Anchorage Daily News, 28 May 2011
Wagner: Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, May 14, 2011 (cinema)
Stupendous 'Die Walkure' repeats at local cinemas
Due to travel, I missed the big screen broadcast of Richard Wagner's "Das Rheingold" from the Metropolitan Opera last fall. When scenes from that production were replayed as a cinematic pre-curtain feature before the recent broadcast of "Il Trovatore," I kicked myself for missing a production as stunning visually as it was musically.

Wild horses couldn't keep me from seeing the broadcast of "Die Walkure," the next opera in Wagner's "Ring" cycle, when it screened live May 14. It meant spending five and a half hours of a beautiful spring day indoors, but the experience was worth every second.

Wagner isn't for everyone. Many people with taste find his scores impenetrable and unlistenable. He can get pretty wordy. Even Wagner enthusiasts may admit to sitting through the first two acts saying to themselves, "C'mon, get to the 'Ride of the Valkyries' already!"

Key to transforming the musical experience into a theatrical one were the movie's subtitles. I've heard the "Ring" in English before, and still didn't get it -- until this broadcast. It seemed less wordy, or rather, most of the words seemed important. I felt that I got closer to understanding Wagner than I have in the past 50 years of listening to a lot of his music.

This being a Met production, it goes without saying that the voices were stupendous. Some found Deborah Voigt a bit light for Brunnhilde. But no one could fault Bryn Terfel's Wotan, Jonas Kaufmann's Siegmund or Eva-Maria Westbroek's Sieglinde. Conductor James Levine was at his most fluid and nuanced, and the Met orchestra was at its full-throated best.

The set, a line of rotating panels also featured in "Rheingold," kept me transfixed waiting to see what it would do next. The stagehands call it "the Machine" and difficulties with the computer programming of the thing caused a delay in the start time in markets where it really was shown live. (The tape-delayed same-day Anchorage start time, mercifully, was 1 p.m.) When the "Ride of the Valkyries" finally did arrive, it was hard not to laugh at the sight of warrior maidens apparently on teeter-totters. And there were times it didn't seem to be functioning as planned; Kaufmann made a grand gesture toward it at the end of the first act -- and nothing happened. I suspected something was supposed to. But it also made for some jaw-dropping effects when it worked.

I initially thought the acting was slightly less convincing than what one might expect at a junior high school production of "Annie." Every singer seemed to come on with a single stock image in mind that they stuck with until the bitter end. Despite that, I had the sense of genuine dramatic development and character evolution. Close-ups and opera singers may not be made for each other. (Kaufmann's drool at one point remains an unfortunate memory.) But at least one could see how earnestly they were addressing those all-important notes.

That was driven home the next day as KLEF played a radio broadcast of the same performance. During intermissions, I threw on recordings of the scene just aired as sung by great artists of yesteryear. The Met cast really were acting, turning in all-star performances -- but mainly with their voices. Voigt may not be Birgit Nilsson. Who is? But she's darned good, better than most the Brunnhildes I've heard lately.

The odd thing is that I had been distracted by the visual image. I'll surrender to the music on Wednesday when the show is repeated. It will screen at 6:30 p.m. at both the Century 16 and Regal Tikahtnu cinemas.

There are two intermissions. "Walkure" veterans will advise that you drink nothing until the second act is over. And don't plan to get home until after midnight.


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