Friday, March 17, 2006

The Rheingold Cometh

Next Saturday, the Washington Opera will unveil its eagerly awaited new production of The Ring of the Nibelung. Das Rheingold, the first opera of Richard Wagner's massive cycle, will debut on March 25 in a production that has already been dubbed the "American Ring." During this week, this blog will feature articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post about this new production. We hope that your curiosity will be sparked, and that you will visit us often for more details about this upcoming cultural event.

An Americanized Version of Wagner's Ring
by Carl Hartman

WASHINGTON -- In the world of Wagnerian opera, Wotan is the king of Germanic gods. In an upcoming American production he'll appear on stage in a natty 1920s suit, a fedora and a black eye patch.

Erda, the earth goddess and mother of Wotan's eight children, the Valkyrie, will look very much like an American Indian.

The fanciful costumes will give a distinctly American twist to the Washington National Opera's production of Richard Wagner's four epic German operas, "The Ring of the Nibelungs," which the company will present over the next four years.

When "Das Rheingold" opens the cycle March 25 at the Kennedy Center, tradition will prevail in one aspect of the production: It will be sung in German. Next season the company will present "Die Walkure," with Placido Domingo in the lead role of Siegmund. Domingo is general director of the Washington Opera.

"When Placido wanted to do it (the Ring) I was very excited to do it here," Francesca Zambello, who is directing "Das Rheingold," told reporters. "So many of the stories in the Ring are also right here _ stories about power, greed, about society, respect for the environment, all hot issues of our time which are in the Ring and also right here, in the seat of American and in some sense global power."

"Das Rheingold" is a story about greed, power and natural resources. Rhine maidens try in vain to protect the gold under the river from the villain Alberich. Wotan, as big a thief as Alberich, wrests from him the ring made from the gold, which gives him absolute power. When Robin Leggate, the British tenor who plays Wotan's tricky adviser Loge, asked the director about the part, she messaged back: "Think corporate lawyer."

Ms. Zambello takes the position that the Ring is a masterpiece, and that masterpieces are always contemporary. Shakespeare, theater manager as well as playwright, clothed his actors in the long stockings and puffed-up shorts that were the modern dress of his own time, not the Roman togas that Julius Caesar and Mark Antony wore.

When a new sketch of Wotan in costume was hung at the Goethe Institute, Germany's cultural arm in Washington, people dubbed it "Gatsby in Valhalla." Jay Gatsby was the rich young New York protagonist of "The Great Gatsby," the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of 1925.

The singers will use the libretto written by Wagner in a dense romantic poetry that even many Germans find hard to understand. The English translations will appear in surtitles flashed above the stage. The director said the surtitles will not try to translate the German into American slang.

"Wotan doesn't have to say, 'C'mere, babe, I wanna kiss you,'" she said.

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