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BWW Reviews: Robert Lepage's RING is in full Rotation

The first of three complete Ring Cycles concluded on Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Opera as our hero, Siegfried, his true love, Brünnhilde, as well as the entirety of Valhalla went up in a burst of video projected and staged lit flames behind the massive 45-ton set of 24 rotating planks come to be known by some as Robert Lepage's Ring machine. Luckily for everyone involved- audience, performers and technicians alike, this cycle ran quite smoothly in comparison to previous seasons. One mishap happened in Das Rheingold as we descended into Nibelheim and the last five or six planks got stuck in the air and one black clad arm was seen pulling each back into place. Barring this one blip in an otherwise 19 hour breathtaking production is rather impressive given the scale and scope of this production which includes hydraulics, harnesses, flying, dying, fighting, love making, and a host of technical demands all enhancing the complex masterpiece which is Richard Wagner's music and libretto.

There is no surprise that the term Gesamtkunstwerk was coined after the completion of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen because this piece truly fits the definition, total work of art. The combination of music, poetry, architecture, painting and other disciplines is essential to the work and certainly at the heart of this current production at the Met. This stage sized rotating beast, despite the criticism it has faced in recent years is unlike anything to be seen on this stage or others who have tackled the work in its entirety and should be praised for its abilities to transform the stage into every location needed in the cycle and for its ability to heighten the orchestrations between scenes. Wagner's orchestrations are some of the greatest ever conceived and have the ability to move the story forward in a way that words and action could never do. The rotating images created by the set add an extra visual element to Wagner's orchestral masterpiece and round out the production to its fullest.

While this breakthrough in stage technology offers breathtaking pictures and seamless transitions from one location to the next, it is clear to the audience that the performers are still not completely comfortable on the set. It is a difficult trade off between this awe-inspiring piece of technological art and onstage comfort that I wish could have met in the middle. While the performers may have exuded discomfort at times throughout the cycle, their performances and vocal abilities are to be commended to the highest heavens (or Valhalla in this case). Starting from the beginning, Das Rheingold, the abilities of bass-baritone Eric Owens in the role of Alberich are miraculous. His vocal dexterity mixed with perfect characterizations make a flawless combination. Another performance that had the audience on its feet in praise was that of mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe's outstanding depiction of the role of Fricka. Her ability to play both sympathetic and irate simultaneously while producing such enormously complex yet polished vocals is incredible.

Bryn Terfel's Wotan was filled with emotional complexity and dynamically commanding vocals that shed light on the inner emotions of his character. We were able to see both Wotan's passionate energy as well as his fearful rage as the cycle progresses. With each act we see the curse of the ring's weighing on Wotan and Valhalla until the ultimate demise at the end of Götterdämmerung. Soprano Deborah Voigt plays a powerhouse Brünnhilde who undergoes dramatic lessons and surprises as the action plays out. Her vocals, while covered by the orchestra at times, were delivered with passion and bravado.

Another name that deserves great praise is tenor Jay Hunter Morris in the title role of Seigfried. Morris produces full-bodied youthful sound in this demanding role that is quite commendable and the perfect depiction of the character. You instantly feel for Seigfried when he is tricked into taking the potion and ruining the new engagement between him and Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung.

The entire casts of this production including the chorus that appears in Götterdämmerungshould be commended for their stunning performances in this seasons Ring Cycle. The orchestra, under the astounding direction of conductor Fabio Luisi should be praised for their brilliant performances of these four musical masterpieces. The beautiful leitmotifs that Wagner weaves throughout the entire cycle were clearly depicted in the orchestrations and beautifully performed by the members of the great Met orchestra.

Der Ring des Nibelungen is a four-day saga filled with giants, dwarves, dragons, nature spirits, and the dawning of the Age of Man. It is an experience that is rarely done in its entirety and thus should be embraced when the opportunity arises. The ability to witness such musical genius in conjunction with such a technical tour de force is an embarrassment of riches and is still available to you here at the Metropolitan Opera house. The second complete cycle of Robert Lepage's "Ring" begins again tonight and runs through May 2. The final cycle for this season runs from May 6 through May 11. (212) 362-6000, metopera.org.


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From This Author Scott Frost

Scott Frost is a Production and Stage Manager and a Freelance Costume Designer. In addition to being a theatrical manager and designer he currently works (read more...)