It was a little like watching fireworks that save their most extravagant blasts for last. So the Metropolitan Opera Live-in-HD 2010-11 season ended with a true, all around, spectacular performance: Richard Wagner’s, Walkuere with the Met’s sensational “Valhalla Machine,” a 45-ton structure serving as the set for all four of Wagner's "Ring" operas.
Not that there wasn’t trouble. The actual Lincoln Center audience viewing Die Walkuere at the Met itself—and we in over 1,500 movie houses around the world—saw a delay of approximately 45 minutes before a major “Machine" glitch was dealt with and the opera started.
(I’ve received several emails from all parts of the globe, not only about the magnificent performance, but about this shared delay. It proves there is a definite international network of people interested in opera who have bonded because of this great idea of Peter Gelb…)
Die Walkuere, the second in the four-section Music Drama Der Ring des Nibelungen, premiered in 1870 and has been in the repertory of every important opera house ever since. Most everybody’s favorite of the "Ring Cycle," it is often performed by itself. That is if the companies could afford to produce it and had the singers for the incredible demands the music exacts from its cast.
The Met’s new version of the “Ring,” you may recall, introduced “The Machine” during the prologue opera Das Rheingold, earlier this season. Director Robert Lepage’s brainchild, it provides the set for all four operas, the last two to be aired next season. (
Luckily there has been great improvement since Rheingold, and that production certainly was a striking success in itself. Its plot sets up the origin of all the complications to come but it is in Walkuere that we begin to deal with mortals with whom we can identify and for whom we feel great emotion. Sobs were audible in my cinema audience, and several people confessed to being totally “wiped out” by the end of the striking performance.
The Machine—with its 24 movable planks gave us a stylized—but truly vivid impression of young Siegmund (the very capable German tenor Jonas Kaufman in his first-ever role debut) being pursued through the forest, during the opera’s stormy overture. Heretofore, the overture was played to a closed curtain.
From then on the ‘Machine” became a believable house, (even if it has a huge tree growing it its middle!) a battle field in the woods, eight celestial galloping horses and a mountain top surrounded by magic fire. It allowed our imaginations to work.
But it was the quality of the vocal and physical performance of the entire cast that really made this Walkuere work.
The title role sung, and most suitably acted, by the attractive Debora Voigt, was her debut for this role. The Chicago born soprano has graduated to “Bruennhilde” after performing six Wagner heroines previously. You may recall that she was the spunky Minnie” in Puccini’s Fanciulla this HD season.
Incidentally, all of her eight, “hoyotoho-ingen,” equestrian sisters —all very good soloists—happen to be Americans also. We may have to import foreign oil, but we have come up with fabulous Wagnerians grown in our own soil!
Bryn Terfel—the much admired Welsh bass/baritone in his North-American role debut as the mighty, yet troubled “Wotan,”—gave a splendidly articulate reading to the character. Luckily the filthy-looking wig that covered his missing eye in Rheingold has been replaced by a fetching eye-patch and the impressive armor now gives him the stature of the head-god of which he had been robbed previously. “Wotan” simply cannot look like a country bumpkin!
His argument with his wife, “Fricka,” the jilted goddess of marriage, sung by the outstanding mezzo-soprano, Stephanie Blythe, turned into a surprisingly moving display, rather than the usually strident debate.
And the ever-so-moving end, with his giving up his favorite child, “Bruennhilde”—as punishment for her defiance in defending “love”—became a most tender depiction… a lovely interplay between both great singers.
Special credit must be mentioned also for the performance of Eva-Maria Westbroeck, the Dutch soprano who gave us a just-right ”Sieglinde.” She was an ardent partner to the winning portrayal of Kaufman’s “Siegmund.”
I was especially impressed by the direction in her scenes with "Hunding," the fine German bass, Hans-Peter Koenig, again in a Met role debut. He was our "Fafner” in Rheingold.
The depiction of his various, truly cruel, put-downs of “Sieglinde,”—his unwilling but intimidated wife—must have made every feminist viewer’s hair stand on end. It did mine!
His hanging up his furred mantle on the sword embedded in the above-mentioned tree was a marvelous touch. Does it foreshadow his fear that the handsome stranger will extract it and rob him of his wife? Does it show his monumental mistake in not understanding why and by whom it was thrust there? Whoever thought of these innovations – bravo!
But the greatest bravo must be given to the vigorous conducting of Maestro Levine and the remarkable sound he extracts from the mighty Met orchestra. The audience in the house and the movie theatre I attended made their appreciation plain.
All in all, this was a most memorable rendition of this monumental work of Wagner’s with its glorious music, its myriad enlightening leitmotivs for characters, events, emotions and objects. They are just one aspect of the innovations from this man to whom we owe the introduction of a darkened house, the orchestra pit, a much enlarged orchestra assembly, newness in chromatic use, and on and on to the idea of “Gesamtkunstwerk” (Total Work of Art.)
We all benefit from these innovations. Here they enabled us to witness a superb performance of this truly great opera! Let’s hope next year’s completion of the “Ring” will be as fulfilling.
Do catch the Encore of Walkuere in the White Plains or New Rochelle Cinema Mutiplex on June 1 at 6 p.m..
Here are some reactions from the HD Movie audience:
Sarah Lang of Dobbs Ferry was attending her first HD performance and said she found the opera exceedingly moving. “Seeing the emotions in close-up made it a much more personal and deep experience for me. The interactions between Siegmund and Sieglinde were heart-breakingly beautiful,” she said. Ms. Lang had to leave before the ending and is considering going to the Encore.
(I must confess, although I must have seen Walkuere close to 20 times, I was so smitten with this one that I also am attending the Encore. At only, $21 how can one resist!)
Numa Rousseve of Greenburgh praised the acting and the singing. “Everyone was great. I was in tears at the end.” He told me he knows one of the Valkyries – Mary Ann McCormick -- who not only performs, but teaches voice. We discussed that every single one of these Valkyries has a truly superb and powerful voice. That’s the Met for you!
It was the first Walkuere for Vivian Sheff of Bronxville. “I expected the music to be heavy. Instead I found it high-spirited and full of melody. I loved the story for the most part, and came home on a real high. I now appreciate what Wagner has to offer,” she said. Sheff expressed that some people boycott Wagner operas because of bigotry.
Timothy Fisher doesn’t even live in Westchester. He hails from Valley Cottage (North Nyak) in Rockland County. But I thought you might want to know about people who cross the mighty Hudson to get to our HD’s. (I’ve not quoted many an interloper during the season when they confessed coming from elsewhere. The Bronxites love our parking! Every outsider wishes it could be easier to get tickets here. Don’t we all…)
Mr. Fisher is a true Wagnerite; belongs to the “Wagner Society;” is extremely well informed and sent me a detailed, very interesting treaties about this Walkuere, far longer than my review. A devotee who really knows his Wagner!
Another “traveler” from the Jersey shore—who asked not to be named—is worth quoting. A seasoned opera goer, she has seen many versions of Walkuere. Feeling sorry for the cast having to deal with the challenges of “The Machine” she remarked: “I didn’t know that when you contract to sing at the Met you have to be an acrobat.” She continued to say, “The riding of the 8 Valkyries on their individual planks reminded her of playground seesaws!
Luana Ayers of Croton-on-Hudson, a trained musician, has been impressed by the entire season; loved this stellar cast and how it dealt with the very demanding roles; appreciated the extraordinary diction. “I became very involved with the young couple… found myself crying.”
Gloria Weil from New Rochelle thought the production was “absolutely wonderful.” Both Rheingold and Walkuere were firsts for her. “I had been cautious about going to a ‘Ring.’ Now I can’t wait to see Siegfried.”