Met Ring 2000 - Das Rheingold

Sun, 21 May 2000

Monday May 1 began like any other -- I knocked the alarm clock off the bedside table, took a swig of warm beer from the bottle under the bed, belched, blamed it on the cat (who was back in Chicago, come to think of it) and fell back to sleep.

Monday May 1 began again a couple of hours later, although by the time I got up most people in Australia were already in bed. I thought about joining them but once I had pulled back the drapes and had seen what a smashing day was outside, I slipped into a fluffy robe and made a beeline for the shower.

Dinner was at a restaurant I had not visited before. It was called Brasserie Americaine, and was just across Broadway (known as the "Great White Whale" I believe the cab driver said) next to O'Neill's Restaurant.

My companion and I were meeting our Ring-Mates there for dinner. One of them you know as Parsifal13, and the others you don't. They included a musicologist who was just finishing a book on Baroque opera, a financial entrepreneur, and a young woman from Wall Street who was buying the Coca Cola Company over her cell phone while we waited to be seated.

The restaurant was a small, bustling, and lively room and focused on French cuisine. Having studied French in high school many years ago, I decided to order in that language. The waiter looked at me with a puzzled expression. "Allez! Vite!" I cried as I waved him away. My friends were mightily impressed. So it was, alas, that as they tucked into their steak-frites and Coq-au-Vin, I dined on a dish consisting of a rubber flipper, a roll of toilet tissue, and a bicycle pump. To save face I ate most of it. I did send the flipper back, claiming it was underdone, however. Next time I will simply point at the menu.

Das Rheingold, of course, many of you will be familiar with from the video performance recorded back in 1990. Most of it looks better on your TV screen at home. That is because the TV cameras need a thing called "light" to see properly, so they boost the lamps during the recording and can bring you close-ups of things called "people's faces" and you can see the mouths where the singing is coming from. The only scene in Rheingold that manages to look better in the flesh is the opening scene, which by gum, looks like it is underwater when you cannot clearly see how it is being created.

The Rheinmaidens were as fine a trio as I have heard sing this marvellous opening to the 15 plus hours of drama to follow. Strong steady voices that blended beautifully. Put your flippers together for Joyce Guyer, Kristine Jepson and Jane Bunnell.

Ekkehard Wlaschiha was Alberich, and of course that, for me, is a very good thing. Lieder singing is not what is required for this role- character building is, and Ekke knows the role and plays it with relish.

After a seamless scene change, thanks to the wondrous Met staging capabilities, the mountaintop/lava field was revealed, and though he is known to Mistress Terri as the "Baltimore Barker", to me he IS Wotan; the Fricka of Felicity Palmer awoke Sir James Morris and he arose in resplendent voice. Even he may have lost track of the number of times he has sung the Rheingold Wotan but it doesn't show in his performance. No barker he-- not today.

The thankless role of Freia, who has to run back and forth wailing in the Otto Schenk production, now directed by Stephen Pickover, was taken by Sondra Radvanovsky, who is a very good-looking woman and sings well, if not particularly memorably. Lord knows where Lipovsek is when you need her. I have often heard Hanna Schwartz in the role of Fricka, and did not really long for her wobble, but settled in for a longish night when Felicity Palmer wrapped her tonsils around the role. It is not a beautiful sound.

Fasolt was the familiar and welcome face of Jan-Hendrik Rootering. His brother Fafner was sung by the black voice of Sergei Koptchak. "You cannot always have Matti Salminen" I thought. Later in the Cycle this thought would resound in my brain.

Once back from Nibelheim the pace picks up for me. I hear the "Curse" motiv which is likely my favorite among the many. I hear that maniacal Ekke laugh that chills my blood. It has been a merry romp up until that point. Besides the prelude and the curse, the next musical milestone for me is the clearing of the skies by the Donner of Alan Held-- and by now you know how I regard this fine specimen of a singer, to be followed by the visually stunning image of the Rainbow projected onto scrim, and the sugar-toasted ringing tenor voice of Mark Baker. This moment alone is worth the inflated ticket price ($275 for a $170 seat).

Erda, appearing through a widening crack in the floor was the tried and tested Birgitta Swenden, whom I had last seen wrapped only in a bath towel outside her dressing room in Bayreuth. She is a petite woman with a size 12 voice which is as deep as mine, and I pride myself on my manly timbre.

I haven't forgotten the Loge of Phillip Langridge! Though his voice is rather a dust-dry thing, prone to a wobble on "whole" notes, his characterization and stage deportment were indeed worthy: he is a singing actor rather than an acting singer. He is a rivetting stage presence like his predecessor, Mr. Jerusalem, whom I grow to love more in retrospect when I think of his Siegfried....but more of Siegfried later!

Two and a half hours or so passed in a trice and 'ere long I was out in the night air to meet up with my friends. The "Preliminary Evening" over; we had but to sleep the night away and then wake upon the day that would bring, before our very eyes and ears, the Wonder that is Die Walküre. A few drinks in convivial company helped pass the time until I was ready for bed. I was feeling very good when my head finally hit the pillows in the wee small hours.

Outside the window New York went about its business in the dark. The sound of the swirling waters of the Rhine ran through my head as I fell asleep. After a while I realised I had left the bathroom faucet running and got up to turn it off.

Once I was up I had to (a) have a beer and a cigarette and (b) gaze upon this glorious city laid at my feet and (c) think myself very lucky to be here, right now.

Die Walkure....just a sleep away. Domingo, Voigt, Morris and Eaglen to savor. And so to bed.

To be continued......

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