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Wagner Has Them Swinging from the Rafters

Das Rheingold, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2004The whole question of casting operas for body type, which came up with regard to the size of a singer like Alessandra Marc (see yesterday's post), is relevant again today. The Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Wagner's Das Rheingold, designed by August Everding and modified by Herbert Kellner, has the Rhinemaidens portrayed on stage by gymnasts on bungee cords, with the singers providing the vocal part from the wings. As uTopian TurtleTop put it in his review (Das Rheingold at Chicago Lyric Opera, October 7), "These waterbabes were swimming through the air!" (Thanks to ACD at sounds & fury for the link, although his reaction was to write, "Oh dear. In his first live encounter with Wagner's Das Rheingold, this weblogger seems to have missed just about everything that could be missed." uTopian TurtleTop replied thus.)

As for the other reviews, John von Rhein's article (Lyric Strikes Gold with Brilliant Revival of 'Das Rheingold', October 4) for the Chicago Tribune says:

Saturday's audience was wowed by the aerialist Rhinemaidens who dived, spun and bounced on bungee cords in choreography by Debra Brown that was synchronized to the dulcet and finely meshed singing of Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese and Guang Yang. [...] Everding's production has been faulted — unfairly, I think — for its lack of intellectual depth. I much prefer a "Rheingold" with a clear narrative base to one that's larded up with pretentious polemics and interpretation with a capital I. John Conklin's spare, stylized sets, subtly illuminated by Duane Schuler, are a valid postmodernist take on Wagner's primordial myth. If you think Wagner can't be funny, think again: The effete Froh plays with a yo-yo while the gods munch green apples from Freia's produce stand.
Wynne Delacoma's review (Lyric revives 'Das Rheingold' as 'Ring' prepares to roll in March, October 4) in the Chicago Sun-Times:
The bungee-jumping Rhine maidens, air-borne gymnasts who lip-sync the words of the three singing Rhine maidens standing in the shadows below, are back. The gymnasts' choreography by Debra Brown is so smooth, their soaring swoops and somersaults so daring that we experience the surging currents of Wagner's powerful Rhine River with our eyes as well as our ears. "The Ring" is a musical feast above all, however, and Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric's music director, worked his own kind of magic with the orchestra and strong cast headed by James Morris' sharply etched Wotan. Davis deftly balanced the opera's need for urgent drive and expansive lyricism.
Bruce Weber's article (Rhinemaidens Turn Bungee Jumpers, October 2) in the New York Times was what originally caught my attention. Is this a trend that opera audiences can expect for the next decade? Why not just play a good recording of the opera, while the action is lip-synched by appropriate body doubles? That's been done in opera films, of course (see my recent post on Opera on DVD). You could have Alessandra Marc sing Cio-Cio-San while Lucy Liu (or someone younger even, to be more realistic) pantomimes the role.

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