Montreal, October 26th, 2018 – The Opéra de Montréal presents one of the city’s most highly-anticipated shows of the fall, being staged at the company for the first time! Wagner’s masterful work Das Rheingold was an inspiration for the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. This grandiose production transports spectators to a magical world: a dwarf forges an all-powerful ring, sparking the anger of the gods, who tear each other apart to possess it, even though it means they will have to renounce love. A true environmental parable, the story tells of a world destroyed by the appetite for excessive gain and the martial spirit of the peoples who inhabit it.
Featuring over 115 artists, singers, and supernumeraries, this production confirms the Opéra de Montréal’s ambition to offer experiences that go well beyond Montreal’s expectations, thereby further contributing to its cultural influence. Part of the company’s bold program of works for the 2018-2019 season, Das Rheingold promises to thrill both fans of the fantastic and music lovers with its captivating score and story, in which gods, giants, dwarves, and nymphs wage a merciless war.
“The Opéra de Montréal is once again presenting a must-see event with Das Rheingold, which we are staging at the company for the very first time. Voices that can sing Wagner’s music are very rare, as they require a singular dramatic power, and we are proud to be bringing together several of the finest international and Canadian Wagnerians, including Ryan McKinny, who recently sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and at the renowned Bayreuth Festival. We are very excited to have him sing his first Wotan with us,” states Patrick Corrigan, General Director of the Opéra de Montréal.
Renowned as one of the world’s greatest Wagnerian singers, American bass-baritone Ryan McKinny will sing his first Wotan, the legendary role at the heart of Wagner’s Ring, here at the Opéra de Montréal. His career has taken him to the world’s great stages, from the Metropolitan Opera to the Bayreuth Festival, where critics took notice of his voice that “drips with gold” and his “imposing presence” (Opera News, Wall Street Journal). He will lead a cast featuring four other male voices that have all shone on the Metropolitan Opera stage: “stentorian” bass-baritone Nathan Berg (San Diego Story) as Alberich, “superhuman” bass Soloman Howard (Denver Post) in the role of Fafner, American bass Julian Close as Fasolt, and American tenor David Cangelosi in the role of Mime. Once again, singers trained at the Atelier lyrique will distinguish themselves in the female roles: Aidan Ferguson (Fricka), Caroline Bleau (Freia), Catherine Daniel (Erda), Andrea Núñez (Woglinde), and Florence Bourget (Wellgunde). Lastly, joining them will be several Canadian singers, many of whom have been applauded in Montreal in recent years: Gregory Dahl (Donner), Roger Honeywell (Loge), Steeve Michaud (Froh), and Carolyn Sproule (Flosshilde), who dazzled audiences in Rigoletto earlier this season.
Brian Staufenbiel has created a staging and sets that were praised for working “on every level” (BachTrack) at the production’s premiere at the Minnesota Opera. Here, he will once again be working with his colleague, American Michael Christie, one of today’s leading American conductors, at the podium of the Orchestre métropolitain, increased in size to 81 musicians. This orchestra is building an international reputation for its performances of Wagner’s music, thanks, notably, to the leadership of its musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
The Story: Greed and Corruption
On the one side, there is Alberich the dwarf, who—rejected and humiliated by the captivating Rhinemaidens—renounces love and robs the nymphs of their precious Rhine gold in order to make a ring that will give him the power to rule over the subterranean Nibelung people and amass untold riches. On the other side, there are the gods who have had the giants build them a fortress for which they have yet to pay. The gods decide to steal the ring and gold from Alberich in order to pay their debt to the giants, but Alberich curses the ring and all those who possess it. In this prologue to the tetralogy, we see various characters—each in their own way driven by greed and a hunger for power—set in motion a series of events that will lead to the end of the world as they know it…
The Work: Revolutionary in Every Respect
Richard Wagner began his first draft of the story of the tetralogy in 1848, as a series of revolutions shook Europe. As he was very politically involved and committed to these revolts, the composer was forced to flee Germany in 1849 and was not allowed to return until 1862; he therefore wrote and composed a large part of his tetralogy while in exile. Wagner’s political ideals were inseparable from his aesthetic ones: in his view, only art could allow for the emancipation of the human race—especially opera, which combined all forms of art. While writing the libretti for the Ring, Wagner also wrote books that went on to revolutionize the history of opera (Oper und Drama, 1851 and Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft or The Artwork of the Future, 1849), in which he lays out his vision for opera of the future as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” (a total work of art), in which all of the arts (music, poetry, dance, architecture, and painting) would be assembled to work together, as they did in ancient Greek theatre.
Das Rheingold is therefore not only the fruit of a political revolution, but also of an aesthetic one. Indeed, it was the first opera in which Wagner systematically tried to apply his new ideas, with very powerful results: the singing is fully integrated with the action and the orchestra does not simply accompany the voices but actively participates in the plot through the use of leitmotifs. Wagner’s innovations also extended into the makeup of the orchestra, which he greatly developed and expanded. For his tetralogy, Wagner required sixty-four stringed instruments, he quadrupled the number of wind instruments, and he greatly developed the brass section. Wagner took this orchestral development so far as to incorporate a new instrument called the “Wagner tuba,” which acted as a bridge between the trombones and the horns. He also included instruments generally used for military fanfares, such as bass trumpets and contrabass trombones. Lastly, he also developed the percussion section, with the orchestral score for Das Rheingold calling for eighteen anvils, among other things.
Das Rheingold’s strength therefore comes from the powerful combination of a revolutionary energy, the aesthetic transformation of opera as a genre focused on plot, and the development of the sounds of the orchestra, giving a prominent place to the brass section, which plays spine-chilling leitmotifs (such as the “curse of the ring” leitmotif). This new vision of opera as a synthesis of the arts, and the way in which Wagner applied it to music in Das Rheingold, profoundly changed opera as we know it: Das Rheingold is a revolutionary work in every respect.
Opera: Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner
Genre: Vorabend (first evening) of the tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)
Structure: 4 scenes
Language: German, with English and French surtitles
Libretto: Richard Wagner
Premiere: Munich, Königliches Hof-und Nationaltheater, September 22, 1869
Production: Minnesota Opera
Last performed at the Opéra de Montréal: 2000 (concert version) / First staging at the company
Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
(175 rue Ste-Catherine O, Montreal, Quebec H2X 1Y9)
on November 10, 13, 15, and 17, 2018 at 7:30 pm
Founded in 1980 and based in Montreal, the Opéra de Montréal is the largest francophone opera company in North America. Each season, close to 50,000 spectators make their way through the company’s doors. Under the direction of General Director Patrick Corrigan and Artistic Director Michel Beaulac, the company’s season is made up of four to five operas, activities and concerts by the Atelier lyrique, and outreach activities. The Opéra is a key player in the city’s economic, cultural, and social development as, each season, it maintains working relationships with over 360 local businesses, and hires no less than 800 artists and craftspeople. Close to 80% of the artists appearing at the company are Canadian. www.operademontreal.com