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25.3.04

Der Ring from New York

Even Beverly Sills has apparently given up on finding a new corporate sponsor for the Met Opera Broadcast (see post on November 15), since her taped appeal for contributions from listeners is now played before each broadcast. So, you had better find which radio station in your area plays the Met broadcast and start listening, because it will soon disappear.

You could do worse than listening to the broadcasts of the complete cycle of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, as I did this past Saturday, with the first opera of the tetralogy, Das Rheingold. Since the opera was performed, as it must be, without any pause or intermission, the broadcast began with an interview with conductor James Levine by Ara Guzelimian (instead of the usual intermission features). In the opera's famous opening scene, deep in the waters of the Rhine river, Wagner unfolds an immense, rolling E-flat major chord. In this sound, the three Rhinemaidens sing and play around the gold they are set to protect. They laughed wonderfully in this production, as did Richard Fink as Alberich, who produced one of the great evil laughs in operatic history, as he made off with the gold he has stolen.

The opening scene of Das Rheingold is one of the most promising starts to any opera, but the energy of that scene dissipates, as the exciting transition music leads us up from the river to the heights of Valhalla. For me, the driving power of some of Wagner's scenes is more than outweighed by those "long half-hours" of dreadful narration, such as the second scene of this opera. We learn that Valhalla is completed, that Fricka (the Cassandra of the gods) is worried about the fact that her husband, Wotan, has promised to pay the giants for building Valhalla with her sister, Freia, and so on. I always find myself about ready to doze off until the entry of the giants, Fasolt and Fafner, which was played in this performance at a deliberate tempo with blaring brass sounds. Two powerful Russian singers played the giants in the Met production, Evgenij Nikitin (Fasolt) and Sergei Koptchak (Fafner), and they were exciting to hear.

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Tune in for the rest of the Ring cycle broadcasts: Die Walküre on April 3, Siegfried on April 17, and Götterdämmerung on April 23.

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