The San Francisco Opera’s new production of Das Rheingold — the first of Richard Wagner’s four “Ring” cycle masterworks — is musically mighty, but dramatically thin. Woeful set design — presumably by a last-minute committee of amateurs — caused almost fatal dissonance with an outstanding orchestra, playing music to end the world by for three straight hours.
A decent cast, with the unfortunate exception of Mark Delavan’s wobbly Wotan, did its best to overcome a rickety set of cardboard props, direction by Marx Brothers surrogates, and a set that could only have been some sort of 21st century WPA project. The allegedly innovative digital backdrops made embarrassing references to every PBS science special you’ve ever seen, while the raked stage floor sabotaged grace, causing loud “thumps” and “oomphs” during the changing of the scenes. Actors stumbled, wandered aimlessly, and if ever there was a production of this mythic opera that could disincline one to ever enjoy Wagner, this was it.
A pity, since Richard Paul Fink’s Alberich and Stefan Margita’s fire god, Loge were superb. As were the lusciously seductive Rhine Maidens. Margita’s tenor was ravishing and confident. Fink proved himself physically brilliant and a resourceful actor as well. The depth of his interpretation brought resounding weight to the somber curse upon the gods — the one that will bring about the fall of Valhalla at the end of the cycle.
Having said all of this, it was chillingly obvious that Wagner’s morality myth about greed, ambition, and moral compromise is as fresh as today’s environmental upheaval, hedge fund duplicity and the Bush Administration in general. But even socio-political relevance wasn’t enough.
The word “disappointing” doesn’t come close. Having waited the whole season long for this one tryst with Wagner, I was angry enough to order white wine afterwards at my favorite boite!