Some time back, the sage Costo spent a bit of time knuckling his brow over a remark I had made elsewhere concerning Wagner opera: “Push over and share the popcorn.” Was this a profanation? he mused.
Well, Saturday your faithful Sled let herself be led — almost blindfold, such a hectic year I have had — to the Metropolitan Opera’s first HD broadcast of its new Rheingold, inaugurating a whole new Ring production featuring a ridiculously overhyped piece of stage machinery (something like The Aesir meet Transformers) and Bryn Terfel.
Nothing, not even a huge clunky device whose convolutions threaten to overshadow all other stage action, can mess this up. Bryn!!! I’ve loved Wagner all my life; I’ve stopped anything I was doing to listen to Terfel in recordings of Mozart or Vaughan Williams or British folksong; somehow, I just never was around when the two got together. Wotan: the head god, the navel-gazer, the rueful punisher, the guy whose reflective dilations are the parts of the Ring that your rear end, most often, just suffers through. Throughout Rheingold and Walkure he seems mainly doomed to endure nagging and henpecking from his wife — head gods have this problem — until you wonder where it says he has to put up with it.
Then along comes Bryn, stage wig draped Veronica-Lake style over what is meant to be Wotan’s empty eye socket — and reminds wife Fricka tenderly that he gambled that eye to win her.
There are people grumbling about this bit of casting, saying Terfel’s voice is too light, too baritono, for Wotan and that they want someone with a down-in-the-well resonance to give the part gravity. Others are still bitter because he walked out of the role a few years ago at Covent Garden when his son was ill. Never mind. I am swooning in my seat. Terfel is a sublime singing actor even in a cycle of lieder; I can’t claim an encyclopedic familiarity with Wagner performances (who can afford to?), but this is the first time I’ve gone weak in the knees for Wotan, who usually comes across as a stable depressed patient or a morose high school principal. I don’t usually associate the part with either grace or warmth, but this Wotan has both, and it makes you — well, me — care that everything he tries to accomplish slips through his fingers.
I was wondering whether my sacroiliac joint could take Walkure again, much less Gotterdammerung next season (five hours, near as dammit), but I’m sunk here.
And yes, Paul, it was broadcast to a movie theater. So all during the introduction feature — where we saw the cast meet the giant set machine (one of the Rhinemaidens said flatly “This is f-in scary”) — someone two rows down from me was chomping away at a toasty, whiffy container of popcorn. I don’t think he finished it until Richard Croft made his entrance as Loge, looking vaguely like a steampunk version of Jerry Lee Lewis and perched ridiculously on a steep grade at center stage (that damn set machine again).
No sound clips of the performances yet, but just to give you an idea why I’m all wobbly, here’s Terfel with Cecilia Bartoli in a concert performance of the iconic seduction duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni (“la ci darem la mano”). She’s a bride two steps from the altar; he’s Don Juan. Place your bets.