Greed and power, love and revenge. All the elements of tremendous drama are on display at the Minnesota Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
The second performance of the 2016-17 season is an ambitious venture into Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” which, as Minnesota Opera President Ryan Taylor told us earlier this season, “Any company that begins to dip their toes into the Ring Cycle is saying something about their aspirations as an organization. It was bold for them to make this gesture.”
Here’s the tale: A randy dwarf named Alberich (Nathan Berg) has his advances spurned by the maidens of the Rhine, so he forswears love and steals their powerful gold, which he fashions into The One Ring To Rule Them All.
Meanwhile, Wotan (Greer Grimsley) the king of the gods, had promised, in jest, the goddess Freia (Karin Wolverton) as payment to the giants who have just finished constructing Valhalla. But the giants are serious about collecting. So the wily fire god Loge (Richard Cox) convinces the giants to accept the Rheingold as payment instead, and he and Wotan set off to find it.
This performance gets the Minnesota Opera back on the right track after a lackluster opener in Romeo & Juliet. The orchestra, super-sized as Wagner demands, couldn’t fit in the regular Ordway pit. So they’re transported onto the stage, weaving themselves under and around the action.
The magnificent costuming and projected visuals, full of mechanical and electrical elements, strike a steampunk-of-the-gods aesthetic. Greer Grimsley, renowned for his Wagnerian panache, is appropriately imposing and bellowing as Wotan should be.
But the show is anchored by Nathan Berg, emoting in equal parts sadism and tragedy, as the lovesick, power-hungry, gold-thieving dwarf. And the fourth and final scene receives a remarkable jolt of power and charisma from Denyce Graves, who, as the earth goddess Erda, delivers some timely and sane advice to a pantheon sorely in need of it. So soothing and magnetic is her cameo, one wishes Erda had been around since the first scene to save the gods some heartache, and give the audience more time with Graves’ formidable presence.
The show runs a little over two hours with no intermission. Tickets are still available for tonight, Thursday 17 (probably your best bet), and a few are still hanging around for performances on Saturday and Sunday 19-20.