In the latest installment of "What to Watch", IMDb's TV Editor Melanie McFarland chats with "Mad Men" stars Jon Hamm, January Jones, John Slattery, and series creator Matthew Weiner about the drama's extraordinary legacy, as AMC prepares to air its final seven episodes.
Of all of Wagner's operas, Das Rheingold was a good choice to adapt as a shortened animated adaptation. It is one of his shortest and has one of his most accessible stories, and while it is not my favourite of Wagner or the Ring Cycle it is very compelling. The story is not the easiest to follow at first glance, but it is thrilling and sets the Ring Cycle up to an effect that makes you want to see the other three operas. Any child who loves fantasy and adventure- I have always wondered if Lord of the Rings was inspired by the Ring Cycle- will be captivated by it. And Wagner's music is magnificent, even though it is not complete as a score the motifs are instantly recognisable and key scenes are included to the exact effect they should have.
When I heard of Das Rheingold being condensed, animated and in English, I was partly intrigued- seeing as the Operavox series is very interesting and its purpose has been served wonderfully- but I also couldn't shake off the feeling that it could be a disaster. Luckily,it actually worked. Rhinegold(translated in English) is not quite as good as Rigoletto, which is the best episode of the series, but it is one of the better ones. Rhinegold wasn't quite perfect for me. I didn't like how Fricka, too small and plump for my liking, was animated, if the series had adapted Die Walkure and animated her the way she looked here I would fail to believe her as shrewish and stylishly witty as she is in that opera, she'd pass perhaps for Brunnhilde but not Fricka. Fafner also didn't strike me as evil enough and far less interesting than Fasolt, true it is in Siegfried where he really is evil but even when he kills Fasolt you feel absolutely nothing.
The traditional animation is really well done though. How it's drawn and coloured(darkly textured and atmospheric) reminded me of a combination of the best of Ralph Bakshi, darker scenes from Watership Down and the 80s series of Dungeons & Dragons, a very good combination and very well suited for an opera like Das Rheingold. It was a good idea to include written exposition for those who are not exposed to the story, doing it as a Star Wars-like scroll wasn't to my taste but didn't annoy me either. The storytelling- remarkably faithful to the spirit of the opera, even with the (non-issue really) absence of Mime- though is done simply and to the point. Even when only half-an-hour it is as intense, moving and thrilling as it should be, and the ending is very nicely rounded off. True the characters, especially Alberich, are more interesting seeing the opera complete, but they are well done and move the story forward very well. The English translation is well-written, flows well and easy to understand, and to have Rhinegold entirely-sung was a good one for exactly the same reasons I said in the Rigoletto review.
Musically, it is really terrific. The orchestral playing is truly majestic, with great musicianship and dynamic contrasts, yet doesn't fall into the trap of drowning out the singers. How it's all done also fits perfectly with the images, the opening with the Rhinemaidens and the ending touch with the rainbow bridge were standouts. The Rhinemaidens blend beautifully and give a sound that is both mysterious and ethereal. Penelope Walker doesn't have that much music to perform here, but does what she can with Fricka, while Janice Watson is an alluring Freia. Phillip Joll sings Wotan with nobility and authority, not a truly opulent sound but rich and sizable with a good capture of the drama. Likewise with Paul Charles Clarke's ironic Lieder-like approach for the sly Loge. Stephen Richardson is good as Fafner, but between the two giants Fasolt gets the lion's share of the music and John Connell sings with incredible booming resonance while still having the beautiful noble tone he brought to Sarastro in Operavox's Magic Flute. Peter Sidhom provides the best singing, from how he sings, commandingly but with nuance too, you can tell despite Alberich's grotesque appearance that he is a character to be both repulsed and pitied by, very like the Alberich in the opera though more interesting in the latter.
In conclusion, no matter how dubious I was regarding Rhinegold, it worked wonders and came off really effectively. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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