Berkshire on Stage, 04/24/11
Larry Murray
Wagner: Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 22. April 2011
The Valhalla Machine returns for The Met’s Die Walküre Live in HD
Photo: Metropolitan Opera
Those who plan to hear The Met’s new Die Walküre when it is telecast live on May 14, 2011, have five exciting hours of great singing and staging to look forward to.

Friday night’s opening of the new production was exciting, both for the presence of maestro James Levine (a bit frail but unimpeded by his recent health issues) and the Met’s Valhalla Machine. There was truly magnificent singing, from the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as Wotan, a powerful Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde. and as The Met’s new young Siegmund, the tenor Jonas Kaufmann who is in every way, well, godlike.

This new Die Walküre will be experienced by millions of people when the May 14 12 p.m. matinee is transmitted to more than 1500 movie theaters in 46 countries around the world as part of The Met: Live in HD.

But it was Robert Lepage’s staging of the second opera in Wagner’s cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen that has much of the buzz going once again.

The 24 planks on the gargantuan machine worked well enough, but they are a bit noisy and do not always provide secure footing for the singers.

Terfel has to balance himself on occasion, and Voigt has a bit of a slip. For all its heft, the device is still a bit wobbly. Even so the projections and hydraulic tricks the contraption can deliver are still a sight to behold. One might say this is opera as might be re-imagined by Cirque de Soleil.

At the opening April 22 was an exceptional cast of Wagnerian singers, most of whom are singing their roles for the first time at the Met. The cast is expected to remain essentially the same for the telecast. Deborah Voigt sings her first-ever performances of Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie of the title; Bryn Terfel, in a North American role debut, is her disapproving father Wotan; Stephanie Blythe is the imposing queen of the gods, Fricka.

Eva-Maria Westbroek (who only made it through the first act due to illness), was making her Met debut as was the aforementioned Jonas Kaufmann, in his impressive role debut, as the long-separated twins Sieglinde and Siegmund. Hans-Peter König also made his Met role debut as Sieglinde’s jealous husband, Hunding.

Lepage’s production of the opera combines cutting-edge video and scenic technology with traditional costuming to create Wagner’s world of gods and heroes. Die Walküre employs the same flexible computerized set seen in the season-opening production of Das Rheingold, which will shift and adapt to create 22 settings and scenes—including the forest hut of Hunding and Sieglinde, the jagged mountaintop where Valkyries bring the bodies of dead heroes, and the flaming rock where Wotan forces Brünnhilde into supernatural slumber.

Levine, who has conducted every complete Ring cycle at the Met since 1989, will lead all seven performances of Die Walküre this season. Two of the stars of Die Walküre, Deborah Voigt and Jonas Kaufmann, are singing their respective roles for the first time ever.

Brünnhilde will be Voigt’s sixth Wagner heroine at the Met, where her repertory has included Sieglinde in Die Walküre, Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Isolde in Tristan und Isolde, and Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer; next season, she will sing Brünnhilde in complete Ring cycles at the Met. Kaufmann, who returns to the Met next season in the title role of Des McAnuff’s production of Faust, has become well-known for accomplished performances in a varied repertory. His performances at the Met have included Alfredo in La Traviata, Cavaradossi in Tosca, and Don José in Carmen, while internationally he has sung the title roles in Lohengrin and Werther, Florestan in Fidelio, and the Chevalier des Grieux in Manon. Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek makes her Met debut as Sieglinde. A leading international soprano, her roles in recent seasons have included Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, and the title role in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s world premiere production of Anna Nicole at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. She has sung Sieglinde at Bayreuth, San Francisco Opera, and Frankfurt Opera.

Three singers from the new production premiere of Das Rheingold return for Die Walküre. Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel returns as Wotan, his tenth role at the Met.

Terfel most recently sang Scarpia in Tosca during the 2009-10 season. Terfel’s other Met roles have included Wolfram in Tannhaüser and the title roles in Falstaff, Don Giovanni, and Le Nozze di Figaro. Stephanie Blythe sings Fricka, a role she first sang at the Met in the 2007-08 season under the baton of Lorin Maazel. Her broad Met repertory encompasses a variety of composers and styles, ranging from Handel and Gluck to Puccini and Verdi to Wagner. In the Met’s 2011-12 season, she will make her Met role debut as Amneris in Aida, reprise her Eduige in Handel’s Rodelinda, and sing Fricka in complete Ring cycles. Hans-Peter König, who sang the giant Fafner in Das Rheingold, will make his Met role debut as Hunding. He made his Met debut last season as Sarastro in Die Zaüberflote and also sang Daland in Der Fliegende Holländer.

Lepage’s production team for Die Walküre includes Associate Director Neilson Vignola, set designer Carl Fillion, costume designer François St-Aubin, lighting designer Etienne Boucher, and video image artist Boris Firquet.

The telecast can be seen in the Berkshires at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield and at the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown.


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