If you’re hairy, stubbly, shabby and malodorous, Wagner seems to say, choose lucre over love. It’s clearly the right choice for Alberich. Rejected by a trio of shallow, promiscuous Rhinemaidens, too lazy to find his inner beauty, and humiliated by their emasculating mockery, Alberich does the right thing, IMHO, foreswearing the complications and disappointments of love in favour of money and power.
Such a shame, then, that his blue-collar talents for physical cruelty and exploitation prove no match for the patrician white-collar wiliness of head-god Wotan and his mob. The world, then as now, belongs to the Establishment, to the idle, hypocritical rich and their retinues of legal experts, fixers and money men.
It’s not as if love gets a very good press. Wotan’s tired, tedious marriage to hoity-toity Fricka is no advertisement for long-term love. Frolic with the Rhinemaidens and they’ll drag you down and drown you. As for lucre over love, Fafner and Fasolt – lumpen, trusting labour at its most worthy – are on Alberich’s side, renouncing claims to the voluptuous Freia in favour of a large pile of gold – though they fall out murderously just a few minutes later. (In any case, it’s hard to imagine Freia in the giants’ front room at Riesenheim.) As for the other gods – smug singletons every one of them.
The human frailties of Wagner’s characters in Das Rheingold – folly, hubris, vanity, cruelty, greed and spite – are sympathetically exposed by a Leipzig Opera production that emphasises the human over the divine or supernatural. It’s easier to empathise with an Alberich who doesn’t snarl.
Wagner’s protagonists are an unattractive bunch and I wouldn’t change places with any of them. Though the corpse count as the curtain comes down is one, I don’t think things will work out well for the rest of them.
The music, as always, is glorious – the tragedy of human fallibility beamed directly and powerfully to our hearts and minds in a way that no one else has managed.
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