Above: soprano Katarina Dalayman who replaced Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde at the Met tonight
Tuesday February 7, 2012 - Dmitry and I saw the final installment of the Metropolitan Opera's controversial RING Cycle. I'd really been planning to see the four operas in order but there were no affordable tickets to SIEGFRIED, so I skipped from WALKURE (last season) to GOTTERDAMMERUNG. Not that it mattered, since the production is so stolid and pedestrian that missing a quarter of it posed no serious imposition. Luckily it was quite an impressive evening from a vocal standpoint and Fabio Luisi did his best work to date at the Met (not truly inspiring but far better than expected).
The infernal machine in this $20 million flop (add another $250K for re-inforcing the stage floor to accommodate the blasted thing) which does nothing to enhance GOTTERDAMMERUNG. There are only a couple of beautiful or memorable stage images in this entire RING production; the giant planks either flip about pointlessly or are bathed in meh projections when they are stationary. And there's nothing to be said about the ending of the Wagnerian epic since nothing happens. Nothing.
But you can read about the production endlessly elsewhere; we're stuck with it now come Hell or high water. Best to tune it out altogether and let the musical forces do their finest. Fabio Luisi's pacing was good and if his reading lacks poetry and mystery and - ultimately - grandeur, he made sure the singers were always audible (you'd think that would be a basic element of opera conducting but it's not always). These musicians learned the RING under Levine and they can probably play it in their sleep. Whether Luisi will eventually make more of a personal imprint on this music must be left to future revivals to determine; he did well tonight.
Having Ms. Dalayman step in as Brunnhilde removed the one dreaded impediment Dmitry and I had been contemplating: neither of us thought that Deborah Voigt could be an impressive Brunnhilde at this point. Voigt, who should now be experiencing final chapters of glory in her vocal career, made the unfortunate mistake of resorting to medical tampering to slenderize herself; it basically marked the beginning of the demise of her splendid instrument.
Katarina Dalayman didn't simply save the day, she gave a thrilling account of Brunnhilde's music and managed to create a believable and sympathetic character in a production that fights the singers at every turn. As the soprano soared into the concluding passages of the Dawn duet, her voice took on an ecstatic quality: along with her tenor Jay Hunter Morris and with Mr. Luisi's vivid support, she turned this triumphant moment into one of the most exciting things I've heard at the Met in many a moon.
Dalayman stayed the course thru the arduous big sing of Act II; her flashing anger on grasping how she'd been betrayed gave her voice a caustic edge as she seized Hagen's spear to declaim her oath to the gods. Thrilling moments.
In the opening phrases of the Immolation Scene Ms. Dalayman sounded just a trifle fatigued but she paced herself wisely. At 'Wie Sonne lauter' the soprano, buoyed by the upsweeping melody of the violins led by the Met's magical concertmaster David Chan, took everything to the highest emotional level. Her declamation here as she reflects on all that has led her to this fateful moment was so moving in its internalized thoughtfulness, and so beautifully expressed in song. Her hushed and sustained benediction at "Ruhe...ruhe, du Gott!' was truly heart-rending.
Seizing a torch and seizing the moment, Dalayman then pulled out all the stops and sailed thru the glorious music of the conclusion of the RING with epic power and glory. The evening was a great personal triumph for her and she very much deserved to bask in the warmth of the audience's approval at the end.
Equally impressive was the Siegfried of Jay Hunter Morris, a tall and confident stage creature with long blonde hair who sang this demanding music unstintingly and took the sometimes bizarre staging demands in stride. Overall, he was probably the best Siegfried of my experience and his poignant death scene took on a poetic aspect that was really very moving. The voice is not huge but Morris skillfully managed his resources to stay the course thru this voice-killer role.
Waltraud Meier as Waltraute sang her long narrative with a lieder singer's mastery of verbal nuance; her vocal colourings ranged from bitter to mystified as she told Brunnhilde the story of Wotan's decline. When Brunnhilde turns down Waltraute's plea to give up the ring, Meier turns caustic, lashing out both vocally and physically at her sister before storming off. Meier looked superb and along with Ms. Dalayman she made this scene a high point of the evening.
Gibichungs Rule! Three excellent performances from the singers portraying this dysfunctional family: Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune is shown above backstage with Hans-Peter Konig (Hagen) and Iain Paterson (Gunther)...Wendy graciously loaned me the above after-the-prima photo.
Mr. Konig carried on a grand tradition of superb Hagens I have seen and heard over the years. His voice was massive and dark, his stage deportment deceptively 'still' while one sensed the mind and spirit tingling with evil intent under the surface. Mr. Konig delivered page after page of powerful vocalism all evening, hurling vocal thunderbolts with splendid ease. Bravo!
Above: a Ken Howard image of Hans-Peter Konig with Wendy Bryn Harmer. Wendy looked wonderfully dishy as Gutrune, a lovely pawn in her half-brother's game. She made the most of the character's vocal opportunities to show off her ample and warm sound. It's time we heard her as Ariadne, Sieglinde, Desdemona and Elsa.
Blood-brothers: in Ken Howard's photo above Iain Paterson as Gunther, Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried. Iain Paterson's tall, blonde Gunther was a nice guy manipulated by outside forces into a situation where his honor and his very life were forfeit to a grander scheme of things beyond his comprehension. Grasping his betrayal on so many levels. Gunther is crushed by his own anguish. Mr. Paterson looked well, acted impressively and sang with clarity and power.
Rhinemaidens Tamara Mumford, Jennifer Johnson Cano and Erin Morley (Ken Howard photo, above) sang very well and scampered about 'the machine' like frisky dark water bugs. Eric Owens was a shadowy, sinister-voiced Alberich, and the Norns were also very good: contralto Maria Radner, mezzo Elizabeth Bishop and especially soprano Heidi Melton. The men's chorus were superb in the scene where Hagen summons his vassals.
So it was a very fine night musically at the Met. Strange though to see empty seats, even after a massive crowd for rush tickets had been serviced at 4:00 PM. I sometimes think in the Gelb era that live opera is too available: in movie theaters and endlessly on the Internet. Perhaps it is reaching a saturation point where it is no longer special but just another form of entertainment you can tune into while doing your ironing or compiling your income tax return. Opera was meant to be experienced live, in person, in an opera house: performances like tonight's GOTTERDAMMERUNG prove that that is where the great operas come most thrillingly to life. Recordings, broadcasts, DVDs: all are wonderful souvenirs of this greatest art form. But they don't replace the kinetic thrill of hearing voices sent gleaming out into a darkened hall. It's only in the opera house that you can get that visceral connection to the human voice. And thus, thru thick and thin, we continue to go....hoping for nights like tonight.
Metropolitan Opera House
February 7, 2012 Broadcast
Siegfried...............Jay Hunter Morris
Gutrune.................Wendy Bryn Harmer
First Norn..............Maria Radner
Second Norn.............Elizabeth Bishop
Third Norn..............Heidi Melton
Wellgunde...............Jennifer Johnson Cano
Stage Horn solo: Erik Ralske
All production images by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.