****Read Man in Chair’s 2016 review of Das Rheingold. ****
The wait is finally over! The Melbourne Ring Cycle opens tonight at the State Theatre, now two rows smaller thanks to the newly enlarged orchestra pit that houses 135 musicians.
Firstly a quick spoiler alert: obviously the 150-year old story cannot be spoiled, but ticket holders are advised to wait to see these glorious images live on stage before seeing the photos in this article, the first in a series on the four operas that make up Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen. Waiting to see how each scene is staged is just one part of the fun of seeing this premiere production by Opera Australia.
One other quick disclaimer: having attended the cycle of dress rehearsals, this is not a review, particularly of the singers, but a preview of the design and an overview of the cast, characters and story.
In a bold move, director Neil Armfield and his creative team have thrown the breastplates, braids and horn helmets, opting instead for a contemporary, Australian feel. Costume designer Alice Babidge has drawn from a muted, earthy, outback palette of colours, with some lavish technicolour splashes thrown in now and then to glamorous effect. Set designs by Robert Cousins alternate between simple black box scenes and massive, high budget set pieces. The variety of design certainly beats the omnipresent ‘Machine’ of the recent Met Opera Ring Cycle Met Opera Ring Cycle.
The Australian stamp is distinctly placed in the opening moments of Das Rheingold, in which an enormous chorus comes slowly into view dressed clearly as Australian bathers.
The Rhinemaidens cut a glamorous figure in their pale turquoise showgirl outfits.
A huge overhead mirror tilts at various angles to reflect the onstage action.
The appearance of “dwarf” Alberich makes the design concept clear: the various dwarves, giants, dragons and other various life forms are not to be portrayed here as fairy tale creatures but rather as their human counterparts. Alberich has the appearance of a “small” man, weary and beaten down by life.
For the domain of the Gods, the mirror drops down to stage level, and creates a wooden parquetry floor. Wotan and Fricka, so it seems, are keen on taxidermy, having a number of wild animals on display in their gallery. Teaming with the theme, Wotan wears a full-length fur coat, while the imposing Fricka wears a fox fur over her shoulder.
“Giants” Fasolt and Fafner crash through the gallery backdrop in cherry pickers. They take Fricka’s sister Freia, who is dressed like a James Bond girl in glittering gold mini dress, as payment for building the Gods’ castle. She is later to be returned in exchange for the Rhine gold.
Wotan and Loge head for the underground to secure the gold. Mine workers are dressed as factory labourers in overalls and caps.
Alberich’s brother Mime has made a Tarnhelm, a magic helmet that transforms the shape of the wearer. The helmet is seen here as a band of gold, and the wearer enters a magician’s box to undergo transformations. The showgirl theme continues with the magician’s assistant dressed in a dazzling cherry and fuschia outfit. The taxidermy theme is seen again as Alberich transforms into a serpent, and then a toad, which allows him to be caught by Wotan and Loge.
Wotan takes the ring, but Alberich places a deadly curse on it.
To attain his freedom, Alberich has the gold ingots brought on, which the Gods use as payment to the Giants to release Freia. (*Correction from a reader: these are golden coloured iPhone boxes!!)
One last piece of gold is needed to cover Freia (which is the measure of gold the giants have specified). Wotan hands it over after being convinced by Erda, who is played as a blind woman with a cane. Alberich’s curse is immediately fulfilled when giant Fasolt kills Fafner for the ring.
The family of Gods heads to their new home in Valhalla. The “rainbow bridge” is seen as giant full width steps at the rear of the stage, with the “rainbow” element represented by 32 showgirls with double clam rainbow coloured feathers.
Rhinemaidens: Woglinde: Lorina Gore; Wellgunde: Jane Ede; Flosshilde: Dominica Matthews
Dwarves: Alberich Warwick Fyfe; Mime Graeme Macfarlane
Gods: Wotan: Terje Stensvold; Fricka: Jacqueline Dark; Freia: Hyeseoung Kwon; Froh Andrew Brunsdon; Donner: Andrew Moran; Loge: Richard Berkeley-Steele; Erda: Deborah Humble
Giants: Fasolt: Daniel Sumegi; Fafner: Jud Arthur
Conductor: Pietari Inkinen
Director: Neil Armfield
Set Designer: Robert Cousins
Costume Designer: Alice Babidge
Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper
Sound Designer: Jim Atkins
The Melbourne Ring Cycle is playing at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 13 December 2013. Das Rheingold plays 18 November, 27 November and 6 December 2013. Running time is two hours and forty minutes, with no intervals. Details about final tickets can be found at the official Melbourne Ring Cycle website.
A large number of activities are occurring as part of The Melbourne Ring Festival, which runs concurrently with the opera cycle until 13 December 2013.
Photos: Jeff Busby