I like to do things in chronological order – this may explain why my "Read Dickens" project is still stalled at The Pickwick Papers – so it's been very fortunate that my live encounters with the Ring to date have more or less co-operated: Das Rheingold in San Francisco, then Rheingold and Die Walküre at the MET, and now Rheingold again in Paris, ahead of next month's season of Walküre. So far I've never been obliged – or indeed even offered the chance – to skip ahead to Siegfried or Götterdämmerung; I won't meet them until Seattle, which looks likely to be the only full cycle I'll see any time soon.
Back to Das Rheingold. What I saw on Saturday was a dress rehearsal, though with a larger audience than I've ever seen at a dress rehearsal before: only the telltale empty section in the centre stalls gave it away as such, and performances were as polished as you'd expect at a ticketed performance. There were a few surprisingly visible stage crew, but for all I know, this was intentional; Günter Krämer's production is kind of crazy, after all. It even has a leaflet drop, staged by the seriously disgruntled, flag-waving builders of Valhalla. ("What you are, you are only by contracts: limitedand well defined is your power" printed in four languages on red paper. I snaffled one on the way out.)
Any moment now there will be reviews to tell you how strong the cast is – the show opens tonight – so I probably don't need to add much. My personal highlights were Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as a very vivid Mime, Kim Begley's Loge, a shabby clown straight from vaudeville, and loveliest of all, Sophie Koch's gorgeous, silky-toned Fricka. She couldn't be further from my last Fricka – Stephanie Blythe in powerhouse mode – but she was just as compelling, and remarkably sympathetic. How I'll feel about her once she starts messing with Siegmund's happiness remains to be seen, of course, but I certainly can't wait to hear her do it.
I learnt something encouraging at this dress rehearsal, too. Unlike wimpy little me, Parisians are evidently not even remotely shy about shushing those who talk, whisper or cough. The chorus of "chut" as the prelude rumbled into action was slightly frightening but highly effective: I'm glad I wasn't on the receiving end of it, and can't help hoping they'll keep it up for Walküre.