Anthony Freud writes in the program for Das Rheingold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, that, “From the opening subterranean E-flat chord representing the River Rhine to the gods’ majestic entrance into Valhalla at the opera’s climax, the cumulative effect of Wagner’s music and drama is simply overwhelming.” He is exactly right, in that it is the “cumulative effect” that really characterizes the sheer epic quality of Wagner’s work. I made a comment earlier that I wasn’t a huge fan of Wagner’s music, which I’m still not – I’ve listened to James Levine’s recording of Das Rheingold multiple times already, and while there are certain musical moments in the opera that are memorable, it’s still pretty difficult for me to hear a specific part of the opera and then for me to remember what exactly is going on. (To be honest, most of the music throughout the opera sounds pretty similar if you’re not super concentrated on the listening experience/reading the score, which I definitely wasn’t when I was listening on iTunes (and simultaneously working on my transport homework…).)
With that being said, the experience of seeing Wagner’s work put on stage is an entirely different conversation. And with Lyric’s unique staging and super strong cast, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the rest of the cycle play out throughout the next four years to 2020. In the opera class I took last spring, Anthony talked about bringing Wagner’s work back to the world of theatre, specifically mentioning the Brechtian theatre approach (“verfremdungseffekt“), which is supposed to detach the audience from the actual dramatic happenings of the story and to remind the audience that it is, indeed, watching a work of the theatre – clearly evident in last night’s production. You could see firsthand the stagehands push the different props onto stage, setting up each individual scene and standing at the sides of the stage ready to assist, as the opera went on. Although the Brechtian approach creates a “separation” between the audience and the story, there was never a total disconnect (for me at least) between the story and what we saw on the stage – because even though I, as an outside viewer in the audience, knew that what was going on wasn’t really happening, I was still very much immersed in the story (kudos to the tremendous acting skills of the cast for this). And, I think that was ultimately the point of what the Lyric team was trying to accomplish with this production (which I think worked great!). Now, whether this constitutes as the “gesamtkunstwerk” or “total work of art” that Wagner idealized is definitely a whole other conversation, but nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the show last night. Also, like I said earlier, this cast was amazing – simply everyone was on point. Whether it was Stefan Margita as Loge, Eric Owens as Wotan, Okka von der Damerau as Erda, or Samuel Youn as Alberich (and many more I haven’t mentioned!!), they carried Wagner’s work with perfect execution (musically and dramatically). And as usual, Sir Andrew led the orchestra (and the singers) in Wagner’s music brilliantly, providing the equally important half of the “cumulative” effect that both the music and drama combine to bring. So, even though I’m still not a huge fan of Wagner’s music, I’m definitely a huge fan of what Lyric has done with this work for Chicago and cannot wait to see what they do for the rest of the cycle.