[Met Performance] CID:146630

New Production

Das Rheingold
Ring Cycle [77] Uncut
Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, January 7, 1948 Matinee

Debut : Lee Simonson

Das Rheingold (93)
Richard Wagner | Richard Wagner
Joel Berglund

Kerstin Thorborg

Gerhard Pechner

Max Lorenz

Blanche Thebom

Jerome Hines

Mihály Székely

Polyna Stoska

Emery Darcy

Kenneth Schon

John Garris

Inge Manski

Martha Lipton

Margaret Harshaw

Fritz Stiedry

Herbert Graf

Set Designer
Lee Simonson [Debut]

Costume Designer
Mary Percy Schenck

Ring Cycle [77] Uncut

Das Rheingold received two performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune

In Fairytale Vein

The cast, as you can verify above, was a distinguished one at yesterday afternoon's performance of "Das Rheingold." The musical audition, too, was far more polished than most of those one hears these days at the Metropolitan Opera House. And the new scenery proved to be in every way worthy of the grandiose style that Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelungs" tetrology demands. Particularly satisfactory was the shipshapeness with which lighting, stage movements and scene changes were operated. It assured us that the Met can still put on a show in professional style, even when the scenic set-up is complex, and that any other kind of presentation at that establishment is attributable either to carelessness or to an attempt to make outworn material do.

Lee Simonson's sets follow in spirit and general plan the Kautsky designs with which we have long been familiar and which once bore the blessing of Bayreuth itself. Their chief departure from these is a translation of Romantic detail into modernistic detail. Mr. Simonson's rocks are more simplified, more angular than what a nineteenth-century artist would have conceived; and his Valhalla bears such a clear resemblance to the Cornell Medical Center (amplified to Radio City proportions) that it suggests some massive real estate development entitled, perhaps, "The Valhalla Apartments."

This last detail is not entirely happy, and the cubistic rocks are a bit brutal in outline. Also the latter bridge when clutched. One hopes they are more solidly built to last than their present instability suggests. But everything else is tasteful and solid. Even the Worm is impressive. Particularly delightful are the giants and the dwarves. The former, shod on stilts and clothed in fur, are hugely effective; and the latter are terrifyingly true to fairy-tale life. The child of any age who did not respond to both these creations would be poor indeed of spirit. The Rhine maidens look about as usual, since their visible shape is largely determined by that of the chairs concealed beneath their trailing petticoats. They swim about, as always, by means of a modified breast-stroke.

In an afternoon full of good singing, Jerome Hines, as Fasolt, was notable for excellence. Joel Berglund sang a euphonious Wotan, too; and Polyna Stoska, as Freia, the only soprano in the cast, emitted fine bright sounds to lighten a dark ensemble. Max Lorenz, as Loge, the only tenor in the cast, was a vocal relief, too, from all the basses and barytones that filled the stage; and his dramatic animation was equally grateful in those scenes, all too numerous, when there is nothing for anybody else to do but stand still. Less charming was the traditional tremolo with which Gerhard Pechner sang Alberich; and Blanche Thebom, as Erda, was consistently flat.


The afternoon was most agreeable for sound singing and for orchestral amenities observed. The weakest musically of all the "Ring" operas, "Das Rheingold" was all the same a pleasure for careful execution in every respect. And the new sets were not the least among the many elements responsible for the creation of a fairytale atmosphere in which everything took place according to mythology, both Germanically and theatrically speaking.

Review 2:

Review of Irving Kolodin in the New York Sun

"Rheingold" Opens New Staging of the 'Ring.'

The supposition that the fantasies of art should be more enticing as the realities of life become more grim was rudely served at yesterday's [start] of the newly designed "Ring" cycle at the Metropolitan. It was handsome of the Opera Guild to raise the money to give us new sets (the first in thirty-five years) and wise to engage Lee Simonson to do them. But even the most hopeful escapist could hardly find joy in the laborious never-never of this Teutonic fairyland. Surrounding the interminable talk and the improbable motivations, was a treatment by Simonson which was sound, utilitarian and tasteful. It will travel well, which is a virtue of commercial wines, and a perquisite of all productions in these days of a touring Metropolitan. They will like it in St. Joe, if it ever gets there.

Where Simonson could work unfettered, as in the river bottom scene, he utilized modern lighting to advantage. The transitions were also well managed, if one accepts the magic lantern as modern, and forgets everything in the movies from "Caligari" on. When he was compelled to evoke a stated illusion, such as the projection of Valhalla, his guess was debatable, even as any other. To this eye, it suggested Castle Village, on the Hudson, with the Medical Center behind. The giants might have thought up the fortress, but the towers above were pure Fred F. French. Stylized rocks, in cubistic formations, replaced the creased boulders of old, but they were no more than camouflage for the staircases which singers of today require, even as those of old. Most attractive was a "wurm," which was talented enough to rear its head, and a toad so small that it was, in fact, invisible.

Least in harmony with Wagner's directions (which are unimportant) or his intentions (which are more important) was Erda's emergence on an elevated platform at stage rear peering over a mountain peak. It was disastrous for the singer to search for the pitch so far from the orchestra - Blanche Thebom, a normally reliable artist, floundered pitifully when chromatics intruded - and a violence to the spirit of the character, who should have a closer contact with the Mother Earth from which her name derives.

For so static a score, Herbert. Graf's staging was suitably fluid, and Mary Schenck's costuming was a pleasant exception to the Metropolitan's usual hodgepodge, where singers are customarily well-dressed in proportion to what they draw at the cashier's window. However, a subtler Loge than Max Lorenz would have provided a binding element that this cast lacked. His version of the key character left most of its secrets locked in the score, with frowsy vocalizing and uncertain statement of the text minimizing the duplicity, which the half-god should purvey.

This was a pity, for there was as much excellent individual singing for the thoughtful conducting of Stiedry to co-ordinate: Joel Berglund, a splendid Wotan, large of gesture, eloquent in voice; Jerome Hines, a towering Fasolt of powerful sound; and Kerstin Thorborg, a reliable, if shrill, Fricka, were outstanding. Then, there was Polyna Stoska's appealing Freia, the conventionally venomous Alberich of Gerhard Pechner, and John Garris's excellent Mime. A notable trio of Rhine Maidens (Inge Manski, Martha Lipton and Margaret Harshaw) were particularly good to hear, likewise Emery Darcy (Froh), Kenneth Schon (Donner) and Mihaily Szekely (Fafner) in smaller roles.

Since "Rheingold" today asks a deal of indulgent blindness to its intellectual vacuities - only occasionally embellished by irresistible music - something more compelling than this kind of competent, but earthbound, performance is needed. Under yesterday's conditions, it was no more than a prefatory premise to next week's "Walküre."

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