, April 29, 2011
Jerome R. Sehulster
Wagner: Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 22. April 2011
Ring cycle continues at Met
The new production of Wagner's epic "Die Walküre," unveiled this April/May, is the second installment of the Metropolitan Opera's new Ring cycle. The Ring is scheduled for completion next season with the premieres of "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung."

As in the new "Das Rheingold" (the prologue to the Ring), which opened the Met this past September, Designer/Director Robert Lepage's "Walküre" is set on the unit of 24 grand metal planks which can be moved to create all sorts of configurations. On these, video projections create the scenic effects and atmospheres.

Particularly striking in the new "Walküre" were the forest scenes, in which the planks are vertical with projections of dark and ominous tree bark, and the striking rock projections that color the grand final Magic Fire Scene.

But as in the new "Rheingold," sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn't. Sorely missing to my eyes is an overall visual atmosphere around and behind the unit set. The oppressive darkness and gloom that pervades the sound picture of "Die Walküre" is only sometimes realized, thus giving us part of Wagner's total artistic conception.

For instance, the famous "Ride of the Valkyries," which opens Act 3, has none of the mists and clouds of the storms so wildly depicted in the orchestra. And without these, the calm after the storm and the twilight that ensues (also clearly heard in the orchestra) have no visual contrast.

Wagner's original stage directions for the Ride call for some of the Valkyries to emerge from the clouds on flying horses with slain heroes across their saddles. Not to quibble here: no one ever gets this scene anywhere close to realization in the house. Lepage's solution is to have the eight Valkyries each positioned atop a plank at its joint, reins in hand, such that the plank's rise and fall depicts the bobbing head of a horse. Applause at this when the curtain opened was mixed with some chuckles.

However, this staging is not without its risks. In order to "land" on stage, each Valkyrie has to slide down her plank. A slight miscue in the performance I was at (April 28) was enough to cause a hard landing for one. The show must go on: she returned (to applause) to complete the relatively short scene, but she did not come out with the others at the curtain call. In "Das Rheingold" most of the sliders and climbers were stunt doubles.

Musically, it was an exciting evening. Jonas Kaufmann's soulful Siegmund was in top form throughout, he being both an earful and an eyeful. Kaufmann's dark tenor sound, topped with a thrilling ring, makes his a performance soon to be legend. His Sieglinde was Eva-Maria Westbroek, a Bayreuth standout of late. She solidly matches Kaufmann's passion. Since Act 1 of "Die Walküre" is all about the growing love between Siegmund and Sieglinde and since these two were "on," the standing ovation they received at the act's end was certainly justified.

But the others were on top of their game too. Bryn Terfel's Wotan grew in complexity and anguish as the fetters of obligation and the oppression of Alberich's threat tightened around him. Heroic and expressive, Terfel's magnificent voice filled the house from beginning to end of his long role. His is a performance to talk about.

Soprano Deborah Voigt, after conquering the other heroic soprano roles in Wagner's operas, finally sings a much-anticipated Brünnhilde. Always committed dramatically, Voigt gives a girlish Valkyrie, the best-loved daughter of Wotan; vocally, she comes in a bit on the lighter side of the role. Her character matures over the course of the evening as she confronts the depth of human feeling through the death of Siegmund and the plight of Sieglinde. Voigt's voice darkens nicely by the final act. Stephanie Blythe's Fricka is richly and imperiously intoned, as is Hans-Peter König's menacing Hunding. Lepage's staging of the Ring (so far) is pretty much down stage, which, of course, favors the voices.

James Levine conducts this "Walküre" with the same intelligence and drive he has shown in years past. Siegmund and Sieglinde may have the most passionate music of the Ring, but long stretches in "Die Walkure," such as the father/daughter chat between Wotan and Brünnhilde, are deeply soul searching. Levine seamlessly contrasts these introspective scenes with the more extraverted ones to make for a fluid, involving experience.

The Met's new "Die Walküre" is performed again on the Met stage on the evenings of May 2, 5 and 9, with a matinee on Saturday, May 14. Visit or call 212-362-6000. The matinee performance will be broadcast on the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network, including WQXR (105.9 FM) and WNYC-HD2 (93.9) and New Haven W296AO 107.1; Hamden W226AG 93.1; and Hartford WJMJ-FM 86.9. Please note: the May 14 matinee will be telecast live in HD at the Ridgefield Playhouse on May 14 at noon, with an encore at 6 p.m. Ridgefield's website is The HD telecast is May 15 at the Quick Center in Fairfield (curtain times are 11:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.) Tickets for the Quick Center are available online at "Die Walküre" will also be performed next season as part of the Met's complete new Ring cycle.


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