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Unexpected Fun Animates the Met’s Dreary New ‘Walkure’: Review

Bryn Terfel and Deborah Voigt in the new production by Robert Lepage of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkure.” Photographer: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera via Bloomberg
Bryn Terfel and Deborah Voigt in the new production by Robert Lepage of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkure.” Photographer: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera via Bloomberg

April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Sieglinde got sick and Brunnhilde tripped as the Metropolitan Opera unveiled its new production of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkure” (The Valkyrie) on Friday.

This was the second installment of the four-opera “Ring” cycle as envisioned by Canadian director Robert Lepage and a team as large as the populations of Nibelheim and Valhalla.

Central to all is a gigantic machine with movable slats, weighing in at around 45 tons and requiring special support.

Last fall, a promising “Rheingold” showed off a mesmerizing, stage-filling image of the Rhine with swimming maidens. Even though the fabled rainbow bridge that takes the gods into Valhalla failed to materialize on opening night, we looked forward to seeing them in their new home.

It seems those giants didn’t build Wotan much of a mansion. Unlike in most productions, there’s no sign of the place, though there is a creaky chair elevator for wife Fricka.

The Wotans bicker atop a flattened volcano. Meanwhile, those mere mortals, Sieglinde and Hunding, forage in a ditch in front of a huge wall of trees. From row S, they looked cut off at the knees.

Striking stage pictures are few.

Ach Du Lieber

Where’s all the wizardry we surely could expect from Lepage and his many millions? The pervasive gray suggests Berlin bunkers or Dresden after the war. For that wrenching moment at the end of Act I, when Sieglinde and her beloved brother Siegmund sing of spring and a new life, the set just took on a nasty green glow.

At least the Valkyries offered a few laughs as they rode those planks like horses.

Lepage, a lauded man of avant-garde theater and Cirque du Soleil, seems puzzled by opera. What to do with all those singers! As little as possible, apparently. Vicious Hunding, for example, is sung by rotund Hans-Peter Koenig who stood around amiably like jolly old Falstaff hoping for a pint.

We might as well be seeing a concert staging. There’s no space for singers to interact without tumbling off an incline.

Deborah Voigt, singing her first Brunnhilde, tripped running up the set to greet Wotan. Ever the trouper, she waved cheerfully to the audience, and carried on with a fine “Hojotoho.”

In a role that reduces even great divas to shrieks, she sang with confidence and musicality. It would be nice if her voice were larger, but after her amazing weight loss, she looked sensational in her shiny tiny breastplate and since Brunnhilde doesn’t do much in this production, we were often happy just to look at her.

Wotan’s Farewell

Key scenes went unexplored. Teetering close to a perilous drop, Stephanie Blythe, the Fricka, boomed from the safety of her chair, leaving the more athletic Bryn Terfel to climb around her. He’s found a better barber since “Rheingold,” and sang with emotional range and magnificent tone, especially in Wotan’s heartbreaking farewell to his beloved daughter.

By then some five hours had passed and it was time to say Aufwiedersehen to Brunnhilde as Wotan surrounds her with a ring of fire that only the greatest warrior will breach.

That scene, of course, points to the next opera, “Siegfried,” wherein the tenor must do just that.

I hope he is a fabulous Abseiler. Only a rapelling superman could reach the poor thing who is hanging upside down from a cliff.

Dangling Double

As the fire music rose from the orchestra, Lepage offered his feeblest idea of the evening: Wotan awkwardly pulled Brunnhilde offstage, so that stagehands could dangle a double from up high.

Otherwise, I had a good time.

Musically, this was a great evening, with James Levine conducting a performance that flowed along with lovely details and grand sonorities. That a man who has been in poor health can wave his arms for so many hours without flagging was nothing short of miraculous and also poignant.

Which brings us to Siegmund and his Sieglindes. Unlike all too many Wagnerian tenors -- dry and hefty -- the lithe Jonas Kaufmann sings with radiance and poetry. But Eva-Maria Westbroek, in her Met debut, sounded a bit cloudy and looked frumpy for someone who had just had a huge success as sex bomb Anna Nicole Smith at London’s Royal Opera.

Before the second act began, general manager Peter Gelb came out to announce the soprano was feeling sick but singing even so. As the act ground on, she sounded astonishingly better. She also looked curiously different.

In fact, she was different. She was the marvelous Margaret Jane Wray, who got shoved out at the last minute when poor Westbroek realized she really wasn’t up for another few hours of torment.

At the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, Broadway at West 65th Street. Information: +1-212-362-6000; http://www.metopera.org. The May 14 performance will be telecast to movie theaters around the world.

Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.

To contact the writer responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeffrey Burke at jburke21A@bloomberg.net

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