(photo by David Cooper) Girl Meets Wagner My Return to the Opera Oeuvre by Morgan McPherson, Senior Contributor
I have an interesting relationship with opera. It used to be this strange, mystifying form of Art with a capital "a" to me. Serious stuff, foreign languages, fat ladies singing in horned helmets. I'm still a little intimidated when it comes time to go to an opera. I never feel well-enough dressed, am worried that the other patrons won't be friendly, or that I'll be out of place. Every time I go, however, I'm always reminded of what a gorgeous art form opera truly is. I've always been enchanted by the way it can feel classic and old, but also pleasantly young and fresh. I didn't know what to expect last night, but I was blown away.
Das Rheingold is the first of Wagner's epic Ring of the Nibelung opera cycle. Comprised of four operas (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung), the cycle's story is ambitious in scope and in length. It tells the story of gods, mythical creatures, and heroes, and their fight over the Ring of the Nibelung, over multiple generations.
In this first instalment, the three maidens of the Rhine river are frolicking about when they should be guarding the precious gold they have been charged to protect. A dwarf (Nibelung) named Alberich (Todd Thomas) becomes smitten with the maidens, who proceed to tease and humiliate him. He forswears love forever in order to exact his revenge: stealing the gold from the maidens, he forges a magic ring that gives him power over the world. Meanwhile, Wotan (John Fanning), ruler of the gods, has offered his sister-in-law Freia (Betty Waynne Allison) as payment to the giants Fafner (Jeremy Galyon) and Fasolt (Uwe Dambuch) for building a new home for the gods (Valhalla). He realizes that losing Freia is a terrible idea, as she alone can grow and tend the magic apples that keep the gods perpetually young and healthy. Loge (Gordon Gietz), a demigod, suggests that he steal the ring of the Nibelung to give to the giants in order to free Freia. Since forging the ring, Alberich has enslaved the other Nibelung to mine and hoard gold for him, and has commanded his brother, Mime (Benjamin Butterfield), to smith for him the Tarnhelm. The Tarnhelm grants the wearer the power to transform into anything he desires. Loge and Wotan trick Alberich into transforming into a small creature, and they capture him. They steal his gold hoard, the Tarnhelm, and the Ring (which is cursed by Alberich before he parts with it), but are forced to give it all up to the giants to free Freia. The piece ends with the Gods heading off to Valhalla, and one of the giants in control of the Ring. So the saga continues.
But enough preamble. How was this production, you ask? Tremendous. It's not often I can sit at any sort of production for 150 minutes and have my attention held, but I was enthralled by the story. The lead roles were sung impeccably particularly John Fanning (Wotan), Todd Thomas (Alberich) and Gordon Gietz (Loge). The Victoria Symphony was in fine form under the baton of Maestro Timothy Vernon, in smaller numbers than the score originally calls for but definitely providing a mighty sound. The gorgeous set (designed by Hans Winkler with lighting design by Kevin Lamotte) transported the actors from the Rhine river, to the hills with Valhalla in the distance, to the depths of the realm of the Nibelung. The costumes (by Nancy Bryant) were lush and creative (if you attend, I guarantee you will drool over Loge and Fricka's costumes in particular), and the whole performance was directed skilfully by Wim Trompert. Overall, I was swept away by a polished, enjoyable performance, and I am quite sad that I don't have the opportunity to see the other three operas any time soon. Should you have the chance, catch this one. You won't regret the decision.