New York Philharmonic – Wagner’s Das Rheingold; directed by Louisa Muller; conducted by Alan Gilbert

Das Rheingold – the preliminary evening to Der Ring des Nibelungen – music-drama in four scenes to a libretto by the composer [concert staging; sung in German, with English supertitles]

Woglinde – Jennifer Zetlan
Wellgunde – Jennifer Johnson Cano
Flosshilde – Tamara Mumford

Gods and Goddesses:
Wotan – Eric Owens
Donner – Christian Van Horn
Froh – Brian Jagde
Fricka – Jamie Barton
Freia – Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Loge – Russell Thomas
Erda – Kelley O’Connor

Fasolt – Morris Robinson
Fafner – Stephen Milling

Alberich – Christopher Purves
Mime – Peter Bronder

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert

Louisa Muller – Director
David C. Woolard – Costume Designer
Kaitlin Springston – Stage Manager

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 6 June, 2017
Venue: David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

New York Philharmonic – Wagner’s Das RheingoldPhotograph: Chris LeeThis was the third, final, and marvelous performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the penultimate program of Alan Gilbert’s farewell subscription concerts as New York Philharmonic music director.

In this gripping account Gilbert drew excellent playing and was careful not to overpower the singers, with whom he maintained close rapport. Well-judged tempos kept the music surging forward, but allowed breathing room, such as the lovely passage between Alberich’s departure and the emergence of the ‘Golden Apples’ leitmotif that heralds the return of Freia and the Giants, and numerous harps depicting the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ after Donner’s hammer clears the air.

The cast sang and acted superbly, but the standout was Christopher Purves as Alberich, who captured the Nibelung’s changing moods as he evolved from frustrated wooer to pitiful captive via cruel overlord. There was real menace as he cursed the Ring that Wotan had just taken from his finger. Peter Bronder made much of his scene as Mime, his suffering at the hands of his brother Alberich convincingly painful. Russell Thomas was terrific as the wily Loge, and Eric Owens was a magisterial Wotan, eager to acquire the power of the Ring as well as his reluctance to surrender it.

New York Philharmonic – Wagner’s Das RheingoldPhotograph: Chris LeeJamie Barton’s portrayal of Fricka was marked by a lushness of tone and subtle acting that made her more than a nagging wife, and Rachel Willis-Sørensen was an appropriately sweet Freia. There were fine portrayals by Christian Van Horn as Donner and Brian Jagde as Froh, and a very effective rendering of Erda’s warning to Wotan by Kelley O’Connor. Morris Robinson and Stephen Milling as Fasolt and Fafner, respectively, were convincing Giants, their swaggering gait and bass voices making them formidable foes. The trio of Rhinemaidens was delightful as they taunted Alberich in the opening scene and added poignancy to the music-drama’s final moments.

Louisa Muller made a virtue of minimal trappings – a narrow performing area for the singers in front of the orchestra, and a few props (spear, hammer, rope and gold-dust), the latter sprinkled to represent the Rheingold and the Tarnhelm, inviting us to imagine, including Alberich’s invisibility and his transformations into dragon and toad, the pile of gold that obscures Freia, and the corpse of the murdered Fasolt.

David C. Woolard’s costumes effectively differentiated the singers, the Rhinemaidens in flowing dresses of aquatic tones, the giants menacing in long black-leather coats, and the Nibelungs in short jackets that set them apart as outcasts. Loge’s red blazer marked him as the god of fire and Wotan’s also-red garb matched Fricka’s satin gown, while Erda wore a slinky black number with a diamond pattern. Both Froh’s casual attire and Donner’s waistcoat, worn under a black jacket, complemented Freia’s pale-lavender outfit.

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