Brünnhilde: Deborah Voigt
Sieglinde: Eva-Maria Westbroek
Fricka: Stephanie Blythe
Siegmund: Stuart Skelton
Wotan: Bryn Terfel
Hunding: Hans-Peter König
The Metropolitan Opera presented Richard Wagner's Die Walküre on Friday night. I had seen the new Robert Lepage production last year so I wasn't planning on seeing it again this season. But a few days ago, while browsing the Met website, my fingers started clicking uncontrollably, completely against my will, and before I knew it I bought myself a ticket.
I enjoyed last year's performance with James Levine as well as the controversial set which consisted of oscillating planks and digital projections. It was all very striking and creative while staying true to Wagner's stage directions.
I still loved the set on my second viewing though a video glitch momentarily projected the Microsoft logo during one of my favorite scenes, Brünnhilde's War es so schmählich, was ich verbrach (where she begs for Wotan's mercy in Act 3, not completely ruined but the Met should seriously consider switching to Mac). Thankfully the planks moved on cue and the whirring, clanking noises were also less noticeable. The final image of Brünnhilde in a reverse crucifixion of sorts amidst flames, suggesting Wotan's aerial view of the mountaintop, was as amazing as ever.
As a Wagnerian conductor, Luisi is not yet in the same league as Levine but nevertheless led a forceful account of the score with faster tempi and incisive phrasing (albeit with occasionally ragged playing among the horns). While his preludes to all three acts were thrilling and he eloquently conveyed the nuances of the more intimate scenes, he somehow lacked the grandeur and architectural form of his predecessor. In Luisi's own words:
We can play Wagner’s music as music. You can take all of this ‘pan-Germanic’ pathos out of these operas, drop this very slow and heavy pace and find the music there, which is Wagner’s great gift. You can bring out the intensity in this music, but also its flow. I think that by making the orchestra and the audience listen to some of the subtleties that are so much a part of Wagner, I can help actually push things forward and we can free ourselves from this bad and wrong tradition, this myth of the superior sound of the German orchestras. It’s not true and it’s not real. These so-called traditions come only from the 1920s and ’30s. These great composers came from the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries!Voigt, Westbroek, and Terfel were as good as ever, each bringing a palpable humanity to their roles, but it was Blythe who once again electrified the audience as Fricka. In her short Act 2 scene she dispelled any doubts as to who wore the pants in Valhalla.
Skelton was a credible Siegmund though a bit one dimensional in terms of acting and vocal expressiveness. His Winterstürme was lovely but not as deeply affecting as the renditions by Jonas Kaufmann last year and Placido Domingo in previous seasons. Same with König - he has great booming voice but came across a bit teddy bearish as Hunding.
Die Walküre has to be my favorite opera in the Ring cycle. The five-plus hours went by quickly with Luisi's pacing and even the extended monologues sounded like Homeric poetry rather than the usual "Oh God, they're repeating themselves again..." By the end I was wondering whether I should see it one more time with Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde, but perhaps that would be overkill. Or maybe not? I should definitely stay away from the Met website though.