This was the first time the Boston Symphony Orchestra has given a complete performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Under Andris Nelsons’s careful control, the BSO in top form and an international cast gave a superb traversal, the singers enacting the drama despite the absence of props or costumes.
That said, Kim Begley’s red bow-tie, muffler and socks served to identify him as Loge, demigod of fire. Outstandingly sung, his characterization of Loge was thoroughly nuanced and his gestures spoke volumes, introducing a clever operator with a history of dealing with Gods, Giants, Dwarfs and Rhinemaidens – and the wit to manipulate them. He and Thomas J. Mayer as Wotan invited us with their actions to imagine Alberich’s transformations into a huge serpent and then into a toad.
The BSO was the biggest star of the evening. Balances were excellent, every passage, from the softest and most lyrical to the loudest and most raucous, coming through with clarity. Nelsons keeping the singers in sync with the orchestra and one another, tempos always appropriate.
Mayer succeeded in projecting Wotan’s changing personality, beginning as a fairly lazy pater familias who becomes hungry for the supremacy that the Ring can confer, and then power-mad when he possesses the desired object and faces the necessity of yielding it to the Giants, finally accepting advice from Erda (well-sung by Patricia Bardon) and resigning himself to domestic life in his newly-built castle.
Stephanie Blythe, projection and intonation unmatched, was a superb Fricka (replacing Sarah Connolly), Jochen Schmeckenbecher was a terrific Alberich, amusing in his attempts to woo the Rhinemaidens but menacing as he pronounced his curse on the Ring, and the booming bass voices of Morris Robinson and Ain Anger as the Giants Fasolt and Fafner rang out. The remaining members of the cast were also excellent.