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A Weekend in New York by ARTalk

[by Davie Rolnick '11, Guest Blogger] Art Scholars go to see Wagner at the Met!

[by Davie Rolnick ’12, Guest Blogger]

Glory be to MIT! The Arts Scholars went to see Wagner at the Met! A weekend-long trip to New York, centered around the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Das Rheingold, directed by Robert Lepage. Here is some background, so you understand why I am so excited.

Rheingold is the first opera (Wagner called it the prelude) in the massive 4-opera cosmos-encompassing saga known as the Ring Cycle. It is the tiddler of the bunch, lasting but a single act and being only two and a half hours long. But the opera is self-standing and utterly awesome – perhaps my favorite opera of all time. I tend to listen to it on loop while writing long math papers… It is effectively a continual piece of music. No intermission, no dialogue, not even any distinct songs – it flows, and holds together by the use of little musical ideas called leitmotifs (of which there are many dozens) which represent particular characters or ideas. The plot features giants, dwarves, Norse gods, and epic-scale lust for the power caught up in a little golden ring (Tolkien denies getting any inspiration from Wagner)…

Here is the “villain” of the Ring Cycle, Alberich (the head dwarf), currently engaged in stealing the magical gold from the Rhein with which he will fashion the Ring of power.

And so now to the afternoon of April 2, and the arrival at Lincoln Center after a comfortably squashed trip in the Boston-NYC Megabus.

The Met is pretty magnificent even without Wagner. It is filled with red-velvet staircases, tidy little balconies, filigree, crystal chandeliers in the shape of snowflakes, and in this case, a surprisingly large number of MIT affiliates. I ran across many friends outside Arts Scholars who turned out also to be going to this production. But we were going for free! :-) And we had our own personal expert to guide us through the leitmotifs – Professor Lowell Lindgren, glorious professor of music history, teacher of the class 21M.273 (Opera!).

The Met – isn’t it pretty?

Wagner is big. Very big. If you need to know one thing about Wagner, that might be it. The orchestra we saw had six harps, a band of guys playing anvils, and a number of instruments that Wagner invented. When Rheingold originally premiered, it premiered in a theatre Wagner built specially for it. True to form, the production we were seeing involved a set weighing 45 tons… They had to build a new stage at the Met just so it wouldn’t collapse.

Why the set was so heavy was because it consisted of huge metal bars that were rotated in various ways by computer, then projected onto to create, by turns, the bottom of a river, a gaping chasm in the earth, clouds, etc. The singers were at times literally hauled up these metal bars by winches. How one can be a graceful Rheinmaiden while suspended 30 feet in the air I will never know, but they managed it.

Three spectacular singers managing to be graceful Rheinmaidens while suspended 30 feet in the air.

Powerful singers (you need to be a very very powerful singer in order to sing Wagner since you are singing over the entire orchestra) met a powerful orchestra and behold they were audible and sounded beautiful as well. Humor in the staging kept the production from collapsing under its own weight. (For instance, having gods slide flaming headfirst down a great slope onto the stage, is, it turns out, a remarkably amusing thing.) At any rate, a completely full house at the Met cheered wildly when the show was complete.

Since this blog post is already obscenely long, I will refrain from talking about the other things we did in New York whilst there, but suffice it to say a most marvelous time was had by all. And hoorah for Wagner!!!

4 responses to “A Weekend in New York”

  1. Anna H. '14 says:

    Hoorah for Wagner, and an equally-big-if-not-bigger hoorah for Davie!

  2. No wonder why Davie is so excited! Cool man!

  3. Well done, Davie. Are those actual performance shots? Good camera! Pleased you got the Rheinmaidens–no doubt in my honor–and what a chore it can be to cope with pretending to be underwater! In the first production ever, Wagner gave up and had the three singers in the wings, while “figuants” in mermaid suits lay cradles at the end of long poles and were carried about by even more unfortunate members of the stage crew.