The North Carolina Opera production of Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold was fully worthy of almost any opera house anywhere. Conductor Timothy Myers was focused on detail, bringing out the subtleties that are always there to be found by the careful reader of the score. Myers conveyed precision to the marvelous brass, sprightliness to the woodwinds and rich soaring sonority to the strings, while keeping things nicely in balance. Yes, it was occasionally true that the strings and the singers were overpowered by the brass, but hey, this is Wagner, folks. There is no doubt but that the orchestra was the star of this music-drama.
The orchestra was pushed as far to the back of the stage as they could go, freeing up six feet or so at the front for limited action to take place. In addition, there was a two-foot wall to vary the space and the staging. Above the orchestra was a large screen which displayed such things as bubbling water and roiling clouds to add to the atmosphere. The singers were costumed in medieval-style outfits and lighting was used creatively to enhance the total effect. All of this made for a "semi-staged" production that lacks little but a curtain and a trapdoor for the appearance of Erda.
The cast was uniformly superb. The Rhinemaidens appeared in flowing green and blue outfits and playfully, but cruelly, taunted Alberich. In that glorious moment when the sun strikes the gold, their song rhapsodizing its wonders was lilting and unforgettable. At the conclusion of the opera as their song disrupted the Gods assent to Valhalla, you could not help but feel sadness. Of course, we know that some twelve or so hours later their gold will be returned and, in Wagner's grandiose creative dream, the world will get another chance under a different operative principle. Ah, were that it was so. The Rhinemaidens: Rachel Copeland as Woglinde, Kate Farrar as Wellgunde, and Deborah Nansteel as Flosshilde were all marvelous.
Todd Thomas was an especially strong Alberich and clearly had a feel for the role. His denouncing of love and his curse on the ring struck chills up the spine. The woebegone Mime, brother of Alberich, was sung very nicely by Vale Rideout. Mime's ill-treatment here should be recalled when we meet him again in Siegfried as Siegfried's step-father.
Wotan was portrayed by Alfred Walker in a rich, wide-ranging baritone. He was regal as well as ambivalent. One of the most interesting characters in the Ring is Wotan's long-suffering wife, Fricka. Please note that she has her own lust for power and asks if the ring would have the same effect for a female wearer. The role was sung beautifully by Michaela Martens.
Adam Lau as Donner was outstanding in his performance in the scene of clearing the mists. Our own local opera treasure, Wade Henderson as the gentle Froh, gave a gorgeous rendition of conjuring the rainbow bridge. Freia, the keeper of the golden apples and the source of eternal youth for the gods, was played bewitchingly by Hailey Clark. The music associated with her is some of the most beguiling and beautiful in the Ring.
Fafner kills his brother and ends up living in a cave deep in the woods concerned about nothing other than protecting his horde from thieves.
The mysterious Erda appeared with a transformation of the nature leitmotif, slowed down, and in a minor key urged Wotan to give up the ring. Mary Ann McCormick had just the right mezzo timbre to portray the dark wisdom of Erda.
The last character on stage is the half-god, Loge, the source of fire; dangerous and unpredictable, crafty and witty. The role was interpreted by Richard Cox with lyrical and playful charm.
James Marvel was the Stage Director, S. Katy Tucker was the Video and Projection Designer and Jax Messenger was Lighting Designer. The General Director of NCO is Eric Mitchko who shepherded the whole thing into stunning reality. We must also acknowledge here a debt of gratitude to C. Thomas Kunz for his generous sponsorship of this production.
There was an awkward intermission break at the clanging of the Nibelheim anvils, contrary to the clear philosophy and intentions of the composer. We don't know what factors entered into this decision so we will just leave it there. A couple of the prop-dependent sequences easily could have been more convincing. For example, Donner's hammer looked like an 80-pound steel head attached to a broomstick. In reality, it would snap just by picking it up. Wotan and Loge's capturing of Alberich was a non-event, but then Wagner didn't make it easy on producers and stage technicians.
In the final analysis this stuff doesn't matter. The overall quality of this production will leave most Wagner fans and opera buffs with jaw-hanging awe and breathless with the grandiose, albeit ironic, Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla with which the opera ends.
The performance will be repeated at 3:00 Sunday afternoon, Sept. 18. See our sidebar for details.