As I mentioned in a previous post, the Chicago Ring, originally August Everding’s, wasn’t quite some super-stripped down avant garde Sprockets affair of the kind Wieland Wagner was so fond of, but it was also quite a distance from the hyper-realistic Schenk stagings I’d seen at the Met—a multicultural, Flash Gordon-slash-Tron affair with an eclectic mix of costumes, neon lights descending at at various points, and glowing skeletal dragons made of jigsaw-parts held by black-clad runners.
I actually thought it was pretty cool. But I also realized that I prefer the traditional stagings. Not out of some reflexive veneration for “the way Richard would’ve done it” or anything like that, except insofar as I like his idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, in which music, drama, set, and all the other components of an opera meld into a seamless whole. See, here’s the thing: I kept finding myself distracted by the staging. “Oh, look, they decided to represent the tree in Hunding’s house with this sort of lightining-bolt of driftwood,” “Oh, look, a green neon light descends from the rafters at this point and that.” The thing is, the “ordinary” objects and settings of the Ring are, as Wendy Doniger’s lecture made so clear, sufficiently pregnant with symbolism that it’s perfectly possible to make them part of the expressive pageant without yanking you out of the total universe of the story to reflect on what they’ve done with the set and costumes. That and if you’re in orchestra during the first act of Rheingold, you can hear the freaking pulleys the Rhinemaidens’ bungee cords are attached to through the whole first scene, which is a little annoying.