The Metropolitan Opera has been striving as never before to “lure into the theater a new generation of younger operagoers,” said Ed Pilkington in the London Guardian. The challenge is doing so without alienating its “loyal and aging” devotees. The Met may have hit the jackpot with this new staging of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold, directed by Cirque du Soleil impresario Robert Lepage. The production’s centerpiece is a massive aluminum-plank apparatus that can be lifted and rotated 360 degrees. During the prelude, “it comes alive, undulating like the moving waters” of the Rhine. At other points, it serves by turns as floor, roof, and bridge.
Everyone knew Lepage would have some “breathtaking stage tricks” up his sleeve, said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. What Wagnerians feared was that his creative vision would overshadow the composer’s. Yet “even with all the high-tech elements, Lepage’s production is fairly traditional.” The director doesn’t have any unorthodox ideas about this myth-inspired tale of how the dwarf Alberich forged (then cursed) an all-powerful ring. His special effects basically serve as backdrop for “vivid portrayals from his cast.” Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel performs powerfully as Wotan, the king of the gods, who steals the ring for himself. “The bright-voiced soprano” Wendy Bryn Harmer elicits sympathy as the ill-fated goddess Freia. As Alberich, Eric Owens is an “intimidating foe, singing with stentorian vigor.”
Too bad the director doesn’t give these fine singers much to do, said Martin Bernheimer in the Financial Times. He relegates them to the stage periphery, where they “bumble in quest of motivation” while visual effects unfold above. In this soulless staging, those effects can be fatally distracting, said Zachary Woolfe in The New York Observer. At the end of opening night, the stage machinery was supposed to form a rainbow bridge to the afterworld. But a malfunction left the performers to simply wander offstage. “It was a sobering but oddly appropriate conclusion” to a production that upstaged the music at every turn.