Saturday, March 28, 2009

TOXIC ASSETS

Sam Shirakawa attended the Opening Night of this season's run of Das Rheingold at the Met on Wednesday evening. Here's his squib:

Das Rheingold

Season Premiere 25 March 2009
Metropolitan Opera

If Das Rheingold is on the boards, it must be springtime now and Ring time again at the Metropolitan Opera. Otto Schenk has returned to supervise the final incarnations of his grandly representational production dating from 1987. The new version of what one critic has called “the ultimate mini-series” is set for 2010 and promises to be something entirely different.

This year, there are extra performances of Rheingold and Walküre to supplement the usual three cycles beginning at today’s matineé broadcast and continuing through early May. Expect to hear a lot of Japanese, German, Brit-English and Russian spoken during intermissions. Even in these wretched economic times, the Met remains Mecca for financially intrepid Wagnerites.

The first performance of Rheingold this season turned out to be only the 150th time the company has mounted the work -- by far the least performed of the four Ring operas.

Many of the singers who appeared at the premiere of this production have long since retired, but in an age when change happens too fast and too often, it is comforting to many to have James Morris back once again as Wotan. The incursions of time have diminished his vocal powers, but he was able to summon the requisite strength at the most critical moments -- especially in “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge” -- the god’s articulation of relief at the completion of Valhalla. The rest of the cast was about as fine as money can buy these days: Yvonne Naef (Fricka), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia), Jill Grove (Erda), John Tomlinson and Franz-Josef Selig respectively as Fafner and Fasolt -- all in fine form. In a cast of equals Kim Begley (Loge), Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) and the trio of Lisette Oropesa, Kate Lindsey and Tamara Mumford as the Rhine Maidens were incandescent.

The other holdover from the production’s premiere, of course, is James Levine. Of some 20 odd times I’ve been present to hear him conduct Rheingold in the house, Wednesday evening’s performance was arguably his finest to date -- primarily because he seems to have discovered, finally, the recondite magic and sad sense of wonder in the work, which he palpably missed in his previous excursions into Nibelheim.

All of which led me to reflect afterwards on what take-away the performance may have offered. If nothing else, Rheingold, indeed the entire Ring, is about the Grand-Daddy of all Toxic Assets. The forged ring ultimately ruins everybody in a cumulative tidal wave of devastating collateral. The dire warnings of this intermittently hummable tale, adumbrated so seductively in swathes of wicked harmonies, continue to go unheeded, as the world sucks itself into the Augean stables of fiduciary feculence.

Sooner or later, though, what may get even worse gets better: We are, it seems, living out the Shakespearean-Wagnerian Dialectic. But how long in really real time is the journey between that deceptive E flat pedal which begins the infelicitous tetralogy in whose midst we now find ourselves -- and our arrival enfin at the redemptive D-flat Major coda that only the love which transcends understanding can win?

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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