Thursday, June 08, 2017

New York Philharmonic: Das Rheingold in Concert – Alan Gilbert, conductor. June 6, 2017.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat OO112, $59.25).

Das Rheingold (1851-54) by Wagner (1813-83)

Wotan – Eric Owens, Fricka – Jamie Barton, Alberich – Christopher Purves, Loge – Russell Thomas, Erda -Kelley O’Connor, Fasolt – Morris Robinson, Fafner – Stephen Milling, Freia – Rachel Willis-Sorensen, Froh – Brian Jagde, Donner – Christian Van Horn, Mime – Peter Bronder, Woglinde – Jennifer Zetlan, Wellgunde – Jennifer Johnson Cano, Flosshilde – Tamara Mumford.

I had to make an emergency trip to Australia and returned earlier than I expected.  Some seats were still available for tonight’s concert.  The $55 Orchestra 4 tickets were discounted to $52 for subscribers, yet with extra fees they ended up being $59.25 each.  We did get seats towards the end of the main hall, but they were fine.  The acoustics were great, we could hear most of singing clearly.  With binoculars it was easy to spot the singers, as long as I could see around the heads of the people in front of me.  Quite a few people left during the 2 ½ hours of non-stop music, so that task became easier as the evening progressed.

Being an “in concert” production, the only prop on stage was a short table that different people climbed on and off at various times.  I wished they had a bit more, for example, it should be straightforward enough to fabricate gold from styrofoam so the scene where Freia is covered with gold could be more realistic.  Without the introduction of special effects, it would be difficult to have Alberich transform into first a dragon and then a toad.

Having seen this opera several times before, I could fill in some of the blanks.  Thus I also got to follow the story.  I found myself getting new insight into the characters, and how Wagner even in the first opera made this a somewhat “amoral” group of characters, each with his or her flaws.  There were aspects of the story that I didn’t realize before, such as the symmetry between this opera and Gotterdammerung.  The tetralogy begins and ends with the Rheinmaidens, and the Valhalla built in Das Rheingold will be destroyed in Gotterdammerung.

I often complain there is no perfect seat in the hall, so I was pleasantly surprised how good the sound was at our seat.  Many of the singers had their New York Philharmonic debut at this concert, but I had seen quite a few of them in other contexts.  Christopher Purves, for instance, sang the role of “Protector” in Benjamin’s “Written on Skin,” also conducted by Gilbert.

Overall this was an enjoyable performance, particularly for those who know how the story unfolds.  The orchestra being on stage naturally took on a more prominent role, but that was okay.  Given Gilbert often stood between the orchestra and the singers, prompters and assistant conductors sat in the front to help.  (Anne noticed them.)

Standing from left to right at curtain call: Brian Jagde (Froh), Rachel Willis-Sorensen (Freia), Christian Van Horn (Donner), Stephen Milling (Fafner), Morris Robinsin (Fasolt), Eric Owens (Wotan), Alan Gilbert, Jamie Barton (Fricka), Russell Thomas (Loge), Christopher Purves (Alberich), Peter Bronder (Mime), Kelley O'Connor (Erda), Tamara Mumford (Flosshilde), Jennifer Johnson Cano (Wellgunde), and Jennifer Zetlan (Woglinde).

This series and the next series constitute Gilbert’s farewell performances.  I am glad I caught this, and will be going to the June 8 concert as well.  On that program is Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, another rather ambitious endeavor.

The New York Times review is glowing, calling it "a remarkable evening of music theater."  Supposedly Gilbert's original idea of a 5-hour Messiaen was nixed in favor of Das Rheingold.  I, for one, am glad we heard tonight's performance.

We drove up and had Chinese take-out in our car.  It was quite straightforward to get home.

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