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Review: Lepage's uneven 'Goetterdaemmerung' completes Met production of Wagner's 'Ring' cycle
NEW YORK (AP) ' Sometimes less is more, and sometimes it's just ... less.
That was the mixed verdict as Robert Lepage brought his high-tech production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle to a frustratingly uneven conclusion at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night.
After receiving much criticism in previous installments for favoring spectacle over dramatic substance, the Canadian director seemed determined in "Goetterdaemmerung" ("Twilight of the Gods") to give his singers free rein to interact on stage without distractions from the set.
Sometimes that led to terrific results. The great singing actress Waltraud Meier, in the role of Waltraute, brought riveting intensity to the scene in which she pleads with her sister Bruennhilde to give up the ring.
And Lepage's staging of Siegfried's death was impressive in its detail, with Gunther getting his hands smeared with blood from Siegfried's wound and then washing them in the waters of the Rhine, which turn a sinister red. It was telling as well to have the dying hero make a desperate effort to lift his sword to strike back at his killer, Hagen, while the latter stood nearby, contemptuous and unflinching.
Neither scene relied on special effects created by the system of 24 movable planks that serves as the basic set. On the other hand, it was only natural to expect this $16 million-plus contraption to provide some kind of awe-inspiring payoff at the end of the cycle, when Bruennhilde lights Siegfried's funeral pyre, setting off a cataclysm that floods the earth and engulfs the gods in flames.
Instead, we got only anticlimax. Bruennhilde mounted a puppet horse that had accompanied Siegfried on his Rhine Journey and looked as if it had been borrowed from the production of "War Horse" next door. The pyre glowed, the Rhine flowed and statues of the gods crumbled lamely from their pedestals. As the final bars of music welled in the orchestra, the set simply lay flat against a dark blue background.
Quite a contrast to the previous Met production by Otto Schenk in which the palace of the Gibichungs collapsed impressively in front of our eyes amid the flames.
Musically, the evening was a far more consistent success. To start with, the Met's new principal conductor, Fabio Luisi, dispelled any doubts that he is a first-rate Wagnerian. He favored swift-flowing tempos and crystalline textures, yet brought out the solemn majesty of passages like the Funeral March and the closing pages of the score.
The best vocal performance of the night was delivered by the stentorian bass Hans-Peter Koenig as a memorably ruthless Hagen. His call to the vassals was prodigious in its power; just as impressive was his incisive articulation of lines like "So singe, Held!" ("Well, sing on, hero!"), spitting out the last word in contempt.
As Bruennhilde, soprano Deborah Voigt surpassed expectations, singing with eloquence and hitting all her high notes in this treacherous role ' though sometimes with evident effort. Her middle voice sounded less patchy than it has in recent outings, too. Dramatically, she was more comfortable in the rapturous moments of the Act 1 love duet and the closing Immolation Scene than in Act 2, with its strident denunciations of Siegfried and vengeance trio.
Her Siegfried was once again tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who became an overnight sensation when he stepped at the last minute into the title role of "Siegfried," the "Ring" opera that precedes this one.
He again proved impressive for his strong lyric sound and stamina, though by the end of Act 2, strain was beginning to show. His portrayal of one of Wagner's least plausible characters was disarmingly down-to-earth, and he drew one of the evening's few laughs for the way he greeted the Rhinemaidens with an off-hand wave in Act 3.
As Gunther, leader of the Gibichungs, baritone Iain Paterson sang strongly and moved convincingly from bravado to self-loathing. Soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer brought bright though sometimes shrill sound to the role of his sister Gutrune. Bass-baritone Eric Owens repeated his imposing portrayal of Alberich, the dwarf from whom Wotan stole the ring in the first place.
Vocally, Meier has lost some power in her lower register, but her portrayal of Waltraute sent sparks flying nonetheless. As she realized that her mission was hopeless and that Bruennhilde would rather see the gods fall than give up the ring, her face and body language registered an almost unbearable dismay.
Of the two female threesomes, the Norns (soprano Heidi Melton and mezzo- sopranos Elizabeth Bishop and Maria Radner) sounded better than the occasionally ragged Rhinemaidens (soprano Erin Morley and mezzos Jennifer Johnson Cano and Tamara Mumford.) The men's chorus sang with blazing enthusiasm.
During curtain calls, the cheers were loud and long for the principal cast members and Luisi. But when Lepage and his production team came out, there was widespread and persistent booing.
There are four more performances of "Goetterdaemmerung" by itself, ending in a matinee on Saturday, Feb. 11 that will be shown live in HD in movie theaters around the world. Three complete "Ring" cycles follow in April and May.