Wagner’s “Rheingold” has a belated Florida debut in immersive Miami Beach performance 

By Jack M. Firestone

The Miami Beach Classical Music Festival presented the Florida premiere of Wagner’s Das Rheingold Saturday night at Temple House in Miami Beach. Photo: Mitchell Zachs

Temple House, a re-purposed synagogue on Euclid Avenue, became Bayreuth South Saturday night for a performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold.  The immersive performance, presented by the Miami Beach Classical Music Festival, is likely the Florida premiere of Wagner’s opera, the opening work of his epic four-part tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” 

Michael Rossi, the festival’s ambitious founder, conductor  and guiding light, has now pieced together half of a Ring cycle in Miami. (He previously presented the three acts of Die Walkure in separate performances.) 

On Saturday Rossi realized his dream of finally producing the  first Das Rheingold in South Florida153 years after its Munich premierewith young professional singers primarily drawn from his American Wagner Project. Cast nearly three years ago, and twice canceled by Covid-19, the performance played to a sold-out house in a multimedia performance.

With a cast of fourteen soloists and a large orchestra, Rheingold is a massive undertaking for any company.  While the orchestra was reduced to fit the confines of the hall without a pit, the sonics of the space envelop the listener in the essence of “surround sound.”

Rossi and his colleagues had an impressive night, despite an unhelpful acoustic which made balancing a challenge and created some early coordination issues. One would have liked a greater dynamic range as well at times but the orchestra largely sounded remarkable and captured the essence of the score. Rossi kept the energy flowing and the performance never dragged, despite an inserted intermission. The young musicians did themselves proud—especially the brass which, despite not having access to Wagner tubas, managed an imposing transversal of the score.

Das Rheingold begins the epic tale with the story of Alberich, the malign dwarf rejected by the Rhinemaidens, who steals their gold and renounces love to gain vast fortune and power, fashioning his treasure into a golden ring. Wotan, king of the gods, is admiring his new fortress Valhalla, yet must contend with its builders, the giant brothers Fasolt and Fafner who take his sister-in-law Freia hostage for his refusal to pay for their labors. Advised by the cynical fire god Loge, Wotan steals the Rheingold away from Alberich, who curses the ring and all who possess it to death and destruction forever. Warned by Erda the earth goddess, Wotan reluctantly cedes the ring to the giants and Alberich’s curse immediately claims its first victim when Fafner kills Fasolt. The gods enter Valhalla, as the Rhinemaidens bewail the loss of their treasure.

The soloists were drawn from the professional Miami Wagner Institute. The singers are not students but young professionals with varying degrees of experience, each at the beginning of their careers. In some cases, singers have sung Wagner previously, but generally their work has been in smaller roles with regional companies. Vocal preparation was done in cooperation with the American Wagner Project and coaches Delora Zajick, Luana DeVol, and John Parr.

While the young singers were clearly putting their all into the performances, the meaning of the words —which is so important in Wagner—was often lost, and the production would have been better served with more emphasis on the sung text.

Photo: Mitchell Zachs

There were two standouts in the young cast. 

As the fire god Loge, Jon Janacek proved an eager foil between the giants and Wotan. His agile voice has fluidity with power to spare when it was needed, and his singing was a consistent joy to hear.

Erda, the earth goddess who warns Wotan of impending doom, was sung by the wonderful Canadian mezzo, Jillian Yemen. A veteran of previous Wagner Festivals, her voice is earthy (aptly) and primordial expressing just the right colors.

As Wotan, Eugene Richards captured the magisterial quality of Wotan dramatically. He sang with great dignity, and hopefully will grow in gravitas and vocal weight in future roles. Rebecca Sacks’ Fricka would have been better served with more focused singing and more luxuriant tone.

Geoffrey Di Giorgio was Alberich. He rose to the occasion with his most intense and most powerful singing as the villainous dwarf places a curse on the ring and all who wear it. 

The three Rhinemaidens were Melanie Spector as Woglinde, Lyndsey Swannn, Wellgunde, and Taryn Holback as Flosshilde, who we first meet frolicking in the water. Their costuming included wing-like fabric, which they used to effectively create the illusion of their swimming.

Freia the goddess of youth, was elegantly sung by Stephanie DePrez. As Donner, the god of thunder, Hunter Enoch proved a dramatic presence, and William McCullough displayed a clarion voice as Froh.

As the sibling giants—walking on stilts and towering over thr gods—Virdell Williams was an imposing Fasolt and Joe Chappell, a sensitive Fafner. Character tenor Scott Wichael etched a worthy cameo as the abused Mime.

More than a dozen synchronized projectors gave a 360° vision of Wagner‘s Prologue or “Preliminary Night ”of his tetralogy. Two large platforms with sets of stairs in simple black were the only sets in the cost-effective production by Maura Gergerich. The visual effects are made up of exquisite projections by Josieu Jean and assistant Kacey Koploff creating the four different scenes. Little was missing from this performance of what we expect to see and hear in Rheingold. Stage director, David Toulson kept the action moving, which was complemented by Paulina Lozano’s costumes.

Prior to the performance, Mayor Dan Gelber welcomed the audience and Rossi honored the late John Pohanka with a video tribute set to the music of Tannhauser. Pohanka and his family foundation have been the principal underwriters of the Miami Wagner Institute.

The Miami Beach Classical Music Festival continues with Bizet’s Carmen 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday. miamimusicfestival.com

Jack M. Firestone is president and founding partner of Firestone Capital Management. He has served as chief executive officer of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, the Louisville Orchestra, the Florida Philharmonic, and PACE Concerts. 

A lifelong Wagnerian and opera lover, he is founding director of the Miami Music Project and remains active in Miami cultural affairs.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Wagner’s “Rheingold” has a belated Florida debut in immersive Miami Beach performance ”

  1. Posted Jul 18, 2022 at 10:55 am by Jean Scarr

    Jack, I truly enjoyed your wonderful review. I applaud the Miami group for producing the Wagner epic.

    Your review was balanced and thoughtful. I wish I could have attended.

  2. Posted Jul 21, 2022 at 3:41 pm by Marie BertillionCollins

    Wish I could have been there,Sounds like a good time was had, and enjoyable if not 1st class musical experience.

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