Das Rheingold Offers Wagner's Genius Without Intermission

Das Rheingold complete with water tanks meaning at least they can keep watching while they pee
Das Rheingold complete with water tanks meaning at least they can keep watching while they pee
Photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

He's a god, in fact the ruler of the gods, but he's only got one eye (he gave the other one up to gain wisdom in a trade that occurred before this opera starts). In Das Rheingold, he's a rash young man, still far from what Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson describes as "the old man raging against the dying of the light" that he'll become by the fourth part of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Paterson is here singing the Wotan role in the first-ever Houston Grand Opera production of this classic work (and one that continues in the next three seasons after this).

The story, filled with fantastic sights, is far from simple but on the most basic level: there's an evil dwarf who takes the Rhinemaidens' gold after they've made fun of him and told him it can be used to make a ring that will control the world.

Soon enough, everyone, including Wotan wants this ring which then has a curse laid on it by the dwarf. Oh and there are giants too; they've just finished building Wotan's new castle.

This co-production of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia and Maggio Musicale, Florence, involves a lot of heavy lifting and calls for Paterson to be onstage continuously for two hours. "You turn up and you sing for a really long time and then you go relax." When he talked to us the other day, he spoke of trying to find places on stage to hide water for a quick drink.

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"It's tremendously expensive to stage. It's not so much the gods, it's all the trappings that come with them. The sets, the cranes. The cranes are what we call the delivery system of the gods, instead of horses. If you imagine enormous movie camera booms, platforms on the end of them and the gods stand on those so we are literally looking down on everybody else and we've each got two crane operators," Paterson says.

In many modern productions, Votan's one-eyeness is demonstrated by having the singer wear a contact lens. "I can't wear them," Paterson says laughing. "I think they're to give me some sort of prosthetic which from a distance is going to resemble an eye socket or an eye."

And then there's the little matter of a show with a running time of two-and-a-half to two hours and 45 minutes with no intermission. But Paterson insists it's worth it with glorious music. "It's complicated and it's dark and it will draw you in. I think it's kind of a bucket list thing. It's something that everybody should experience at least once in their life because it's a unique art form within the art form of opera. Das Rheingold runs April 11-26 at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. For information call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15 - $406.25.

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