Troubles have haunted the current, very special production of Richard Wagner’s four-part Der Ring des Nibelungen from its inception—but the “live” HD performances have miraculously been spared, for the most part, the technical woes at least.
Of course, the absence of conductor James Levine because of lingering back problems, was noticeable to us in Westchester too, but the company’s recently appointed principal conductor Fabio Luisi has blessed us with performances that drew the very best from the Met’s remarkable orchestra.
We also could not be protected from the replacement of two highly experienced tenors scheduled to sing the challenging lead in this Siegfried. Both Ben Heppner and Gary Lehman had to absent themselves. Luckily, lesser known, Texas-born Jay Hunter Morris, who recently performed the role at the San Francisco Opera, became a vocally-most-able and theatrically delightful stand-in.
The opening night of Siegfried at the actual house, evidently had director Robert Lepage’s by now famed “Machine,” (the 45-ton contraption with movable planks,) creaking and misbehaving. But the performance we saw came off splendidly and really showed off the highly effective “special effects” projected on it. It may well be worth the millions it cost the Met for this first new staging of the Ring in 20 years. Read more about the Metropolitan Opera's 'Ring Cycle' here.
Wagner who first started working on Siegfried in 1857, but abandoned it for 12 years—(seeing the whole cycle finally produced in 1876)—left incredibly detailed instructions for the staging. I think however he would have approved of this innovative, stylish version.
Siegfried, the third in the Ring cycle, pictures the exploits of the not so nice, not so smart, boisterous “teen-ager” hero of Teutonic legend. Not an easy task for a singer who must be seasoned enough to sustain about four hours of continues upper-range “tenorising!” He is on stage for almost every scene and tenor Morris more than managed it with believably youthful charm.
It is such a gift to be able to see/hear all the four operas performed by a most impressive cast. In Siegfried we are offered the formidable Welsh Bryn Terfel, now referred to as the Wanderer instead of the earlier Wotan because he senses the demise of the Gods. Then there is Chicago-born Deborah Voigt who’s acting as the awakened “Walkuere” delineated the transition from demi-goddess to vulnerable human being very successfully.
Absolutely outstanding was the performance of the wily dwarf Mime, who raised the orphaned Siegfried in the depth of the forest. His character allows for humorous touches in this section of the Ring that Wagner actually referred to as a “comic opera.” Germany’s Gerhard Siegel made the most of these touches. Equally to be admired was the rendition of Alberich, the other crafty dwarf, by Eric Owens. What a great voice!
The lyrically beautiful music for the “Forest Bird,” was executed by the talented soprano Mojca Erdmann, who was our Zerlina in Don Giovanni just a week ago.
For once, the earthy Erda, Patricia Bardon, was fully visible. In every other production of this opera I have ever seen, only her torso emerged from the trapdoor in which she was obviously standing. Bardon’s singing was glorious, her glittering costume interesting and her lithe body beautiful to behold. It would be totally understandable that Wotan had nine Walkuere daughters with her earlier in the complicated legend.
There are people who avoid the Wagner Music Dramas because of their length. And I must admit that it is the Siegfried of the series that usually is the least interesting. But I was not the only one who saw this version who felt it just flew by!
Here are some opinions expressed by neighbors of yours:
Naomi Stine of Chappaqua found this Siegfried “mesmerizing.” She and I reminisced about James Morris as Wotan. She expressed high praise for the HD transmissions, their immediacy, the delightful intermission features, the convenience and affordability. Her husband, John, discussed that so often, in an attempt to be different, opera stagings can border on the ridiculous. He approved of this one, but suggested that the advanced technology of special effects in movies may have us accepting the “Machine” more readily.
Helga Weissberger of Greenburgh thought the Mime was the best. “He (Gerhard Siegel) is a tenor beyond wonderful,” she said. She let me know that she likes Wagner’s operas, but admits it reluctantly because of the horrible person we know him to have been. She is hardly alone in that! Her husband, John, told me he was very choosy when going to the opera. He approved of this one and especially appreciated the enlightening intermission features. He will attend Goetterdaemmerung..
Helene Winston of Rye Brook said: “After going to the Met for many years I am now going to the HD movies exclusively. I love the interviews and watching the sets being changed. In the house the intermissions are too boringly long. Thanks for bringing us this new way of enjoying opera.”
What do you think, dear reader? I’d love to hear from you about the HD movies or anything you have to say about opera in general.