Santa Barbara Opera Das rheingold at the Lobero Theater on Sunday was a perfectly enchanting back-to-school performance for live music inside Santa Barbara. Challenging, beautifully designed and executed, and, most importantly, great fun, this production will be remembered by anyone who has seen it for many years to come. Thanks to Kostis Protopapas, Crystal Manich and an exceptional creative team, these wonderful singers / actors had everything they needed to tell Wagner’s incredible story with maximum impact. Rather, Jonathan Dove’s shorter version served to intensify the experience, exploiting Wagner’s motives to convey the great themes of the opera without wasting a moment.
From the start, the actors took advantage of the Lobero stage. Timothy Mix was a delightfully trolled Alberich, and the opening scene not only featured Wagner’s exquisite music, but also a chance to revel in the physical presence and presence of live performers. The Rhine Girls – Flosshilde (Max Potter), Woglinde (Brooklyn Snow), and Wellgunde (Christina Pezzarossi) – used the simple decor and props to create an entire aquatic kingdom, and their voices delightfully filled the room. The initial conflict between sexual attraction and the allure of gold manifested itself in everything that happened.
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Kyle Albertson was a bossy Wotan, dressed to perfection (or should he be 80s?) In a long leather coat and Fabio wig. (Does “hair metal” come from “hair opera”?) Members of the Wotan court each forcefully demanded public attention. As Fricka, Nina Yoshida Nelsen held Wotan accountable, while Robert Norman, as Lodge, attempted to carry out his various plans. The giant villains, Fasolt (Nathan Stark) and Fafner (Colin Ramsey) made a great team – vocally splendid and morally reprehensible. As Freia, Anya Matanovic sang beautifully and was a utterly convincing object of giant lust.
The highlight of this, and probably all the good productions of Das rheingold, came up with the famous sequence Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla. LaMarcus Miller did the honors with the Stormhammer as Donner, rocking a thunderclap in the music and lightning thanks to the strobe effects of the brilliant lighting and the production design of François-Pierre Couture. The imaginative use of lighting didn’t end there either, as the house’s filtered lights came to include the audience in the sense of having entered Valhalla. After 18 months with no theater or live music, I really felt like I was going to heaven.