To launch the first complete Ring Cycle in its history, Teatro Massimo last night bowed the prologue/chapter one, Das Rheingold, to open its 2012-13 season in a new production signed by Graham Vick. (The last time Teatro Massimo organized a Ring Cycle, it was split between the 1970 and 1971 seasons, conducted by Lovro von Matacic in the Grand Théâtre de Genève production.)
Under Italy's devastated arts funding circus, it's an outrageously-bold gesture. Nine months earlier, during a springtime press conference in Milan, then-intendant of Teatro Massimo di Palermo, Antonio Cognata, reiterated that the theater's 2013 budget was the slimmest in its history. Slap that challenge against fund-hemorrhaging, stage-crippling, Ivory Tower Ring Cycle budgets of American opera companies, and it's practically a dare.
For Palermo, Vick brings prior lessons gleaned from successful Ring Cycles in Lisbon and Birmingham. Gods rise to Valhalla in an elevator and minimal stage clutter clears the way for theatrical impact. Massimo dropped some photos in its twitter last night and there are sunflowers, which we've seen from Vick's pockets before -- but it's all good because Graham Vick is a Genius©.
The media-shy British opera director gave an interview with Corriere della Sera's Manin (not online) about his first installation.
"The opera house is a place of myth and wonder, a luxurious stage for privileged people that canvases and shelters itself behind an ideal world, immobile, faced to the past, far from reality. What better landscape is there for this cutthroat "fable" about money and power?"
Vick continues that the protagonist of the Ring Cycle is us, the audience, victims of capitalism, the recipients of Alberich's curse, aimed at all of those who give up love in the name of greed and gold. And there's no Siegfried to save us. Human nature is amoral and selfish. What we're witnessing is an "endgame" finale. It's a parable of Teatro Massimo's soaring (but crumbling) marble columns, propped up by scaffolding.
He goes on to lambast one-eyed Wotan, King of the Gods, as a representative of those who only see their own version of reality and don't want to know about anything that happens outside of Olympus. He compares the dwarfs in the mine, digging for gold and creating capital for others with, "those damned ones in suits and ties who pass their days and nights at the computer and do lots of coke to keep themselves awake for the opening of the Tokyo Stock Exchange." Ha!
He also references the economic crisis -- he turns 40 chairs into the flowing Rhine, places 40 sunflowers in the garden where Fricka and Wotan sleep and uses 40 umbrellas to evoke the rainbow bridge that ushers the gods into Valhalla. La Repubblica has photos here.
Das Rheingold runs from January 22 - 31; Die Walküre is February 21 - March 3; Siegfried is October 19 - 30; and Götterdämmerung is November 23 - December 4, each in five replications.