Backstage Pass: Model Victoria Henley pays a Wagnerian trip to the Atlanta Opera


Brought to life from April 29-May 7 at the iconic Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, “Das Rheingold” is an epic cautionary tale of obsession, greed, and power penned in the 1800s by the notoriously problematic, albeit legendary, composer Richard Wagner.

The keenly visceral, sharply decadent story of the restless ambition of gods, dwarves, giants and a hoard of cursed gold destined to bring many of them to certain destruction, begins in the depths of the Rhine River. Three breathtaking sisters, the Rhinemaidens, adorned in glimmering emerald colored gowns and brimming with sharp tongued charms, entrance the lowly Nibelung dwarf, Alberich (a role fully inhabited by Zachary Nelson.) Driven to the depths of madness by his unbridled lust for the maidens, and enraged by his woefully unsuccessful attempts to seduce them, the simple-minded, quick-tempered anti-hero curses love once and for all, then steals the gold, after being informed that forging a ring made from the illustrious precious medal would afford its owner complete power over the world.

Meanwhile, Wotan (portrayed by the acclaimed singing actor Greer Grimsley), the elegant, yet relentlessly power hungry, commandeering “Lord of the Gods” is reprimanded by his hopelessly frustrated wife, Fricka (a role exquisitely performed by Elizabeth DeShong), who learns that Wotan has promised to give Freia (played with tremendous aplomb by the remarkable American soprano, Jessica Faselt), who grows and tends to a crop of precious golden apples that the gods consume religiously in order to retain and preserve their eternal youth) to a pair of lecherous giants.

The giants, Fasolt and Fafner (oafishly portrayed with a looming presence and rich vibrato by Kristinn Sigmundsson and Daniel Sumegi) have been promised the radiant goddesses in return for building an impressive, towering fortress for the gods.

Much to both goddesses’ chagrin, the giants approach, demanding their promised reward in exchange for the completion of their duties, and Wotan, firmly admonished and ostracized by his immortal peers for his thoughtless and degrading bargain, attempts to rescind his offer, igniting the fiery wrath of the giants.

Loge (brought to life with inimitable verve, vigor, and charm by tenor, Richard Cox), the quick-thinking, strong willed god of fire, cleverly suggests an alternative payment: the ring which Alberich has forged from the Rhinegold, as well as his additional esteemed and beloved treasures.

Leaving a bevy anxious gods behind, as well as the miserable the goddess of youth Freia, who is being held captive by the giants until their replacement reward is safely delivered, the intrepid Lord of the Gods and the undeniably clever demi-god set out on a journey to Alberich’s underground home. Here, they meet the dwarf’s terrorized colony of slaves as well as his abused, put upon brother, Mime (portrayed with heartbreaking realism by versatile tenor Julius Ahn), who explains how his selfish brother has utilized the almighty powers of the Rhinegold to exert extreme power and control over them all.

An outrageous battle of wits ensues as the god and demi-god utilize their superior cleverness and cunning prowess to trick the greedy simpleton into shape shifting into the more vulnerable form of a frog, thus making him more susceptible to capture.

Theft, murder, and the insatiable yearning for control remain the driving forces behind this timeless opera, which The Atlanta Opera’s artistic director Tomer Zvulun had dreamt of producing since joining the visionary team a decade ago. Teeming with rich vocals, impossibly opulent costume design, and an omnipresent, palpable sense of suspense throughout the duration of the near three-hour production, a plethora of beautifully blended elements join together to cement Das Rheingold’s status among the greats as an operatic masterpiece.

Mattie Ulrich, the immeasurably skilled costume designer was given the seemingly insurmountable task of creating artful, impossibly regal garments to embody the otherworldly, larger than life aesthetics of each and every character. The extreme dramas, depths and soaring climaxes of this extraordinary opera were further enhanced by the outstanding attention to detail of the individual character garments

Earhard Rom (scenic and projections designer) and Robert Wierzel (lighting Designer) excelled in creating an alternate universe that was fully immersive and visually stimulating, while conductor, Arthur Fagen leads a phenomenal orchestra throughout the trove of complex, multi-layered pieces which comprise the historic opera.

Special thanks to Greg for facilitating our visit for this spotlight feature! *


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