Boos, Cheers for ‘Gotterdammerung’ at Met: Manuela Hoelterhoff
Soy la novia legal. Te maldigo Hagen! Brunilda era su amor verdadero.
Wagner sounds lovely en Espanol, as I discovered when matters got so dull onstage at the Metropolitan Opera Friday night that I began pushing the translation buttons on the surtitle screen (attached to the back of the seat in front of me).
This was the premiere of “Gotterdammerung” (Twilight of the Gods), the last opera in Richard Wagner’s four-part “Der Ring des Nibelungen.”
In “Gotterdammerung,” justice returns to the world through the sacrifice of Brunnhilde and the apocalyptic destruction of the old order.
This stilted “Twilight” was a surprising culmination of a project that began promisingly with “Das Rheingold.”
Who can forget the mesmerizing opening with suspended Rhine maidens floating into view as a vision of the river filled the entire stage?
Since then, the most epic thing in these renderings of Wagner’s sprawling cycle has been the creaky, cranky “machine,” a computer-directed behemoth composed of 24 movable slats that rise together or singly to create different playing surfaces. The thing weighs 45 tons and remains center stage for every show.
Lepage and set designer Carl Fillion offer lots of projections and videos that can be beautiful in themselves, but do little to suggest a world of mystery and myth.
A scene showing Siegfried atop the set floating along the Rhine with Grane, Brunnhilde’s horse, was fresh and charming. But an opera that goes on for nearly six hours with two intermissions needs more insight and drama.
Maybe the surtitle screens could start offering games, weather reports (lashing rains by the time you escape) or scenes from the Met’s operatic past, when say, Hildegard Behrens hollered thrillingly as Brunnhilde.
I wasn’t a great fan of Otto Schenk’s traditional production of the “Ring,” but the sets offered a scenic sense of place: Here are some crags for the leaping Valkyries, here’s the majestic hall of the Gibichungs, and up there, gleaming, is Valhalla, home of the gods.
This time, the Gibichungs must make do with two chairs, one table and a few statues. The slats rise up to create a wall with a wood grain pattern in gleaming putrid colors that vaguely and inappropriately reminded me of East Berlin’s Palace of the Republic.
Even that excellent twosome, Iain Paterson as the effete Gunther, and the gorgeous Wendy Bryn Harmer, as his puzzled sister Gutrune, can’t compensate for such depressing ugliness.
When the place begins to burn, the heads pop off the statues like deformed Champagne corks. Laughter all around.
But before we got to this final disaster, much had to be endured.
Lepage’s machine really wants to be heard. There was hardly a sublime passage when it (she? he?) didn’t have something to squeak and grind on about. The thing would not be quiet.
We are all familiar with stories, usually set in Japan or the dark lair of Dr. Frankenstein, where the monster suddenly gets a glint in his eye, twitches his limbs and develops feelings as he clomps through town hoping to copulate with a maiden.
Coddled for two seasons now by a team of doting technicians, the Met machine is feeling its power and will never be silenced. Jamas!
Soon it will be demanding human sacrifice, a soprano schnitzel perhaps.
Understandably, when the dutiful artists climb onto it, they do so gingerly and sometimes end up sliding down.
Wagner wrote these librettos out of sequence. They torture us with the same story over and over again. Richard, really. We know about Siegfried and the birds. We saw him and the birds in “Siegfried”! Still the music is, of course, very nice.
Fortunately Jay Hunter Morris, our happy-go-lucky, handsome Siegfried, was at his best in this scene. How nice to see him! And still something of a surprise all around.
Even Wagner’s mournful, fortunetelling Norns would have been stumped by the arrival of a spot-lit Morris.
The tenor was skidding into oblivion -- in his program note Met Manager Peter Gelb writes that Morris was selling roller blades not so long ago -- when he lucked out understudying a sick Siegfried. He went on in “Siegfried” during the fall and has ended up accompanying his Brunnhilde into “Gotterdammerung.”
Morris can sound grainy, occluded -- and also heroic and lyrical. He needs to warm up earlier, I get the sense. Facing death, he recalled his “glorious bride” with sweet beauty of tone. Like almost everyone else, he was dressed badly in cheap- looking costumes.
Hagen and Dad
An exception was Waltraud Meier, who shone as Brunnhilde’s sister Waltraute, flouncing prettily in a dress with a metallic bodice and fetchingly gathered skirt.
The venerable German mezzo was in fine voice. Yet even so, her scene eventually fizzled out, like so many encounters in this staging.
That brooding scene between Hagen and his dad, Alberich, exuded no atmosphere of menace despite the rich singing by Hans- Peter Konig and Eric Owens.
For hours on end, artists come and go from stage left or right; sometimes they enter through a small door or stand in a trough which makes even a god look like a little Nibelung.
All the while, the fastidious Fabio Luisi conducted with control and a sense for the architecture of this grand epic. I wish he’d pick up the pace, but the surging orchestra almost made up for the underwhelming conflagration that Lepage provided at the end.
This is when the ancien regime of the corrupt gods goes up in flames as Brunnhilde bids goodbye to a loveless world.
Deborah Voigt, singing her first “Gotterdammerung” very late in her career, started the evening sounding weak and wan. Along with many pounds, she has lost color and power these last few years. Many of us thought she would expire along with Brunnhilde.
But as midnight neared, the American soprano gathered strength and delivered Brunnhilde’s farewell with much of her old time radiance. Ever limber, she hoisted herself atop Grane, a mechanical horse that evoked memories of “War Horse,” a short canter across Lincoln Center Plaza.
The creature looked so lovingly at its mistress as they clomped off into the flames that my heart went out to it.
When you feel sorry for a fake nag as Wagner’s “Ring” cycle draws to a close, something isn’t quite right.
Finally, the curtain fell with the audience cheering the cast and booing, loudly, Lepage and Co.
(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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