|Christine Goerke. Photo via IMG Artists|
The Tannhäuser overture and bacchanal saw the orchestra at its finest, with each theme given dramatic value, and with sprightliness leavening the pseudo-medieval pomp and ceremony. When Goerke entered, she lit up the hall, embracing its dingy neoclassicism in an expression of radiant joy before launching into "Dich, teure Halle." Elisabeth's effervescent happiness filled Goerke's sound as her sound filled the hall. German nerd that I am, I loved the expression which Goerke gave to text. The very strength of her rich sound seemed almost to work against the desolation of "Allmächt'ge Jungfrau," but perhaps I have insufficient sympathy with Elisabeth's self-denying selflessness. Certainly Goerke sang it beautifully. I was delighted that the GVO gave this aria its response, Wolfram's achingly beautiful "O du mein holder Abendstern." Jesse Blumberg sang it with a resonant, warm baritone well-suited to it. I found myself wishing that the legato phrases had been taken more slowly, and that Blumberg's perfectly correct German had perhaps been invested with more poignancy, but judging by aufience response, these reservations placed me in a minority.
After the interval, we departed for the coast of Norway with Der Fliegende Holländer. The overture gave us a very vigorous storm, if a less than demonic one; the trumpets did themselves proud anticipating the Last Trump. Goerke threw herself into the role of Senta with electrifying results. Her fervor embraced the romantic narrative as well as the vision of her own romantic triumph, building tension through the alteration of vocal color as well as the assured use of text. "Ohne Ziel, ohne Rast, ohne Ruh!" became an increasingly fevered, prophetic refrain, twisting until it found release in Senta's ecstatic climax.
This frenetic circling through time gave way to the Tristan prelude, in which the suspension of time is sought, and almost found in the silences between the tragic chords. The place of Tristan as one of the sacred pieces of the opera repertoire was borne in on me afresh: we all cared how it was performed, of course, but the really important thing was that it was performed. We all breathed with the music, knowing it in its inevitability and its yearning. At the overture's conclusion, though, instead of the westward wind, it was the Liebestod that we received after a momentary pause. This Isolde was an unpretentious mystic, wide-eyed with wonder (I was reminded of my medieval saints.) Slightly tremulous in the opening phrase, Goerke gained strength with the first appeal: "Seht ihr's, Freunde? Seht ihr's nicht?" We were all included, invited through the unfolding brightness of her tone into the vision. Goerke's tempi were leisurely, her use of dynamics unusually subdued,with the result that the focus was not on the extravagance of her utterances but on their essence: the claiming of the known body of her lover. This domestication of eroticism (as it were) I found strangely moving. The last phrases were infinitely drawn out, as if time had ceased to matter. All that remained to Isolde was her joy: any choice would lead to Tristan. Vallet led the orchestra, hushed, to its conclusion; and while he kept his arms upraised for several moments thereafter, the audience was reverently silent. The Met audiences could learn something.