Opera Now, September 2011
Robert Levine
Wagner: Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 4/22/11
Die Walküre - Wagner
The machinery in Robert Lepage's new production of the Ring continues to fascinate and perplex - all 45 tons of it. It also bring its dangers. On opening night, leading lady Deborah Voigt slipped and fell, singing her
`Ho jo-to jo' lying prone on the stage; and ten days later, a Valkyrie fell off her horse and had to leave the scene.

At the close of das Rheingold, part I of the Ring, the gods were seen from above crossing the Rainbow Bridge into their new home Valhalla, which closed behind them thanks to the omnipresent, ever-changing 24 gray planks.

The planks are still there at the outset of the storm that opens Die Walküre, remaining throughout the opera in different forms, morphing in front of our eyes (and making irritating sounds).

All talk remains about the sets and videos, and there's no denying their fascination: louring clouds turn into a brilliant snowstorm; planks assemble to form a dense forest; Bryn Terfel's colossal Wotan is first seen atop a volcanic rock that spews molten lava; a huge eye-ball appears through which Brünnhilde can `see' what Wotan is narrating; Our final vista is an overhead view of Brünnhilde lying upside-down on her rock amid flames.

It's quite stunning, but the problem is that it is also distracting; one wonders what it will do next instead of getting involved musically. Moreover, Lepage has forgotten to actually direct his singers at times and we are often left with stock gestures.

Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund pays attention to every nuance, every change in the volatile atmosphere of the first act, and his 'Wintersturme' aria is a wonder of colours and feelings. Eva-Marie Westbroek seems to be holding back as Sieglinde. Together, they are fine, if a bit remote. Hans-Peter König is a wonderful return to evilsounding Hundings, as menacing as possible.

Stephanie Blythe's regal Fricka almost walks away with the opera with her authority and grand tone. She actually breaks into tears at one point - the epitome of manipulation - and her husband Wotan gives in. After that, Wotan's bravado is replaced by anger and self-pity and Bryn Terfel rants and raves with great passion and volume. His love for Brünnhilde in the final scene is enormously touching, as he scales his voice back to a tender whisper.

Deborah Voigt, singing her first Brünnhilde, is simply wrong for the part. The voice has lost its warmth, thinned out and turned edgy at the top, and the midrange was never strong.

James Levine, leading the glorious Met Orchestra, has trimmed a few minutes off the first and last act from his last outings with this opera, and the new sense of one seamless sweep is welcome. So even if Lepage refuses to offer any particular insight or vision, Levine keeps the listener riveted.


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