It's all over. Although Lepage's production has been modified, I still feel that it lets the Ring down badly in its cataclysmic conclusion. The plaster statues of the gods now crumble into the Rhine instead of exploding above the hall of the Gibichungs, which I find dramatically and theatrically more felicitous. But while the music is driven on by the momentum of all that has gone before, the production drifts. The orchestral performance was remarkable. The sound could occasionally seem unfocused, but the Beloved Flatmate were almost directly over the pit in a Family Circle box, which may have affected my perception. The dense tapestry of leitmotivs was given vibrant color; the score's movement towards an inevitable conclusion was thrilling with tension at every turn. The close connection to the singers which has characterized the rest of the cycle under Luisi was still apparent, especially effective in evoking the clash between Siegfried and Hagen. The Trauermarsch was of a shattering intensity, silence and sound alike pushed to the limits of the bearable. The long threnody of the immolation was handled with emotional nuance, and the Erlösungsmotiv over the Rhine was radiant. If only the production had made a bolder claim about the whys of this music.
The evening saw a good deal of fine singing, but on the whole, more vivid characterizations from the "villains" of the piece. The Rhinemaidens' diction was admirable (though their choreography does make them more than usually reminiscent of a sort of aquatic Andrews Sisters.) The Norns were excellent as before, with Heidi Melton's distinctive and exciting dramatic soprano making her a standout as the Third Norn. Mezzo Karen Cargill, making her Met debut as Waltraute, sang with rich, gleaming sound, and made a deeper impression on the audience than on Brünnhilde. Alberich's intrusion on the slumbering Hagen was made uncommonly exciting by Eric Owens. With rich sound and intelligent treatment of text, Owens gave the Nibelung's resentment a fierce urgency. Hagen himself, Hans-Peter König, gave a vocally and dramatically superb performance. He colored his stentorian sound expressively, and gave biting impact to the text. His Hagen treated Gutrune with faintly patronizing affection, Gunther with quiet contempt. The scene with the vassals was viscerally exciting, with admirable work by the men of the Met chorus. Another detail of excellence: König's pacing and emphasis on "So singe, Held!" made the Beloved Flatmate and me start with the shock of hearing simmering hatred suddenly revealed. Iain Paterson's Gunther was both pathetic and despicable (a weak man exploiting the weakness, and the strength, of others... ugh) and well-sung throughout. His attention to text was good, his sound (unusually bright for a bass-baritone, it seems to me) was muscular and expressive. Wendy Bryn Harmer sang the vulnerable Gutrune with bright sound and nice phrasing.
Siegfried was the impressive Stephen Gould, whom I last heard two years ago as Erik. Gould sang with both stamina and power. The very top of his range became slightly roughened by fatigue towards the end, but he did not bellow. His death scene was sung with sweetness of tone and impressive soft singing. There is a but. I got no real sense of who his Siegfried was--passionate lover, courageous warrior, still-naive young man?--and thus missed a sense of what was at stake in his assimilation into the world of the Gibichungs. Katrina Dalayman was a fierce Brünnhilde, animated at first by zeal for Siegfried's honor, later by desire for revenging the dishonor done to her. I didn't always find her audible at the lower end of her range, but this may have been affected by our proximity to the magnificent orchestra. She was strongest in the middle of her range, with less bloom on top, but seemed vocally secure throughout, and sang with beautiful tone, if not always with perfectly clear diction. What characterization weaknesses there were would have mattered less in a stronger production. With the Met forces, Wagner's cycle is an overwhelming musical experience, and I left exhausted and exhilarated. But Robert Lepage's avowedly reactionary project of "providing a platform" for the Ring rather than offering an interpretation of it (source) is one I find not only infuriating, but deeply unsatisfactory. Effects alone do not make good theater. Lepage has said that he deliberately set aside the century and a half of interpretative traditions surrounding the Ring. As a historian, I find this staggeringly irresponsible. Not only that, it is disingenuous: Wagner's Ring was never only about what appears on stage.
Curtain call photos:
|Morley, Cano, Mumford (Rhinemaidens)|
|Fabio Luisi, including the orchestra in applause|
|Act III cast, conductor, orchestra|