Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Rheinsilver at the Met

Today we were able to put together the sounds and the visuals of the Met’s new Rheingold production.  As we have established, the musical values of this production were truly golden on opening night, and it was not any different today. These musical values are in my opinion this production’s strongest elements; and since I discussed them in extreme detail on my review of opening night, I will not bore you with the details again… So what about the visuals? I would say the set is quite interesting and I would go further in saying that the projections were very effective, but over all, rather than Rheingold, we got Rheinsilver.

As everyone knows by now, Robert Lepage has given us a unit set (yes, it will be the same for all 4 operas) consisting of wood aluminum planks (thanks to Mr. Van Sant for the correction) that are individually moved to create levels and acting areas. For the most part, I have to say it is used very interestingly, if it loses the novelty after an hour. The projections, specially those for underwater are very realistic, a winning moment and quite a bang to start the opera. Through these plank movements we also visit the “underworld of the Nibelunges, a mountainous area where the gods make their dealings, the entrance bridge to Valhalla and the passage way to the underworld. Of all of these, my favorite was by far the passage work to the underworld because it involved quite a feat of acrobatics in the part of the body doubles. They started walking on the planks parallel to the floor and slowly came to stand straight up on them; TWICE coming and going.  This effect was not only breath taking in its deceptive simplicity, it was deceptive on its own because if you were not paying attention, you would have sworn that the camera angle changed to an overhead one. Amazing.

While we are at it, we need to congratulate the acrobats who were used as body doubles for several of the more dangerous stunts. It is unfortunate (insulting in my opinion) they are uncredited on the Met’s cast page for the performance, as I think they are an integral part of the effects the production is looking to create. Whoever you are, your contributions made for some spectacular theater today. Not only were you amazing in the scene where Loge leads Wotan to the Nibelungen’s dwelling, you also helped created one of the most breathtaking moments on the entire show when you doubled for the gods as they entered into Valhalla. Bravissimo!


Photo credit: Richard Termine for The New York Times


Special mention must be given to Lisette Oropesa, Jennifer Johnson, Tamara Mumford who not only sang beautifully but proved quite the acrobats as well. They look like they were actually underwater at times, and they moved like it as well. The pre-show featurette made it very clear that each one of them had their own fears to get over when they started tech rehearsals. You ladies did a bang of a job handling those cables, the height and the movements. You should be very proud of yourselves. And let me also add Eric owens who also did his own stunts on this production. His Alberich was both vocally impressive and physically impressive.

Least effective was the way Richard Croft’s Loge was cabled and handled. You could see him walking backwards to hit his spot and he looked rather uncomfortable doing it. Mr. Croft is an experienced man of the stage and one that is an accomplished actor, why were his movements staged that way is a mystery to me; they looked clumsy and ineffective.  Worst of all, he looked as uncomfortable as his singing was marvelous. Please, please, please, something HAS to be done about this.

The aspect of this production that was a true letdown is the costuming, which is in general just atrocious. I do not know what came over François St-Aubin, but I have to say his costumes left me, for the most part scratching my head in disbelief. The exception to this could be the Rheinmaidens, who look great from afar but on close up, they do not look scaly, as you would expect a creature of the water to look like nor silky smooth as you would expect from a creature like Ariel, the mermaid in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. They look like the  fabric for their costumes was bought at the clearance section of Mood. As my old boss would say: “Not good.” or as Nina Garcia (to continue the Project Runway reference) would say: “So sad…”

For the most part, the costuming is a hybrid of “fantasy”, early aviation influences, 80’s pop culture and cheap Halloween costumes from Party City. Worst offensive of the bunch was Loge’s costume.  Elsewhere in the net I read that it looked like they put Mr. Croft in Gary Glitter drag. Since I am not up to date on some of these names I Googled the name and when I saw some of the get ups I doubted that kind of get up could be inflicted on anyone in a serious situation. Imagine my horror when I saw Richard croft in an ill-fitting costume that made him no favors (the man looked like he was carrying an extra 40 pounds) and with a wig that made him look (you guessed it) exactly like Gary Glitter.  Was there no other alternative? Jesus, Mary and Joseph! it was very hard to take this character seriously looking like that, and then you have him an extra 40 pounds? What the fuck was up with that? Surely an artist of Mr. Crofts caliber deserves better than what he got from François St-Aubin’s costume designs.

If this was the only offensive costume, I would have guessed that Mr. St-Aubin did want us to correlate Gary Glitter and Loge, but the sad part is that it was not. Take for example Stephanie Blythe, a singer the likes we hear once in a generation. She was sent out with a costume that made her look frumpy, completely non-sexy (fat comments will be met with the Internet equivalent of an aluminum bat) and with an Elettra wig on top of her head. I understand that dressing a full-figure woman has some challenges; but you know what? If you do not know how to designs for a FF woman,  you call someone who does. There is no shortage of designers in this country who specialize in FF women and I am sure they would have elbowed themselves for the chance to collaborate in this project. Why was Ms. Blythe sent in such an ugly, frumpy and unflattering get up? There was no reason why more care was not used in designing her costume, unless the costume was yet another ugly comment on the current obsession we have in the business for looks. Surely if Mr. Lepage and Mr. St-Aubin wanted a size 4-6 Frika, they could have switched roles between Ms. Blythe and Patricia Bardon. I am sure Ms. Blythe would have been (and has been) a magnificent Erda.  And while we are talking about Ms. Bardon, who the hell designed that wig? or did the Met raided Lady Gaga’s wig closet and picked the  ugliest yellow one?

François St-Aubin’s unflattering costume parade continued with his efforts to make Wotan, Donne and Froh’s costumes looked like they were all found along the Vikings selections at a Party City, or Halloween USA; talk about ugly things. A little better, if not by much was Wendy Bryn Harmer’s Freia costume. This one was less ugly, but at least it flattered her figure. The winning designs, if they can be called that, were the designs for Alberich (although I could not forget James Jorden’s review where he said that they gave Eric Owens MC Hammer pants; accurate beyond any explanation) and the ones for Mime (actually very good, considering the character) and the giants Fasolt & Fafner (again, ugly, but then representative).

After seeing so many ugly costumes I just wanted to quote Heidi Klum and say “François, that means you are out; Auf Wiedersehen.” Most of these costumes deserve to be placed on the wall of shame of Project Runway’s working room


Photo credit: Richard Termine for The New York Times


All being said and done, this production is a success for several well deserved reasons: first among them is the casting and the singing. Let’s be blunt, the singing in this production is at levels not heard at the Met in several seasons; hardly a weak link in that cast. 2) The set and the possibilities it represents. The visual effects and screen projections created by Etienne Boucher & Boris Firquet and the stunts. These technical aspects bring it to a level not experienced in an opera house ever before.

Where this production fails miserably is in the costuming department. The costumes ran the whole gamut, from effective to unflattering, to risible to downright head scratchers. What a shame, because since it is likely these performances are the ones that will be released on DVD, we will have to suffer through them for the next decades. If I ever saw a production where the entire set of costumes should be rethought and redone, this is it.

If you are in the NYC area, good luck getting a ticket, but that does not mean you shouldn’t try. If you are outside of NYC and could not attend today’s performance, there will be an encore presentation on Oct 27th; call your local theater…


October 9, 2010 Posted by | Opera Review | 1 Comment