Two Saturdays ago I took off from the house into the surprisingly rainy morning and headed straight to the AMC movie theater in Mission Valley to catch the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast of Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). This, of course, is the grand finale of the German master's most ambitious musical drama quadruplet. I am not a lover of the Wagnerian operas, but the quality of the cast and, having seen the previous broadcast of Die Walküre last May, the curiosity over the staging (with that monstrous one-set-fits-all shape-shifting La Machina) compelled me to spend six full hours of my life sitting through one of opera's most long-winded works.
You would think that, for arriving at the theater a full 50 minutes before showtime, I was an early bird that was sure to earn my pick of good cinema seats. It was just good enough to get inside the auditorium with 45 mins to spare since all the good seats were claimed very shortly after! More than I was when I attended the HD broadcasts of Carmen and Der Rosenkavalier, I was quite surrounded with a sea of gray hair for this Wagner opera. A genial and talkative lady who sat behind me was an 88 yrs old opera novice who professed to not liking Wagner's stuff that much but was determined to 'see everything' in her effort to educate herself about this art genre. How can anyone not admire that attitude??? If I ever lived to be that age I hope I'll still retain as inquisitive a mind!
If you aren't familiar with the Ring of Nieberlungen story, I'm afraid it's a long and complicated one that I don't particularly feel like regurgitating. In any case, one can hardly do better than resorting to Anna Russell's take on it to catch up on the story!
Unlike Die Walküre, the broadcast of Götterdämmerung went without any machinery glitch. Maestro Fabio Luisi was conducting the Metropolitan Opera's celebrated orchestra this time around (Maestro James Levine is battling a series of illness), and the combination is so efficient and effective that even after 6 hrs I could still not find it in myself to complain about anything. Siegfried's Rhine Journey was swiftly eventful, and the Funeral March taunt and traumatic. It helped that the singing cast was so well stocked with big and very musical Wagnerian voices that the performance was probably the shortest six-hours-show I've ever attended.
Having found Deborah Voigt rather low-octaned as DieWalküre Brünnhilde, I was quite impressed with her quite more dramatically demanding Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde. Mind, she started out a bit underpowered, still, but absolutely caught fire in the final two acts and gave positively everything she had. The voice was just large enough and the range just wide enough, and she put so much into her acting that if one both watched and listened at the same time one would be hard put to find anything wanting.
|Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde (Brigitte Lacombe)|
Jay Hunter Morris, released from the San Diego Opera's engagement as Ahab in this month's Moby Dick (though he will sing the role here tomorrow as Ben Heppner has called in sick) to sing Siegfried in both this opera and its prequel, was a most convincing good-hearted but dull-IQed hero both visually and vocally. I hope he isn't getting himself over-engaged too soon in this repertoire, though, as the voice sounded a bit tired by the end of the long opera.
Iain Paterson and Wendy Bryn Harmer were splendid as the Gibichung siblings Gunther and Gutrune. Royal in their bearing and expressive without much hamming up, they actually made the pair quite more human and humane than the characters often appear. Bryn Harmer, in particular, has the making of a wonderful Sieglinde a few years down the road, I think. Eric Owens was menacing as the vengeful Alberich. As Waltraute, Brünnhilde's panicky Valkyrie sister was a very luxurious casting of Waltraud Meier. Her voice sounded surprisingly small at first, but she heated up speedily and chew the scene like nobody else does.
Even the minor cast members were uniformly first rate! Of the three Norns, Heidi Melton as the 3rd Norn was particularly fetching in her vocal security and stage-awareness. I almost mistook the Rheinmaidens of Erin Morley, Jennifer Johnson, and Tamara Mumford for ballerina stand-ins! So wonderfully lithe and nimble they were. Then they started singing and put a new image of ship-wrecking water nymphs in my head.
As impressive as just about the whole cast was, it was the sonorous and imposing presence of Hans Peter König's Hagen that walked off with the show! I'm a die-hard mezzophil, but a few notes into his singing and Herr König had me converted to his dark bassly subject. Half the audience in the movie theater just about jumped off our seats to join the man when he blasted the floor off the auditorium in his call to the Gibichung vassals to gather 'round and welcome Gunther and his bride. As sorry as I am to have been too young to hear live the voice of Hans Hotter, I am a mile over the moon about being an opera fan in the Hans Peter König era.
|Met HD broadcast in movie theater - intermission. (Smorg)|
There were two long intermissions where the sturdy-bottoms among us got to see behind the scene interviews with cast members, hosted by soprano Patricia Racette (she was here a few seasons ago as Madama Butterfly!). Perhaps I'm being too picky, but somehow she seemed rather scripted and not quite at ease. She was a big improvement from Placido Domingo, to be sure. At least I could understand everything that was said... though I was surprised at how accommodating the cast members were about talking so much in between their big singing scenes!
I also had a bit of a problem with the video direction. Watching opera in HD broadcast instead of onsite, of course, puts us audience at the mercy of the video director who gets to choose what we got to see, and the director's tendency to linger on closed up shots bugged me after a while. Many of the closed up views of the singers just aren't flattering, and it was a bit weird to see Siegfried lying there clearly belly-breathing well after he expired (I doubt that such movement was visible to the live audience in the house... and wouldn't have been visible to us HD broadcast viewers had the shot gone wide after his last slump).
I don't know if the millions Robert Lepage spent on the Machine was worth it. I like the thing and how the lack of time needed to change set in between different scenes helped moved things along (and how the bareness of the stage otherwise forces a lot of good acting out of the singers), but is it still very expensive even for a set of four operas. Some other audience members didn't like the machine as much.