Photo by Victrola Book of the Opera
The Theft of the Rheingold by Hans Makart
When, in an opera, the staging, acting, and costumes, are all misguided to bad, what’s left? The singing? What if the singing is just okay? What’s left is The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. I watched the production on The Met’s website as a part of their free streaming service. Thank the Lord it is free because had I paid for this I’d be peeved.
Wagner's Das Rheingold
Highlights from Metropolitan Opera production
As it is, I only watched out of fascination. How bad could this thing possible get? It kept exceeding my worst expectations.
Fricka, the wife of Wotan (king of the gods), enters in the second scene while Wotan is sleeping. She sees him and begins to walk over but then stops and wanders downstage with a far-off look in her eyes before then slowly walking over to Wotan to awaken him at the proper musical cue.
It would have made sense to hold Fricka’s entrance a minute or two and then have her simply walk across the stage and wake the old god up. Since the production is trying to be a movie, the idea of a blank screen is anathema so we get a character wandering around the stage with no purpose for a few minutes. That’s bad theater.
Wagner wrote this music to accommodate a set change from the Rhine River in the first scene to Valhalla in the second. In all likelihood, the curtain would have been drawn and the audience would have listened to the music.
When Froh and Donner entered I laughed out loud. The situation is too complicated to describe here but trust me, it was one of the most awkward things I’ve ever seen in life let alone on an opera stage. The production is trying to be cinematic but when all is said and done, it’s an opera.
I continued watching the next evening’s offering of Die Walküre. The singing and acting in the first act were significantly better until Siegmund and Sieglinde began expressing their love.
Up to that point, the acting was operatic and made sense. Once they start singing about their love for each other, the awkward embracing began. Once again, this isn’t the movies.
Film is predominantly a visual medium while opera is predominantly a vocal medium. In the movies, characters can embrace and sing just fine because they aren’t actually singing. We get the visual of the lovers embracing in a movie while the singing is done in the studio and then dubbed in.
There is no such opportunity in opera. Yet time after time, opera directors try to go for the visual while maintaining live singing. What ensues is a lot of side-embracing and half touching. At these moments it strikes me that I’ve never seen human beings move like that outside of an opera production.
This is opera. It’s okay to let the character sing about their love.
The first scene of the second act of Walküre was fantastic. Fricka remained in place on her throne while Wotan moved around her as they argued their positions. Fricka picked her dramatic moments well and backed them up with sudden and convincing movements.
It was good vocal-based theater.