Sunday, February 05, 2012

Metropolitan Opera – Wagner’s Gotterdammerung. February 3, 2012.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center – Balcony Seat B10 ($71.50).

Story.  See previous post.

Conductor - Fabio Luisi.  Norns - Maria Radner, Elizabeth Bishop, Heidi Melton; Brunnhilde - Katarina Dalayman; Siegfried - Stephen Gould; Gunther - Iain Paterson; Hagen - Hans-Peter Konig; Gutrune - Wendy Bryn Harmer; Waltaute - Waltraud Meier; Alberich - Eric Owens; Rheinmaidens - Erin Morley, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Tamara Mumford.

This is the last of Wagner’s Ring operas.  We saw the new production Das Rheingold and Die Walkure last season at the Met, but we couldn’t see Siegfried because it was on during our Australian trip, so we will only manage a “broken ring” this past year.  Of course a Ring purist would say a real ring cycle must fall within the same week anyway.

We got back from Australia a few days ago, although I didn’t have severe jet lag, I was nonetheless getting very little sleep the last few days.  As I feared, I had quite a bit of trouble staying alert throughout the 5 ½ hour program, although I didn’t once doze off (that I am aware of.)  Anne had similar problems; only in her case she did doze off.  Awake or not, we both thought the opera could move along at a faster pace.

First, a few words about the set.  Remember, this is the super-expensive (latest figure $16 million) Robert Lepage production based on 24 planks.  From what I remember of the first two operas, even though I didn’t think it was worth the money, I at least grudgingly agreed that it worked to a certain extent.  For this opera, however, it didn’t work very well.  The planks by-and-large just served as a projection screen for different backgrounds (fire, bucolic scenes, castle, etc.)  Yes, every now and then they would be configured into various structures, but those were both simplistic and artificial.  Anne did wonder if the concentric rings we saw a lot of were “inspired” by the fact that this is a Ring opera.  They wouldn’t be that pedestrian, or would they?

Several interesting props were used.  The first one was Brunnhilde’s horse Grane.  It is a metal shell in the shape of horse on a dolly, but its moves were so convincing that I had to look at it again and again with my binoculars to make sure.  The final scene of the funeral pyre and self-immolation is probably one of the most anticipated scenes in opera.  I remember it as being very disappointing at Seattle, so didn’t quite know what to anticipate.  What happened was they built a pyre of (fake) logs which glowed with so much smoke that eventually not much was visible.  After Brunnhilde brought Grane to the pyre, the planks covered them up.  Finally, the very last scene was Valhalla being destroyed (or it was self-destruction, I am not sure).  Anne said she saw the statues were “pre-cracked”; I saw several people hiding behind the planks, probably backups who were called on to do their backup job.

When the opera began, there were three “Norns” weaving these heavy ropes that dislodged from the planks as the story-telling unfolded.  We were worried somehow things would get tangled up, but to their credit nothing did.  Also it is amazing how people (especially the Rhinemaidens) could move so agilely up and down (mostly by sliding) these slopes.  We were a bit worried that the four “pallbearers” of Siegfried would drop him from the make-shift carrier made from his coat and two spears; and it had to be quite uncomfortable for Siegfried.  Another major difference is harnesses were not used at all in this opera.  The Rheinmaidens were no longer suspended

So those are the physical aspects of the program.  How about the music?

The good news is after listening this many times to the Ring operas, we are getting familiar with the motifs.  I was waiting for the Valhalla motif, and (as far as I know) it came on only towards the end.  And there were many broken Brunnhilde variations which I would prefer to be more straightforward.  While I was happy to pat myself on the back every time I recognize a theme, I thought the Nothung theme was used a bit too much.

We didn’t get to hear Deborah Voigt this time.  Katarina Dalayman sang the role of Brunnhilde.  Her voice when it came through was great, but the volume was inconsistent.  The Rhinemaidens, all graduates of the Lindemann program, did a great job – having the planks right behind them certainly helped.  I assume there are no easy Wagner roles, so to everyone’s credit they made things look relatively easy.  Another standout was Waltrud Meier singing the role of Waltrude (same name, practically).

In the writeup on Das Rheingold I noted the six harps but wasn’t sure they ever did play all at the same time.  This time around I am sure they did.  The sound didn’t come through very clearly, though.  In general the orchestra did very well, especially compared to what I remember of the Seattle experience.

It was August 2009 when I first (and last) saw this opera.  I don’t recall much of that, but don’t remember it as being a particularly memorable program.  I at least found several episodes of tonight’s performance moving.  I have come to a conclusion that many people see operas (or movies, or plays) again and again for various reasons.  One is that the context is so rich that several shows are required to fully absorb the whole experience.  The other, I suspect, is few people can stay alert for the entire length of the program.  I said after August 2009 that it is unlikely I will sit through a Ring cycle again.  I may want to revisit that statement.  The test would be whether I will pick a Ring opera over some other opera.

One word about traffic (vehicular, that is).  The concert started at 6 pm, so we left a bit after 4, thinking we would beat the traffic.  The upshot is never try Lincoln Tunnel at switch over time.  The delay went from 5 minutes when we left the house to over 30 minutes by the time we got there.  We managed to park in the Lincoln Center garage ($36) with only enough time to spare to go to the restroom before the performance began.  They were also fixing the Turnpike late that evening, so we got hung up a bit in traffic also.  It was way after 1 am when we got home.

The New York Times reviewer saw Deborah Voigt in the role of Brunnhilde and Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried.  I actually first mistook her photo for that of Dalayman, a tribute to the make-up artists, perhaps.  The review began with the remark “(this) is the most theatrically effective staging of the four works” but went on to say “Mr. Lepage has simplified the staging and used fewer of the capacities of (the) 45-ton set.”  Isn’t that another way of saying a $16 million projection screen works very well?  The reviewer also had a lengthy discourse on how Voigt’s voice had fared the last few years.  Finally, she evidently rode on Grane in the immolation scene!

I did check the Met website about the three Ring Cycles later in the year.  Many of the sections are already sold out, and the prices are outrageous.  The least expensive ticket (Family Circle, partial view) costs $95 each!

Driving in Upstate New York the following afternoon (Saturdya), we heard Fabio Luisi being interviewed during a break in the Met broadcast.  He remarked that a conductor has two souls at work, one wants to go wild with the music, the other needs to exert control.  (Or some words to that effect.)  Overall he did a great job, especially if I compare what I saw Friday with what I remember of the Seattle Ring experience.  There was also this interview with Anna Netrebko where she did say she had to play an “angry” Anna Bolena, so the constant scowl on her face was intentional: not that I agree with that approach.

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