DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN (THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG) by Richard Wagner, directed by Michael Levine, Atom Egoyan, François Girard and Tim Albery, conducted by Richard Bradshaw (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To October 1. $75-$425 (single tickets). 416-363-8231. See Continuing, page 94. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
you know you've been truly Ringed when the TTC subway chimes sound like a musical theme from Richard Wagner's 17-hour epic The Ring Of The Nibelung.
The Canadian Opera Company's first production in its new home is also the first Canadian staging of Wagner's four-opera cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung). Here's proof, if anyone doubted it, that the COC can stage a world-class production.
The hall itself is simple, though with a touch of elegance. More importantly, sightlines and sound are excellent.
The mythic cycle, involving gods, humans, giants, dragons, water nymphs and dwarves, deals with lust, covetousness, the corruption of power and redemption through love.
An awesome event to sit through, it begins with the theft of the Rheingold by the dwarf Alberich (Richard Paul Fink), which he forges into a ring of power.
Stolen by Wotan (John Fanning) to pay the giants who build Valhalla, the gods' home, the ring ends up in the hands of the hero Siegfried (Christian Franz), who wins the warrior maiden Brünnhilde (Susan Bullock) but is tricked into forsaking her. Eventually, through Brünnhilde's sacrifice, the ring finds its way back to the depths of the Rhine.
There's a lot more plot and characters, often magisterially handled by conductor Richard Bradshaw and directors Michael Levine, Atom Egoyan, François Girard and Tim Albery.
It's Levine's brilliant design, coupled with David Finn's lighting, that ties the piece together with unerring theatricality.
This intimately conceived version, emphasizing the characters' human aspect, moves from Victorian times (the gods appear in a drawing room in formal court attire, and the Valkyrie warrior maidens are gowned in elegant black) to today (the natural world is paved over, and most action occurs in a neon-lit corporate office).
A striking degeneration from order and perfection can be seen as soon as Wotan himself becomes tainted by desire for the ring. By Siegfried, his ideal world has literally exploded.
There's no reverence for stale tradition here. Who else but Levine, making his directing debut in Das Rheingold, would visualize the Rhinemaidens as a slumber-party trio indulging in pillow fights? Or show the Valkyries piling up white body bags of slain heroes?
The production, which continues in two more cycles through October 1, has lots of vocal and dramatic strengths, beginning with Fanning, an impressive singer who only stepped into the role of Wotan a few days before the opening. The most impressive dramatic work in the well-sung Rheingold comes from Fink's oily Alberich and the cynical Loge of Richard Berkeley-Steele. Robert Pomakov's sympathetic giant Fasolt offers a nice contrast to Philip Ens as his greedy brother Fafner.
In Die Walküre, the focus is on the relationship between the incestuous though innocent twins Siegmund ( Clifton Forbis ) and Sieglinde (the radiant Adrianne Pieczonka ), whose passion drives the production.
In the somewhat more reflective third opera, the white-dressed Siegfried (the ringing-voiced Franz) is echoed visually in the set and in the other characters, including the scheming Mime (a strong Robert Künzli).
Mats Almgren's dark-voiced Hagen dominates Götterdämmerung, though Franz, Fink and Fanning (now the weak Gunther) also impress.
There are also a few problems. Peteris Eglitis, who stepped in to sing Wotan in Die Walküre and Siegfried, is underpowered dramatically and vocally. Bullock, who performs Brünnhilde in the first and third cycles of the Ring, isn't as warm as the second cycle's Frances Ginzer, and her voice has an edge; she's best in Götterdämmerung, where she moves from happy to betrayed lover.
But is it worth 17 hours?