her eye through a crack, so Fafner demands the Ring to seal it up. When Wotan refuses, the giants start to carry Freia off; they are stopped by the appearance of Erda, goddess of the earth, who warns Wotan to surrender the Ring, as it spells doom for the gods. Reluctantly heeding her advice, Wotan casts the Ring on the hoard and immediately sees the force of Alberich's curse: Fafner brutally slays his brother in a dispute over the Ring. Lightning and thunder from Donner's hammer clear the air of hovering clouds, and a rainbow appears, forming a bridge to the castle, which Wotan christens Valhalla. As the cries of the Rhinemaidens echo from the valley below, calling for their gold, the gods proudly file into their new home.
Wotan (Terfel) and Fricka (Stephanie Blythe)
© Beth Bergman 2013
Richard Wagner's series of four music dramas, Der Ring des Nibelungen, marks the German composer's artistic coming of age. Here he expounded his concept of a modern stage form in which symphonic music, words, gesture and scenery would blend as never before. Because of the composer's revolutionary politics, he was forced to seek exile in Switzerland for twelve years, starting in 1849. It was at the Italian resort of La Spezia, though, that he conceived the E-flat-major opening to Das Rheingold. Realization awaited his return to Switzerland. He composed the music from late 1853 well into '54.
The Ring's text was written in reverse order. Dramatizing the death of Siegfried, Wagner decided that his Götterdämmerung needed an explanatory prologue. There followed Siegfried and Die Walküre. The preamble to the whole cycle, Das Rheingold, has the tightest libretto of the four and tells how Valhalla, the home of the gods, came to be built. The music of the Ring, however, was composed in order, bringing to gradual fruition Wagner's thought-through amplification of the eighty-odd leitmotifs that he identified with characters and ideas. Das Rheingold stands out as a model music drama for the very qualities that make it the least performed of the Ring operas: free of stars, arias and other familiar operatic disruptions, it concentrates on a bold theatrical concept, four nonstop scenes with breathtaking musical-visual transitions.
Das Rheingold was first played on September 22, 1869, in Munich. Its debut as part of the whole Ring did not come until August 13, 1876, at the Bayreuth Festival Theater. Its U.S. bow, at the Metropolitan Opera on January 4, 1889, was led by Anton Seidl. The Met's current production, by Robert Lepage, was unveiled on September 27, 2010, with James Levine conducting.
The passage of the gods across the rainbow bridge into Valhalla
© Beatriz Schiller 2013
Beginning Wagnerites can start their study of the composer concisely with Michael Tanner's Wagner (Princeton) and The New Grove Guide to Wagner and his Operas, edited by Barry Millington (Oxford); more adventurous readers will find Millington's Wagner (Princeton) and The Wagner Compendium: A Guide to Wagner's Life and Music (Thames and Hudson), edited by Millington, to be rewarding. Ernest Newman's The Wagner Operas, originally published in 1949 and now available as a Princeton paperback, remains valuable. M. Owen Lee's Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Round (Limelight) takes a measured, erudite look at the composer's magnum opus. Andrew Porter's brilliant English-language Ring text — intended as a "singing" translation and used as such with great success at ENO and other companies — is well worth seeking out (Norton).
The history of Wagner's Ring is inseparable from that of the Bayreuth Festival, where the first complete Ring performances were given. Frederick Spotts's Bayreuth (Yale) is comprehensive and respectful; Jonathan Carr's The Wagner Clan (Grove) is a lively history of three generations of the composer's family in and out of Bayreuth.
Most of the Ring operas have been recorded as part of complete cycles, although some notable Die Walküres were conceived as separate recording projects. The 1961 Decca Die Walküre, led by Erich Leinsdorf at his most commanding, features Gré Brouwenstijn's imaginatively phrased Sieglinde, partnered by Jon Vickers's moving Siegmund. George London offers a distinguished Wotan. Birgit Nilsson, Leinsdorf's Brünnhilde, is marginally less authoritative than in her later recording for Georg Solti. Bruno Walter's enthralling 1935 account of Act I of Die Walküre, with Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchior and Emmanuel List its high-voltage principals, is available in an excellent remastering from Naxos.
Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Eric Owens as Alberich in
Robert Lepage's Metropolitan Opera production of
© Beth Bergman 2013
In the late 1980s, while the Met was rolling out its handsome, traditional Otto Schenk staging of Wagner's Ring, the company was also at work on the Ring in the recording studio, under the direction of James Levine. Levine's studio recordings of the four Ring operas (DG) are a testament to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra's extraordinary development into a world-class ensemble under the conductor's leadership; Levine's reading balances wit, vigor and passion in equal measure. His superb principal cast — most of them veterans of the Schenk Ring staging — includes Hildegard Behrens (Brünnhilde), James Morris (Wotan), Jessye Norman (Sieglinde), Christa Ludwig (Fricka), Matti Salminen (Hagen) and Hanna Schwarz (Waltraute). A slightly different group of principals is on hand for the Met's Ring DVDs, recorded and telecast in 1990; for example, the highly telegenic Siegfried Jerusalem, who had sung Loge in the 1988 Met studio recording of Das Rheingold, added the higher-profile assignment of Siegfried for the live telecast.
Georg Solti's Decca Ring — the first studio recording of the complete cycle, begun in 1958 and completed over a period of eight years — remains one of the biggest and boldest Ring performances on disc, undeniably exciting if (occasionally) somewhat relentless in its delivery of heroically-scaled histrionics by the Vienna Philharmonic. Solti's veteran Ring cast includes Nilsson, Hans Hotter (Wotan), Régine Crespin (Sieglinde), Wolfgang Windgassen (Siegfried), Gottlob Frick (Hunding) and Kirsten Flagstad (Fricka, Das Rheingold). The chief contemporary rival to the Solti Ring is the performance by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, who deliver a less elemental reading than that of Solti, but one that is considerably more sensuous and radiant (especially in Das Rheingold). Bernard Haitink's studio set (EMI) is admirable for the exemplary playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the splendid Wotan of James Morris. Reginald Goodall delivers vigorous yet meticulous leadership of a brilliantly committed ENO ensemble in a remarkable English-language Ring, sung in Andrew Porter's translation (Chandos). Among the live Bayreuth Rings available on CD are illuminating accounts led by Clemens Krauss (1953; Opera d'Oro), Joseph Keilberth (1955; Testament), Hans Knappertsbusch (1956; Orfeo d'Or), Rudolf Kempe (1960; Melodram) and Karl Böhm (1967; Philips).
On DVD and Blu-ray, the Met's current Ring staging, by Robert Lepage, is available from DG, with James Levine (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre) and Fabio Luisi (Siegfried, Götterdämmerung) conducting. Patrice Chéreau's revolutionary Bayreuth Ring reimagined the drama in a nineteenth-century setting; Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntyre, Jeannine Altmeyer and Peter Hofmann are Chéreau's highly persuasive principals, conducted by Pierre Boulez (Philips). Kasper Bech Holten's Ring stagingfor Royal Danish Opera, conducted with masterly finesse by Michael Schønwaldt, is imaginatively detailed and refreshingly musical. Lothar Zagrosek conducts Stuttgart's controversial Ring, which fielded a different stage director for each of the four operas: Siegfried, directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito as a domestic drama with an aproned, potato-peeling Mime, is probably the most striking of the four stagings (TDK). A 1963 black-and-white film catches legendary Wagnerian Hans Knappertsbusch in late bloom, pacing Claire Watson, Fritz Uhl, Joseph Greindl and the Vienna Philharmonic in a concert performance of Act I of Die Walküre. Fritz Lang's 1924 silent epic Die Nibelungen — consisting of two separate films, Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge — presents a fascinating variation on the legends and the iconography that Wagner used in constructing his Ring cycle.
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