The Star-Ledger, April 24, 2011
By Ronni Reich
Wagner: Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 22. April 2011
"Die Walküre" at the Metropolitan Opera
Battles that cause seismic shifts in the balance of power between men and gods and change the world forever form the nucleus of Richard Wagner’s epic four-opera “Der Ring des Nibelungen.”

In “Die Walküre” (“The Valkyrie”)—the second installment of the “Ring Cycle”—we begin to see the conflicts that lead directly to the final “twilight of the gods.” The opera calls on the orchestra and singers equally to tell its story—all the more reason for concern that Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine would be unable to conduct the premiere of Robert Lepage’s new production on Friday.

But Levine pulled through the health problems that have plagued him recently, and the drama often played out most intensely in the orchestra. There were a few rough moments early on, and overall it wasn’t as tautly woven as the fall’s “Das Rheingold.”

But the orchestra conveyed the work’s raw power stunningly. Act I flew by, with an intoxicating sweep given to its heady, sensual love arias. More affecting was the sting of the god ruler Wotan’s frustration in the tense whirling strings and penetrating brass culminating in the devastating rip of trumpets, trombones and cymbal when he bitterly accepted defeat.

Even with the cachet of its notorious 45-ton set and a starry cast, onstage, the production was less consistent. For a fantastical opera, there wasn’t as much imagination in the sets as one might have hoped, the color palette was mostly drab, and singers were often forced unflatteringly far upstage. The singers’ performances, while all admirable in their theatrical commitment, were mixed in terms of total payoff.

Still, “The Machine” of moving planks that dominated Lepage’s stage morphed into several eye-catching and unlikely formations. The trees of the forest in Act I had an impressive, rounded-out look courtesy of video image artist Boris Firquet and the snowy mountain and ring of fire that close the opera were artfully rendered. Having the planks jut out for the Valkyries to whip them like horses during their famous riding music added a bit of whimsy.

As Siegmund, the illegitimate son of Wotan and a mortal woman, Jonas Kaufmann sang heroically with a sizeable tenor and an attractive mahogany timbre. His musicality shined and his high notes brought down the house.

Eva-Marie Westbroek sang the first act as his twin sister and bride-to-be Sieglinde somewhat shakily but still displayed a jewel-like sound. Because of illness, Margaret Jane Wray replaced her for the subsequent two and gave a strong, solid performance. As their adversary Hunding, Hans-Peter König contributed his booming bass effectively.

As Wotan, Bryn Terfel’s rugged bass-baritone may not be the most godlike but he used it to his fullest advantage. His character’s desperation and bitterness in defeat, as well as his tender affection for his daughter Brünnhilde, were touching. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe was, as usual, a powerhouse as his commanding wife Fricka.

Soprano Deborah Voigt fell attempting to mount “The Machine” during her entrance as Brünnhilde. To launch into her high-flying “Hojotoho” call from there must have been daunting and her top notes suffered. Her performance improved after that into a warm, endearing portrayal.

Her sister Valkyries sounded fresh and robust and along with Kaufmann and Blythe, they were the vocal highlights of the production.

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