Saturday, May 14, 2011

Robert Lepage and Wagner - Rheingold and Walküre at the Met!

Ok - I know, it's been like forever since I posted here. But I have been plotting some interesting posts and maybe I'll get to those this summer. Anyway, things have been really busy, and I have missed several of the Met HD broadcasts this year - much to my disappointment - but it could not be helped. However, I planned ages ago to make sure I made it to Walküre today and I did and I am so glad I did. It was sensational. Which was a surprise actually. I did not post any response last fall to the Met's Lepage production of "Rheingold" mostly because, well - I came away with such mixed feelings that I didn't know what to write. For the most part - I hated it. But was that fair? Maybe I was just really missing my beloved Otto Schenk production which I have watched many many times on video and then DVD. But today the clouds were lifted and I think I can make some clear comments about both productions.

Another reason I was not expecting the production to be so great today was because I had read a NY Times review in which they had talked about a mishap opening night involving the swinging beams and Deborah Voigt - the amazing, spectacular Deborah Voigt, by the way. Now, I am all for creativity, but when a production is so creative that it becomes a physical hazard risk for the singers then I'm on the side of the singers. No production concept is worth a potential serious injury to an artist. Note the debacle in Los Angeles with their Ring and how some cast members actually left the production because of the risk (not to mention the seemingly doomed broadway production of "Spiderman"). Anyway - false alarm - I think. There was no sign of it today (except for the late start). Everyone seemed at ease and comfortable on stage and - hats off - to Lepage. It is obvious that he also takes that responsibility seriously - as a viewer I was not made uncomfortable at all with any of the set gyrations in Walküre. That was not true for my experience watching Rheingold. I'll come back to Rheingold in a couple paragraphs.

First - Walküre worked a lot better. Maybe it is because the scenes are more static in this opera. Act I - in Hundings hut; Act II - on Wotan's rock outside Valhalla; Act III - another rock. That's it - so no descent into the Niebelheim like Rheingold, no swimming around the Rhein; no rainbow bridges. It worked a lot better. It was terribly distracting in Rheingold how those beams were moving all the time. Not so here. The highlights of Walküre are as follows in my opinion:
1. Cast - wow! What a cast! I still have a soft spot in my heart for James Morris and Hildegard Behrens - but Bryn Terfel is a magnificent Wotan. He was much stronger in Walküre I thought than Rheingold. And what can one say about Stephanie Blythe - she was incredibly effective and powerful as Fricka. I also loved Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund and Eva-Maria Westbroeck as Sieglinde. They even looked like they could really be twins. Sieglinde's last incredible line before her act III exit gave me chills. I had seen Deborah Voigt as Sieglinde in Chicago several years ago - and she was good, but I thought her Brünnhilde was outstanding. Also, Hans-Peter König was a great Hunding and I loved the girls in Act III.
2. The orchestra! Is there another orchestra in the world as good as the Met Orchestra? I think not. Elaine Douvas (oboe I) played beautifully as did English Horn, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet and the entire brass section. Magnificent.
3. The simulated forest was very effective, and I really like the chases with the supers. It was effective. But the staging of the Act II battle was the best I have ever seen. Mostly I think this usually takes place off stage - but in this production it was front and center. It was riveting.
4. The Walküres in Act II were great. Maybe it was the Met acoustics combined with the set - but the sound those girls produced was more powerful than I can remember ever experiencing before. And the simulated horseback riding was really fun - very effective. (So much better than the silly trampoline bouncing in Chicago - BTW.)
5. Wotan's farewell was beautiful. It was wonderfully and tenderly sung. The orchestra sounded like a chamber orchestra allowing Terfel to sing ever so gently. And the fire and how they left poor Brünnhilde at the end (it was a dancer or a super - but still).
6. James Levine!
All in all - I loved Walküre. It was musically brilliant and the production worked.

Now, Rheingold. Why did it not work as well? And in my opinion it didn't. Vocally some of the singers seemed more tentative - the notable exceptions in my view were Blythe and the soprano who played Freia, Alberich and Mime. Loge was weak and there was something about the Giants. Fafner just sounded liked he was miscast, too light a voice for the role, or so it seemed to me. And right away the whole concept seemed to falter. The first scene with the Rheinmaidens simply did not work. It was boring and silly - they hung from the air a bit and then they sat on the planks and did nothing. No chasing, no playing, no nothing. It didn't help that they showed a rehearsal clip where one Rheinmaiden in particular made it clear she was completely terrified. This affected my ability to appreciate her work in the role. All I could think of was how scary it must be and how terrified she was in rehearsal. Anyway, it didn't work. The descent to Niebelheim was ok. I really missed the kids screaming - this whole section was completely inferior to Schenk. The tenor who played Mime was the only bright part of this scene. He was terrific. I thought the stacking the gold in front of Fria was silly and the rainbow bridge was a complete disappointment. In short - I hated Rheingold. Except for the orchestra and some of the singers I can think of nothing that I really liked in that production.
In closing my views of this production of the Ring are mixed. Walküre was a great success - Rheingold, not so much. It will be interesting to see what they do with Siegfried and Götterdämerung next season. Perhaps they might go back and rethink Rheingold. It would be a good idea in my view.