Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Meet Our Singers: RICHARD PAUL FINK, Alberich the Nibelung

With our focus this week on the Nibelungs, let’s chat with THE Nibelung of “Ring of the Nibelung,” Alberich. Played by Richard Paul Fink at every Seattle Ring performance since 2000, Alberich is the tragic antihero of Das Rheingold and also appears in important scenes in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. American baritone Richard Paul Fink first appeared at Seattle Opera as Carlo Gérard in Andrea Chenier in 1996. His other Italian role here has been Amonasro in Aida (in 2008); in Seattle he sings more often in German, including (in addition to Alberich) Klingsor in Parsifal, Don Pizarro in Fidelio, and Jochanaan in Salome. Fink spoke with Jessica Murphy about balancing comedy with tragedy for this remarkable character, the wild physicality of the role, and Alberich’s love for alliteration.

Could you describe Alberich for a Ring newbie?
I basically describe him as being Sméagol, the Gollum character in The Lord of the Rings, with the physical activity but without the voice. Alberich is the person who takes the gold from the bottom of the Rhine River. He starts as this Joe Sixpack, and the power of the ring, of money and control, start to possess him. The strength of that drug becomes all-consuming.

Alberich (Richard Paul Fink) vocalizes his agony when Wotan (Greer Grimsley) rips the ring away from his hand
Rozarii Lynch, photo

When Wotan takes the ring, I let out this primordial scream. My angst is over the loss of that drug; I’m in withdrawal after that. My constant question to directors is “Does Alberich evolve or devolve over the course of the Ring? Does he become more human, or do you want Alberich to become a bug on the wall?

How does Stephen [Wadsworth, director of Seattle’s production] answer that question?
Here he evolves a little bit, becoming more human over the course of the cycle. Stephen is very much into the human emotions.

Richard Paul Fink sings Alberich's curse in 2009

Has your interpretation changed over the years?
Yes. When to go, playfully, over the top...and when to focus. There is comedy with Alberich. Wagner included comedy in the Ring: slapstick, a pie in the face still works. Watching Alberich slip and slide while he chases the three Rhine Daughters is just as funny now as it was forever. The duet between Mime and Alberich is so much fun in the Seattle production. We are throwing little bean bags (we call them “dragon scat”) back and forth across the valley at each other. You need moments of levity because it makes what follows more serious. If all you have is serious and intense, you lose intensity. I also really love the stillness and the simplicity of what we’ve done with Alberich in Götterdämmerung.

Alberich (Richard Paul Fink, left) and Mime (Dennis Peterson, right) squabble over the corpse of Fafner while Siegfried is in the dragon's lair
Chris Bennion, photo

What do you like about coming back to the Seattle production?
The naturalism. Seattle has one of the last naturalistic Rings. And the people in the cast and crew are all old friends. A lot of our children have grown up together. When we first started staging this, our children's big question was, “Whose house is the sleepover going to be at tonight?”

You do a back flip, right?
I’m 58 years old and I plan on doing it again.

How did this tradition get started?
In the Seattle Rhine set, what I call “Old Smokey,” there are all these pigeon holes so you can get handholds and footholds to climb it. But they hadn’t figured out how I would get down. I asked for a crash pad back so I could do a back flip off the back platform. Then the tech crew mounted a special handle on the back of the central rock in the first scene, so I can hang on it and let myself down. They reinforced all the pigeon holes—really, the tech staff was so nice and supportive, doing everything and following through with my quirky little requests. We spray my seat with silicone so that I slide down faster.

The swimming Rhine Daughter Flosshilde (Jennifer Hines) taunts Alberich (Richard Paul Fink) in one of his most acrobatic scenes
Rozarii Lynch, photo

Are you that physical in other productions?
Being agile and as physical as possible makes you more confident as a performer. When I’m asked to enter on the prow of the Dutchman’s ship, I feel better about standing up there because I know I can handle even more extreme situations. I was just singing Rigoletto in Kansas City, and one night the heel of my shoe caught on a step as I was entering and I rolled down eight steps, into the middle of the stage by accident. But, being trained to do pratfalls, I knew I could handle it as soon as I felt myself falling. And then I got up and sang “Cortigiani!” In the Met Nixon in China, which is now on DVD, I did backflips and falls as the girls kicked me and punched me and knocked me around.

It goes back to being mascot for my high school for two and a half years...and even before that. In my neighborhood, growing up in Ohio, the kids would play “fight the invisible man,” and we’d judge each other on who fought the best: who took better punches, better pratfalls. Around that same time, with mom and dad I did a lot of camping, at a little Ohio Indian campsite there was a bullwhip on the wall and we bought it and I practiced with it–I’d go out in the yard and snap the tops off dandelions. I learned how to climb a tree with it, Daniel Boone-style. It’s that same training that has evolved over the years; I use a whip quite extensively in Das Rheingold. I give a little whip lesson to the Nibelungs because you have all these children, and it’s really loud, so I tell them, “I am in control of this, it’s going to make a loud sound but it’s not going to hurt you. If you want to cover your ears, great! That’s what we want.”

Alberich (Richard Paul Fink) threatens Mime (Dennis Peterson) with his whip when the craftsman is delinquent in delivering the magic helmet Alberich had him forge
Rozarii Lynch, photo

How do you want the audience to feel about Alberich?
Please don’t look at Alberich as being evil or malevolent from the very beginning. He’s not. His life experiences make him what he is. I always approach any character, especially villains, as multi-dimensional characters. So don’t think about him as a cardboard cutout. I have to believe what he is saying, or else the audience won’t either. Honesty, that’s what it’s all about.

What about how Alberich sounds?
In the beginning Alberich uses alliterations. Wagner really loves alliterations and the dotted rhythmic figure that infects his speech pattern. After the curse, he moves away from that, and by the time you get into Siegfried, you have these much, much longer vocal lines. I always I love the way we stage Siegfried in Seattle—Alberich is just sitting on the rock, in total darkness, like he’s been there forever, waiting for something to die.

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