The Intrepid Travelogue
by Sally Scanlon
Wagner: Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 22. April 2011
“Die Walküre” at the Metropolitan Opera, a Review
The much-anticipated new production of Wagner’s Die Walküre opened at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Friday April 22 to many bravos and scattered boos. The bravos were long, loud, and unanimous for conductor James Levine, who led a shimmering orchestra to dazzling heights of richly detailed sound and expressivity that maintained the tension in this familiar score while letting the listener luxuriate in the beauty of the soundscape. As usual, Mr. Levine was at the same time always sensitive to his singers, never drowning them out or pushing them with odd tempi.

Jonas Kaufmann, the Siegmund, sang ardently and looked the part of Wotan’s hero son. His Sieglinde, Eva-Maria Westbroek, making her Met debut, returned his ardor and sounded radiant in their love duet. The two made a convincing pair of lovers. Westbroek, unfortunately, sang only the first act. General Manager Peter Gelb came out before Act 2 to say that she was ill but would try to sing the act. In the event, her cover Margaret Jane Wray, took her place in Acts 2 and 3 and acquitted herself well though without the beauty of sound that Westbroek brought to Act 1.

The immortals enter in Act 2. Bryn Terfel did well by Wotan for the most part. Deborah Voigt, whose combination of vocal beauty and power has made her a world-class Strauss singer, was disappointing vocally as Brünnhilde. The voice sounded sharp and pushed in Act 2, particularly at the beginning. The pushing stopped in Act 3, but the lush sound one looks for in Voigt didn’t return. In fairness, she will likely sound much better in future performances, because she started this one with a fall, literally. As she was climbing up the “rocky” set piece during her first entrance, she slipped, fell, and slid down to the floor. Give her an A-double-plus for quick recovery; she righted herself quickly and went on with the performance, including those first “hojotohos.” She and Terfel formed a convincing bond as father and daughter, making the final scene all the more powerful.

Stephanie Blythe brought her usual plush sound to Fricka, and Brünnhilde’s Valkerie sisters sounded wonderful.

The production by Robert Lepage worked fine in Act 1, where video projections and the 24 giant bars that move in multiple directions to form the set pieces gave us at first a forest and then Hunding’s home. It worked less well in Act 2, where most of the stage becomes a vast gray fissured dome rent with what may be lava (the color is a darkish red). Fricka’s “chariot” (a giant chair with ram’s heads decorating the arms) rose up noisily from center back on some sort of elevator and moved slowly and noisily downstage for her dialog with Wotan. It was even noisier as it retreated; most unsatisfying.

It was the final Act that suffered most. The Valkerie “ride” in on the moving planks. They sit on the upstage ends wielding long reins and the planks move up and down to become horses’ heads. It looks fairly silly at that point and becomes downright risible when each “dismounts” by sliding down her plank steed as if sliding down a banister, albeit a broad one. Each brings along a sort of gunnysack (a stand-in for the dead hero she’s carrying to Valhalla) which she slings to the ground and later kicks off.

Lapage saves the worst for last. After a rather moving scene between father and daughter on the flat apron, Wotan puts Brünnhilde to sleep and then exits stage right to reappear, rag doll in arms, at the upstage center of the rocky dome. He places the doll head down across the rock, a position that not only looks ridiculous but would be impossible to sustain for the decade or so before Siegfried’s arrival in the Ring’s next installment. Then instead of ringing the rock with fire, he has fire (more accurately, video projections thereof) on both sides but not directly in front of the rock nor around the back.

Lepage and his design team came in for some of those boos at the curtain. Fortunately, the orchestra was so outstanding that most members of the audience were willing to focus on it and offer their applause to the great team of musicians and their conductor who brought it to life.


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