I know, everybody has already said everything to be said about the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Ring and I won’t probably write anything new, but having written about the two previous telecasts (and reporting “live” from the Met in the opening night of Die Walküre), I feel compelled to say something about the two last installments in the cycle. First of all, although I had found James Levine’s conducting in Rheingold somehow nobler (if a bit ponderous) than in his previous DVDs and had never been an admirer of Fabio Luisi, this Italian conductor had really proved his Wagnerian credentials in these two operas, especially in Götterdämmerung. Even if you have probably heard more polished orchestral sound and a more purposeful baton in some of the Ring’s almost infamously slacker scenes, Maestro Luisi never denied this score fuel when things had to catch fire: the impulse that propelled the scene often often started in the orchestral pit, not only in the sense of rhythmic alertness (most often than not the case here), but more importantly in the sense that the orchestral phrasing and tonal coloring established the dramatic content of each scene. Even if the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra might yield to the Berlin Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic in warmth or in clarity, its A-team proved itself capable of a wide-ranging tonal palette, including some theatrically exciting raw sonorities that its famous European counterparts are not always willing to try. Some scenes gained a whole new excitement in its “graphic” sound effects as provided by these musicians – the string section in particularly exuberant shape, producing some exciting passagework in almost pre-war transparency.
In what regards the cast, the Met’s microphones are famous for their generosity, and I am willing to hear what my 7 or 8 readers (now that this not a blog from Berlin anymore, I guess I have to downscale its popularity) have to say about these singers. I have to confess I am surprised by Deborah Voigt’s achievements. I still find her dull in her Martha-Stewart-like propriety, complete absence of tonal/dynamic variety, artificial German and lack of emotional involvement (it seems to be all about “see how I can do this very tough piece of singing!”) BUT – at least in these telecasts – she sings it truly healthily and reliably. As she herself says, Siegfried is a bit high for her (and everybody else) and, by the end of it, she is a bit economical about the length of her acuti, but it all sounds like music, and that’s rare. In Götterdämmerung, her endless supply of round, rich, big top notes seemed a bit detached from Brünnhilde’s predicaments, but those were all right truly round, rich, big top notes.
Without being in the theatre and knowing how effective Jay Hunter Morris’s projection is, I’ll compare him to his competition on video and say he has many assets in comparison. First of all, he looks like Siegfried. Second, his acting talents are far from negligible – even if his stage persona is so likeable and congenial that one finds Siegfried incapable of doing something nasty or really violent (as he is supposed to be). Third, it is admirable the way he is determined to SING the role. As much as in his acting, this Siegfried is not about sharp angles – and this is particularly useful for his duets with Brünnhilde, in which there is a welcome drop of matinée tenor in his ardor and intent of liquidity. Naturally, there are moments in which he shows some fatigue (off-focus and squeezed high notes particularly), but even then, the results are smoother than with most. He still has to make the German text more natural – and less American (especially the “l” consonant).
As before, Bryn Terfel is a Wotan for repeated listening. There are many layers of meaning in his phrasing and, if his is not the most tremendous voice in the role, it is one entirely used for the singers’ expressive intents. And he also happens to be in good shape here. Eric Owens is a force of nature as Alberich and Hans-Peter König – differently from his not particularly menacing Hunding – proved to find an effective less-is-more formula for his richly sung Hagen. Gerhard Siegel’s Mime has some echt Heldentenor ring to his voice when he lets it and he is less mannered than most. Iain Patterson has the right voice and personality for Gunter, and I wished Wendy Bryn Harmer could bring more chiaroscuro to her all-purpose performance, for the voice is very appealing. As always, Waltraud Meier finds new things in everything she does. As for Patricia Bardon, I am afraid this is not really her repertoire, good as she is.
As for her Robert Lepage’s production, I’ve noticed I have said the same things the three times I have written about this Ring. I’ll try to say something different this time. Therefore, I won’t develop the “no Personenregie”, “no concept”, “why the fuss about the machine?”-comments. I’ll assume that the Met did want an easy production that would not shock new audiences away, the “novelty” of which would not interfere with the basic (in the sense of “primitive”) reporting of the immediate (in the sense of “superficial”) story-telling. In that sense, this Ring has fulfilled the commission’s requirements. My question is: why does it have to be so atmospheric? By “atmospheric”, I mean – yes, it does create the right atmosphere by virtue of very expensive machinery etc, but when it comes to the precise effects as described by the libretto, well, it is quite underwhelming: Fafner is a Chinese-fair-dragon, Erda comes on and off stage walking like everybody else and, if there is an anti-climax, then this is the immolation scene, which was short of embarrassing, I am afraid. And why does it have to be kitsch? Waters turning red whenever someone is murdered, those cereal-pack-figurine-like sculptures for the Gibichungen Halle – and the costumes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and so forth. I mean – one can do better than this, even if one wants to make a new Otto Schenk production.