Ringblogging I: Rheingold in Seattle
One of the first things people like to point out about the Ring cycle is that the "cyclical" part is key — by ending Götterdämmerung where Rheingold began, Wagner reinforces the idea that this is a timeless yarn that plays out again and again into eternity. And not just the story, but the reenactment thereof, so don't wait to buy your tickets for next year as soon as this year's performances are over.
Like so many of Old Klingsor's ideas, this one is easy to mock and hard to resist. When the curtain went up on the first scene of Rheingold Sunday night and I saw those wonderful swimming Rhinemaidens, twirling and somersaulting in the depths of the river, it felt exactly like the recurrence of an old and welcome ritual. It's been four years since the last outing of director Stephen Wadsworth's brilliant, emotionally probing Ring for the Seattle Opera, and those years melted away in an instant.
I can't even pretend to any kind of equanimity about this production, with its phenomenally beautiful physical trappings (sets by Thomas Lynch, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, lighting by Peter Kaczorowski) and Wadsworth's riveting blend of traditionalism and theatrical vividness. I absolutely love it.
Freed from the crippling dictates of an overarching concept, Wadsworth's staging is at once faithful to its roots and entirely autonomous. He relies on the basic story as Wagner conceived it, but finds room for innovative or imaginative touches that shed new light on what's happening — particularly the lively erotic charge between Fricka and Wotan, which makes clear that his philandering has nothing to do with any caricatured notion of her as nag or shrew. Wadsworth also makes Fricka a force of conscience by having her linger behind, contemplating Fasolt's corpse in silent horror, while the other gods process over the Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla.
The sheer visual splendor of the production is almost embarrassing in its profusion. The green, piney mountaintop of the even-numbered scenes is like an idealized version of the reality looming nearby; the waters of the Rhine look cool and fluid enough to dive into.
And the opening night promised the best musical incarnation of this production yet, even under Robert Spano's blandly capable leadership. As always, Stephanie Blythe's Fricka outshone everyone else for vocal heft, tonal elegance and interpretive clarity. If you're determined to do so, you could spin that negative, as an all-too-cynical young critic of my acquaintance managed to do ("You know you're in trouble when Fricka is the best singer of the night"), but really, why would you want to? In what opera is Stephanie Blythe not the most magnificent performer on stage?
The happiest news was that Greer
Most of the rest of the cast was first-rate, too — Richard Paul Fink returning yet again in his signature role of Alberich, Marie Plette as a bright-toned Freia, Jason Collins, a new name to me, as a clarion Froh (yikes — turns out I heard him as Froh in San Francisco just a year ago, but he didn't make a similar impression). The one weak point was Kobie van Rensburg, a dull, blockish Loge; with all the magic happening onstage, his performance was the least magical.