This raises the question of whether the Gods should act like the people next door.
Francesca Zambello's Ring makes a number of errors of tone, in the staging and in the supertitle translations, where the tone she's setting on stage is at odds with the music and the libretto. There's the physical horseplay between Wotan and Bruennhilde, which I called out in my review. Do the Gods really act like that? And what about the phone conversation that got laughs right before Fricka's entry?
Zambello also has a habit of throwing characters on stage who aren't there in the libretto. I remember these, and perhaps there are more; I'll include my theories about what her justifications might be:
- The end of the first Rheinmaiden scene in Rheingold, with Loge watching on the side. Loge says later in the opera that he has talked with the Rheinmaidens and promised to get the gold back for them. We don't know how much time passes between Scenes 1 and 2, only that it's enough time for the Ring and Tarnhelm to be forged. We don't know when the Giants start to build Valhalla. I see no good reason to put Loge on stage at this point; his first entry in the score is accompanied by his characteristic fiery leitmotif, as it should be.
- Rheingold, scene 2, when Fricka wakes Wotan up, Zambello puts Donner and Froh on stage too. here FZ is establishing the Gods as frivolous, Gilded-Age types. Not so bad. But...did Fricka whack Wotan with the blueprints, as in 2008? If she did, I missed it, a piece of stage business I found eye-rolling the first time around.
- The Rheinmaidens' on-stage appearance at the end of Rheingold, rather than singing offstage or from the pit. I saw Zambello discuss this, and other subjects, at a music critics' panel between Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung, during cycle 1. She wanted the Rheinmaidens to appear, dressed in brown rather than gold, to show their growth over the course of the opera, and also the environmental degradation that had started with the theft of the gold.
- Hunding's men, who appear twice in Walkuere, were invented for this production. I presume this is to give Hunding social context within some period of American history, but I find it wholly unnecessary. Hunding appears as a single individual in Walkuere, and individualism is a prominent trope of American social history. Act I works best as a confrontation among three individuals, and the Siegmund/Hunding fight works best as a fight between two men, alone in a rocky place.
- The parade of dead heroes during the Annunciation of Death. I found this moving in last year's production, though not necessary. I am sure it's distracting for some, and, again - the scene is a discussion between a Goddess and a man. Do they need dead heroes? Can Siegmund see them?
- Fricka's appearance on the freeway in Act II of Walkuere. She tears up the contract for Siegmund's death that she forced Wotan to sign, now that Siegmund is dead. A little gratuitous! We already have Wotan, Bruennhilde, Siegmund, Sieglinde, and Hunding on stage.
- The Forest Bird in Siegfried is supposed to be offstage, but in this production she's been personified as a young woman. I found her adorable and her interactions with Siegfried, all at a distance, quite touching. (Contrast with another personified Forest Bird whom I liked in the past, the cellphone-wielding Bird of Mark Streshinsky's production of Legend of the Ring at Berkeley opera.)
- Hagen's Watch at the beginning of Act II of Goetterdaemmerung, where Gutrune is inserted in the scene to converse - and flirt? - with her evil half-brother. Truly unnecessary, and the implied flirtation is past gratuitous. If anything, Gutrune and Gunther probably look down on their half-dwarf brother. And of course there's the unnecessary remote control...which got laughs during the production I saw.
The director gives us another Kumbaya moment that I did not much care for: the godly huddle in Rheingold around Donner during his call to the mists, in which all of the Gods grab hold of the croquet mallet that he lugs around - while he's singing. What, the God of Thunder can't make a mighty noise on his own? They're also so far upstage as to make Gerd Grochowski work much harder than he should need to.
At the critics' panel, I challenged her on her calling the Rheinmaidens good, because on one hand, they lose the gold! and on the other, their merciless teasing of Alberich sets off the whole story. On the third,
as Frick says, they've drowned a lot of men. She had a reasonable explanation - that they're 13-year-olds who don't fully understand their own actions and they grow up during the course of Rheingold and the whole cycle. I can sorta buy that.
The rewrite of the libretto for supertitle purposes that bugged me most, though, was the translation of something Wotan says in Siegfried, where he first refers to Alberich as "schwarz Alberich" and himself as "licht Alberich." Dammit, the latter was translated as "Wotan, lord of light," when he's making a clear analogy, for good reasons, between himself and Alberich.
They have so much in common! They're both willing to abuse and use others in the pursuit of power. Alberich enslaves the Nibelungs with the power of the ring, and rapes Gunter and Gutrune's mother to create Hagen.
Wotan is willing to make a deal with the giants using the goddess Freia as payment of the construction fees for Valhalla. He creates Siegmund and Sieglinde with the idea of creating a free man who can obtain the ring, then doesn't exactly take good care of them, not to mention the nameless mortal woman who is their mother.
The mistranslation of "licht Alberich" is bad, very bad, given the above; far worse than any of the silliness I describe above, because it undermines our ability to understand an important analogy between two of the moving forces of the cycle.