The Americanization of 'Reingold'; National Opera Presents Its First Ring Cycle to Wagnerian Effect
Byline: T.L. Ponick, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Commencing with Richard Wagner's "Das Rheingold," the Washington National Opera has embarked on a bold, multiyear journey to present the company's first-ever Ring Cycle. And, to help realize this vision, Francesca Zambello's production team set out this past weekend to create a refreshingly new "American Ring" at the Kennedy Center's Opera House. The result: a smashing, nontraditional prequel that should have audiences clamoring for the Cycle's next three installments.
In this version of "Das Rheingold" ("The Rhine Gold"), the Zambello team has reconceptualized Wagner's mythic tale as a series of riffs on the American experience, making expert use of the kinds of scenic projections introduced during the company's Constitution Hall diaspora to stir up the composer's sometimes dreary expositions.
Thus, the nasty dwarf, Alberich, becomes a Forty-Niner prospecting for gold when he runs across the Rheinmaidens who guard the ultimate stash while scampering up and down mining sluice gates and scaffolding. Meanwhile, the gods, at their peak of power, are nattily attired in sporty whites like Jay Gatsby and his pals in the 1920s, while two huffing giants labor mightily to finish Valhalla, the gods' new sky-high digs.
The two giants, Fafner and Fasolt, are this "Rheingold's" most distinguishing feature. We first glimpse them descending from the new castle's heights, jauntily seated on a steel beam and rakishly clad in stylized denim coveralls. They're just a pair of brawny (and very tall) working stiffs - albeit with Popeye limbs and Terminator-like steel fingers. They now must weasel their pay - the goddess Freia - from Wotan, king of the gods, before he figures out a way to welch on the deal. Yep, it's the capitalists vs. the trade unionists. But it works just fine.
Further, as sung by bass-baritones Jeffrey Wells and John Marcus Bindel, these are giants with attitude. They genuinely steal the show, adding a hefty dose of something new to Wagner - a Yankee sense of class-bashing humor. Who can remember the last time he or she laughed out loud at the composer's high seriousness? Mr. Wells and Mr. Bindel seemed to inhabit the clumsily majestic music Wagner wrote for these parts. And their insistence on a square deal and some dignity strongly foreshadow the eventual fall of the ruling elites in "Gotterdammerung."
The rest of the cast was outstanding. JiYoung Lee, Frederique Vezina and Jennifer Hines, as the coquettish trio of Rheinmaidens, were a delight as they tempted Alberich into his fateful vow. …