BWW Reviews: Union Avenue Opera's Charmingly 'Reduced' DAS RHEINGOLD

I've seen the Union Avenue Opera's current production described as "Wagner-lite", and to a degree, that's true. But, any Wagner has the ability to be stirring and surprisingly cinematic in execution, and this presentation is no exception. Besides I prefer the description of Das Rheingold by Jonathon Dove who adapted and "reduced" the opera to a more manageable size, bringing the scope and depth of Wagner's to the masses in the process.

The story will seem familiar to those who've read Tolkein, since he utilized a central idea of this Norse legend to tell his own epic saga. The guardians of the Rhinegold are tricked by a Nibelung dwarf who forges their treasure into a powerful ring. At the same time, the God Wotan has had two giants fashion a fortified temple with the promise, however jokingly, of the young Freia. They take him on his word and abscond with the young Goddess of Youth and Love. But, they're amenable to a trade for the an amount of gold equal to Freia's size. Thus, begins a journey of the Gods to Earth to recover the gold and free Freia.

Kevin Misslich has a good voice for the material as Wotan, ruler of the Gods, but his voice is lost among the early passages due to his low projection. He fares much better as the show progresses. Loge (Marc Shapman) is is his faithful servant, and he brings a playful presence to the proceedings. Wotan's wife, Elise Quagliata is properly peeved that her sister has been bargained away to some Giants. Jordan Shanahan does fine work as Alberich (the dwarf who possesses the ring). Todd von Felker and Nikolas Wenzel are also good as the Giants, Fasolt and Fafner, respectively. Cecelia Stearman makes a bright appearance as Erda, an Earth Goddess, who talks some sense into Wotan once he's received the ring, but finds its power invigorating.<

Scott Schoonover conducts this piece with considerable aplomb, capturing the bombast inherent in Wagner, but also the delicacy as well. It's truly like watching a film since the music carries the action via the expressive leitmotifs that define each character. Karen Coe Miller's stage direction is a bit stiff and static at times, but she's aided greatly by the projection design of Michael Perkins. Perkins, via a giant video screen, depicts the journeys the Gods make from Valhalla to Earth and back. Teresa Doggett's costumes delineate each of the characters and Patrick Huber's simple, industrial scenic design effectively allows for multiple levels for the eye. Huber's lighting sets the mood of each scene nicely as well.

If you've never seen Wagner, then by all means, you must take in a performance of the Union Avenue Opera's Das Rheingold (through August 26, 2012). If you have seen Wagner, or any of the Ring Cycle (which the group will present a piece in their upcoming seasons), you'll appreciate the economy with which the tale can be told, while retaining all the elements that make it Wagnerian to begin with.

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Chris Gibson Chris has been active in the local theatre scene for over 30 years and reviewing local theatre for over 11. In addition to his acting work, he's also contributed as a director, writer and composer. Though, initially a film buff, he grew tired of the sanitized, PG-13 rated blockbusters that were being continually shoved down his throat by the studios. An opportunity to review theatre in St. Louis has grown exponentially with the sudden explosion of venues and talent in the region. He now finds himself obsessed with witnessing those precious, electric moments that can only happen live, on stage.