The final installment in new Met Ring Cycle was musically impressive but oddly not very gripping. There was much to admire but little to melt from.
Among the most admirable of a strong group of performances was that of Deborah Voigt, who to this attender has been not entirely at ease with Brünnhilde in the past two productions. Here she delivered all one could ask for. She was confident, at ease on stage, and on top of the substantial vocal demands of the role. She was capably and sympathetically supported by Fabio Luisi at the podium, who found more romance than rigor in the score.
I have been a huge admirer of Stephen Gould since his Bayreuth debut as Siegfried in the 2006 Ring, and his performance of the role in Vienna was equally thrilling. At the Met he showed himself a musically accurate, full-bodied, vigorously supported Siegfried, full of big sound, true pitch and focus. Compared to prior outings in this role he seemed to be a tad under the weather. Compared to almost any other Siegfried, the performance was a triumph.
To see Waltraud Meier perform Waltraute is an unexpected pleasure. I have always liked her, but I have loved her ever since I attended a performance of Die Walküre in Berlin where, upon a sudden indisposition, Meier sang Sieglinde, changed wigs and sang Fricka, and changed back again to complete her Sieglinde. She is so cool!
The casting of these productions has been impeccable. Eric Owens once again surpasses anyone’s idea of evil, and Hans-Peter König proves why he is probably the best Hagen around. (At the Wagner Society Seminar on February 5, König was discussing why Hagen and Hunding behave the way they do, from their perspectives. But Alberich? “No, no,” said König, “he’s just an evil guy.”)
I owe Robert Lepage an apology. In a recent interview he pointed out, with complete justification, that the same audiences who gush and beam over performances turn around and condemn Lepage as a stage director because of “The Machine.” The weeks of rehearsal with the actor/singers is as much Lepage’s work as the lighting, costumes and set. My earlier review of Das Rheingold made this error and I retract my criticism. In particular, the relationships among Gunther, Gutrune and Hagen were as nuanced and satisfying in this production as in any I have seen, and special credit should go not only to Lepage but to Iain Paterson and Wendy Bryn Harmer, who comported themselves like intelligent, sensitive and supremely gifted actors and offered a complex, nuanced portrayal of characters too often reduced to easy caricature.
The production’s visual motif is the brown concentric rings of a tree – a brilliant confluence of the two dominant objects of this drama, the World Ash and the ring itself. The production does not feature the magical, breathtaking theatricality of the three preceding works, inasmuch as in Gotterdammerung we don’t have the narrative advanced by gods and elves and winged steeds. Here the Rhinemaidens sing above-ground, the bridges are made of wood rather than rainbows, and the grisly story is “human, all too human.” I missed the splendor of Lepage’s masterly stagecraft, though, and hope that he has scheduled some time to keep working on this production, á la Bayreuth. In particular, the ending moments are staged ineffectively and feature several lapses of taste that need immediate correction.
Met General Manager Peter Gelb writes in his Program Note: “The Ring has become an example of what an opera company can do to change its character from careful to bold. Our new Ring is a symbol of a Met that embraces theatrical invention while honoring the great musical traditions of the past.” I think this is a pretty fair self-assessment. This Ring is not pictorial or decorative, but neither is it regietheatre. It is bold and imaginative in execution, and its theatrical rubric has the kind of “pow” that Wagner had surely aimed for when he designed the (presumably noisy) steam jets, the magic lantern effects, the adjustable gas lights, and the Rhinemaidens’ machines in 1876. Yet the Met’s production it is profoundly traditional in substance. Katharina Wagner said that she wanted her Meistersinger production to have “a story I’m interested in telling.” The Met Ring by contrast tells a story Wagner was interested in telling.
Honoring tradition while embracing theatrical innovation. That is a pretty good mission statement for a producing organization of international stature. For those who find the result off-putting: Let’s try to work up to it over the next many years, shall we?