What's Playing? - Wagner's 'Götterdämmerung' at Met. Opera / Arden Anderson-Broecking
The world ended at about 6:00 on Saturday. At least, it did at the Metropolitan Opera House. Through the HD simulcast, we heard the final opera of Wagner's monumental cycle, "Der Ring des Nibelungen," "The Twilight of the Gods," or Götterdämmerung."
This opera is six hours long, with the intermissions, but it didn't seem that long, at least not to those of us who love Wagner's music and know something (or a lot) about the story. Wagner based it on a compendium of Norse and Germanic myths. It deals with the interactions of god, dwarves, giants and men, the stuff of which fairy tales are made.
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The music is probably the most difficult in the opera repertory, requiring an enormous orchestra and singers with both staying power and voices opulent enough to get through the orchestral curtain of sound. This one did. There was on that stage Saturday some of the finest singing imaginable, and the acting was excellent. There was no stand-stare and-bellow. The only caveat is Robert LePage's enormous, heavy, very expensive set, which consists of a row of steel see-saws that bend, ascend and descend and eventually create illusions of scenery, mainly because of the stunning lighting designed by Etienne Boucher. Being able to occasionally hear the computer-generated beeps as the planks moved during the longish interludes, wasn't exactly intrusive, but, oh, never mind.
The singing was what counted, as with many of these "innovative","concept" productions. The three Norns, who remind us of the story and actually tell us what's going to happen, were Maria Radner, Elizabeth Bishop, and Heidi Melton as Past, Present and Future.
They had to deal with a huge braided rope, representing the fate of the world, and did it handily, all the while doing some fine singing. The Rhinemaidens, yearning for the rightful return of their gold, slid around those steel planks and still managed to tease, cosset and try to con Siegfried into to giving them the cursed Ring on which the story turns. He hung on to the Ring, despite their efforts, but charmed them all the same, making his murder by Hagen even more tragic. Erin Morley, Jennifer Johnson Cano and the mellifluous Tamara Mumford sang the roles. (Mumford was previously impressive in "Anna Bolena" as the doomed Smeaton.)
Speaking of the hero, Siegfried, heard handsome Jay Hunter Morris, who understands all aspects of this role. He teased the Rhinemaidens, was passionate with Bruennhilde, wonderfully bewildered when conned and drugged by the ambitious, scheming family of Gunther, Gutrune and the smoothly, utterly evil Hagen. On top of this full characterization, Morris made singing this demanding role look easy. Deborah Voigt was Bruennhilde. By this performance, she made this role hers. Running a gamut of emotion from passionate love to desperate rage, grief and finally, fiery triumph in her Immolation Scene, when she literally brings about, the end of all things from the gods on down. Bruennhilde's intense music, which goes from one end of the singer's range to the other, was most recently mastered by the incomparable Birgit Nilsson. Without making impossible comparisons, suffice it to say that this afternoon, Voigt aced the role. Both she and Morris paced these three acts expertly, partly due to the superb conducting and support of Fabio Luisi, but also by their own musicality, vocal intelligence and sounds.
The wonderful Eric Owens, in an all too brief scene, came back as Alberich, the power-hungry dwarf who started it all in "Das Rheingold," reminding his son Hagen to regain that Ring at all costs. Hagen was sung by bass Hans Peter Koenig, sinister, sly and sonorous. You really didn't like him. Gunther, a Teutonic Caspar Milquetoast (an oxymoron?) and his silly but sweet and undeservedly duped sister Gutrune were very well sing and acted by Iain Paterson and Heidi Melton. I loved her slightly manic eyes. Waltraud Meier, in a welcome and memorable return as Waltraute, Bruennhilde's sister Valkyrie, who, in a daring visit, pleads desperately with her to return the Ring to the Rhinemaidens and save their world from destruction. Bruennhilde refuses. For her, it is her wedding ring from her beloved Siegfried, right until the end.
The entire Ring cycle will return in the spring portion of the MetOpera season, but this was the last performance for the present.