The Philadelphia Inquirer, APRIL 26, 2011
By David Patrick Stearns
Wagner: Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 22. April 2011
Met's 'Die Walkure' is lavish and musically distinguished
NEW YORK - Now that's more like it. The Metropolitan Opera's new, still-unfolding Ring cycle - easily the most-scrutinized international operatic event of the season - was a curious case of immense resources with stunningly wan results when the first installment arrived in the fall. Now, in Die Walkure (which opened Friday and arrives in HD simulcasts at seven area movie theaters on May 14), many of the same talents have turned something close to 180 degrees.

Friday's performance was visually lavish, artistically meaningful, and musically distinguished. Even worries about the health of music director James Levine were somewhat assuaged: Though he can barely walk, he used two vigorous arms (one of which had been closed for repairs) that beat clearly to the end of the opera's five-hour expanse with a crisp concision that his Wagner performances previously lacked. The opera's star, Deborah Voigt, wasn't as fortunate in the key role of Brunnhilde - and not just because she literally stumbled at her entrance.

The centerpiece of the Robert Lepage production - a 45-ton contraption simply known as "The Machine" - justified itself (as well as its considerable part in the $16 million budget for the four-part Ring) by creating all the atmospheric effects - only hinted at in the previous Das Rheingold - that one could want from a traditional Ring, and with a penetrating, high-tech vividness.

Split into 24 planks that act as huge video screens but are solid enough to be walked on, the machine creates composite images and also divides itself into various configurations with limited versatility. But hard-to-convey effects - the Act 3 circle of fire, the craggy, snow-capped peaks, succeed as rarely before. In the Act 2 opening with Valkyries arriving on horseback, the warrior women had the planks harnessed like horses - witty and effective.

Characterization among the singers was often lacking in Rheingold, but not in Walkure. Bryn Terfel's precise, lean baritone is a break from the high-amplitude German basses, and he used it with a dramatic precision that truly brought home the dilemma of supreme power: As chief of the gods, he has made a mess of his world with legions of illegitimate children who practice their own forms of free will. And as someone whose inner whims are physically manifested in the outside world, his Wotan is utterly sick of himself.

The unstoppable Stephanie Blythe, as his humiliated wife, Fricka, was even more theatrically articulate in her brief scenes, and there's not a more seamless Wagnerian mezzo today. As Siegmund, tenor Jonas Kaufmann was thrilling: He's a fine lyric Wagnerite, a charismatic stage presence, and in response to all the wolf imagery in his role, adopted a lupine lope. His Sieglinde, Eva-Maria Westbroek, sounded ill, and was replaced in Act 2 by the sturdy Margaret Jane Wray.

And Voigt? Though the voice has lost its lushness, she projected the vocal lines well enough; the biggest problem is that she just doesn't have a heroic temperament to truly sell the role. She's preferable to more typical Brunnhildes with factory-whistle voices. With any luck, she'll get through this with her composure intact, and stick to what she does best.


 back top