Contrariamente à presse française – em especial, a que se dedica à música erudita (por demais narcísica e petulante) -, a cobertura do The New York Times refere o percalço da première de O Ouro do Reno (do Met), sem o enfatizar. This things do happen!
«It is a moment of glorious climax, and one of the most memorable in Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. Borne along by surging brass chords and shimmering strings, the gods cross a bridge into Valhalla and bring “Das Rheingold” to a close.
At the opening on Monday night, the moment fizzled. Richard Croft — as Loge, the god of fire — was left standing on a barren stage after his fellow singers had wandered into the wings. The vast platform of the 45-ton set did not move upward from the back as it was supposed to, so the bridge section could not be formed. Valhalla was nowhere in sight.
The only signs of a bridge were multicolored strips of light projected onto what would have been the walkway. The lost moment followed an evening of technological wizardry and sometimes stunning images produced by the mammoth set.
The Met blamed an error in the computer program that controlled the set’s movement. Not enough room was allowed for the tilting platform to clear the stage floor, so safety sensors automatically shut down the movement.
When the moment works correctly, the singers are supposed to step down from a section of platform at the front of the stage and disappear into a space created as the main platform tilts down at the front and up at the back; Monday night they were stranded. Acrobats attached by cables and standing in for the gods are then supposed to appear and proceed up the tilted bridge, as Loge watches. A marble pattern is projected onto the platform, by now vertical, representing the hall of the gods.
After the dress rehearsal foul-up, the singers knew that they would leave through the wings if it happened again. Stage managers on Monday night signaled for them to come off that way when it became clear that the set was malfunctioning.
Another result of the complicated machinery was a fair amount of mechanical noise on Monday night as the planks moved. “We’ve been working to minimize the noise of the set, but a few creaks are inevitable with a moving set of this size in a repertory house — where scenery can’t be permanently installed,” the Met said in its statement.»
But let me start with Mr. Levine and the splendid performance he drew from the superb Met orchestra, which played brilliantly, and the excellent cast, as strong a lineup of vocal artists for a Wagner opera as I have heard in years. The formidable bass-baritone Bryn Terfel sang his first Wotan at the Met, a chilling, brutal portrayal; the powerhouse mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe was a vocally sumptuous, magisterial yet movingly vulnerable Fricka. And the bass-baritone Eric Owens had a triumphant night as Alberich.
Still, the state of Mr. Levine’s health and music making were major concerns going into this evening. When he took his bow during the curtain calls he looked a little wobbly and needed support. He seems to have lost weight. But there was nothing frail about his conducting.
Almost as if determined to prove something, he conducted the score with exceptional vigor, sweep and uncommon textural clarity. Inner details emerged, but always subtly folded into the overall arching episodes and spans of the opera. In the scene in which Wotan and Loge, the demigod of fire (here the tenor Richard Croft in a vocally suave and sly performance), try to wrest the booty of gold and the magic ring from Alberich in the lower realm of Nibelheim, Mr. Levine was an attentive accompanist, allowing the singers to exchange lines with conversational urgency, yet always there to nudge and juice the orchestral subtext. Mr. Levine clearly has some way to go in getting back his stamina and health. But this performance was an encouraging sign.
And the machine worked. Well, almost worked. There was one serious glitch at the end. The “machine” is what the cast and crew have taken to calling the 45-ton gizmo that dominates Mr. Lepage’s complex staging, the work of the set designer Carl Fillion. It consists of a series of 24 planks on a crossbar that rise and sink like seesaws, singly, in tandem or in patterns. To evoke the churning currents of the river where the Rhinemaidens protect the magic gold, the planks, bathed in greenish lights, undulate slowly. As in many traditional productions, the three aquatic sisters (Lisette Oropesa, Jennifer Johnson, Tamara Mumford) first appear dangling from cables. But when planks rise to create a wall of water for the maidens to rest on, there are video images of stones and pebbles on the river floor tumbling downward as the sisters rustle them.
Otto Schenk’s Romantic “Ring” production, which was retired in 2009, had passionate defenders. In talking up the Lepage “Ring,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, tried to assure everyone that this was not going to be some high-concept, Eurotrash staging. Mr. Lepage uses the latest in staging technology to “tell the story,” Mr. Gelb said repeatedly in interviews.
Actually, in many ways, even with all the high-tech elements, Mr. Lepage’s production is fairly traditional. François St-Aubin’s costumes are like glitzier, quirkier riffs on old-fashioned Wagnerian “Ring” outfits. Mr. Terfel’s Wotan has stringy hair that falls over the god’s blind left eye, and a rustic shirt missing an arm. Yet he sports a bronze breastplate right out of a storybook “Ring.” The giants, Fasolt and Fafner (the booming basses Franz-Josef Selig and Hans-Peter König) are like rugged bushmen, with scraggly hair and beards, and leggings covered with fur. Loge has a Peter Sellars hairdo (an inside joke from one director to another?), a ragtag outfit and hands that emit a fiery glow on command.
The production is also traditional in that Mr. Lepage essentially defers to Wagner. If he has strong personal takes on who these characters are, they did not come through here. One thing about those high-concept, updated “Ring” productions is that a director can put Wagner’s characters in a setting that makes you see them afresh. We will have to wait for the later installments of this “Ring” to see how, say, Mr. Lepage views Wotan’s role as a father to a rebellious daughter whom he loves and vicariously lives through.
There are breathtaking stage tricks in this production. When Wotan and Loge descend into Nibelheim, we see them walking down the planks as if descending a huge stairway. But, as presented, we look down on them from above: the Wotan and Loge that we see are body doubles harnessed to cables and walking the wall perpendicular to the stage. Mr. Lepage is like a magician eager to show off how a trick works, knowing it will still hook you. This one hooked me.
At other times, the use of body doubles seems gratuitous and distracting. When Fricka’s sister, Freia, whom Wotan has foolishly promised to the giants as payment for their construction job, first appears, she (actually a body double) careens on her stomach head-first down the planks, tilted like a playground slide. Really, this is just not a very godly thing to do.
The production worked well in scenes in which the machine turned into a stationary backdrop, and the planks became a video screen. In Nibelheim, for example, when on a lower level we saw Alberich’s slaves sweating over molten pots of gold, the wall above them was alive with shifting russet, earthen and blazing yellow colors.
Mr. Lepage deserves credit for coaxing vivid portrayals from his cast. And most of the action is played on an apron of planks that extend from the stage, which brings the singers into exciting proximity. Mr. Terfel’s singing was sometimes gravelly and rough. But his was a muscular Wotan, in both his imposing presence and his powerful singing.
Mr. Owens’s Alberich was no sniveling dwarf, but a barrel-chested, intimidating foe, singing with stentorian vigor, looking dangerous in his dreadlocks and crazed in his fantasy of ruling the universe.
The bright-voiced soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer was a sympathetic yet volatile Freia. The tenor Gerhard Siegel won your heart as the pitiable Mime, Alberich’s oppressed brother. The mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon was not the most earthy-voiced Erda, but she sang with grave beauty. Adam Diegel, a youthful tenor in his Met debut, was Froh; the Met veteran baritone Dwayne Croft was in good voice as Donner.
Alas, the machine malfunctioned in the final scene, when the planks did not move into place to form the rainbow bridge to Valhalla. So the gods just wandered off the stage. Given the complexity of the device, it’s a wonder that it worked so well on its debut night.»