Closing the Ring

I love it.

When you’re writing about a great massive project it’s easy to be verbose, a lot harder to say something meaningful that’s brief, so let me get the most important part out of the way.  As I said: I love it.

I am writing after having seen the last of the four Ring operas in the new Metropolitan Opera productions by Robert Lepage, broadcast into movie theatres.  Wow, that’s already long-winded and I didn’t even mention the ponderous name of the opera, Die Götterdämmerung or The Twlight of the Gods.  Yet all the seats in this Toronto theatre were occupied, even on the morning after a snowstorm.

My sense that the broadcast audience is now competing with, if not actually supplanting the live audience, was confirmed again today. These broadcasts are like a modern version of the Serlian stage, which employed a kind of perspective whereby only the Prince saw the accurate perspective, while everyone else saw something a little bit distorted.  In the modern version the theatre audience enjoy the princely point of view, even though our individual seats are cheaper than those in the theatre; but our aggregate buying power represents a bigger chunk of revenue for the Met than all those at Lincoln Centre in person.

I am a bit mystified, trying to understand the ongoing negativity emanating out of New York City in response to Lepage’s work.  There are moments in this production that work, some that don’t, just as in the other three operas, just as happens in almost any opera production.  I was always intrigued, often transported to a different world, and never bored.  While it saddens me that there isn’t a large consensus in support of Lepage, I won’t let that stop me.

I  don’t believe I’ve seen any reviewer who’s happy with the way Grane (the horse) was presented, which is especially odd in a year when puppets seem to be everywhere.  I believe the choice to use this kind of symbolic approach is wonderful, given how difficult the material being presented, both in the Prologue (where Siegfried takes Brunnhilde’s horse and rides off into the sunset), and the last scene (where Brunnhilde gets on that horse, sings lovingly to the horse about the horse’s master –and her husband–and then rides that horse onto Siegfried’s funeral pyre).  Realism isn’t an option, not if you plan to ever have a second performance (!!!).

Some scenes worked better than others.  I was not thrilled by the norns, but then again if any scene is going to fail, that’s probably the best one you could choose (at the very beginning of a long work). The very end of the opera –arguably the single most difficult moment in all of opera to stage persuasively– worked fairly well, even if I’d hoped for something more apocalyptic.

I was completely enraptured watching the Rhine Maidens in Act III, scampering up the sloped set, and thereby allowing the scene to play almost as written: amazing considering that the scene takes place on the banks of the river Rhine, a conversation between three swimming nymphs and Siegfried on shore.  What Lepage gave us was playful, poetic, and so totally stunningly beautiful that my jaw was hanging open for minutes at a time, in awe.

Fabio Luisi

Fabio Luisi (photo: Barbara Luisi)

Musically? heaven.  Fabio Luisi was the chief architect of that celestial experience, with his brisk tempi.  Going quickly seemed to serve the principals well, helping Deborah Voigt to sing wonderfully, especially in the prologue duet and the swearing of oaths sequence in the Hall of the Gibichungs in Act II.  The Immolation scene to end the opera was like a vindication for Voigt, who has brought her conviction and stage sense to a new level.  I admit I had my doubts, but now am delighted to see genuine growth in this artist, a new mastery.

The most powerful performer on the stage was Hans-Peter König as Hagen. Possessed of a physical stature and huge voice, one would expect him to dominate, yet König underplayed throughout, even as his voice steadily reminded us of his presence. König has one of the great voices in the world today, and is likely to be a star for years to come.

Hans Peter Konig

Bass Hans-Peter König

There’s a great deal more in this production to appreciate.  Jay Hunter Morris was splendid dramatically as Siegfried, and sounding good for much of the opera.  Wendy Bryn Harmer’s Gutrune was a wonderful contrast to Voigt’s Brunnhilde, vulnerable, yielding and full of self-doubt, in contrast to Voigt’s passionate intensity.  Iain Paterson made more of Gunther than some, finding an intriguing combination of whiny entitlement & guilty remorse, all the while sounding quite wonderful.  In addition, there were two wonderful little cameos, namely Waltraud  Meier’s feverish Waltraute (imagine a guy named Romeo playing Romeo: as this is surely a part she was born to play), and Eric Owens’ maniacal Alberich.

I’ll elaborate on an idea about Lepage’s machine I expressed in a recent post about this Ring cycle.  Lots has been written about the machinery for Lepage’s Ring, a huge computer driven machine that changes shape, sometimes used as a stage, sometimes as a backdrop, sometimes a project surface, that’s been christened “The Machine”.  I said that the machine can epitomize this Ring, suggesting the world’s protean and changeable nature.  Erda cautions Wotan near the end of  Das Rheingold, saying “Alles was ist, endet.”  (Everything that is, ends) This is not a Ring informed by odd philosophical ideas or readings imposed upon the text.  Lepage has given us back many of the moments in the Ring that had fallen by the wayside in generations of static understatement.  Grane is back.  The forest bird AND the ravens were there.  We actually saw Siegfried carried during his funeral music, saw him on a funeral pyre, saw fire (sort of) followed by the river overflowing (sort of).  We saw gods falling after a fashion. I guess you can’t please everyone.

But I really liked it.

The complete cycle can be seen this spring for those who can get to NYC.

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5 Responses to Closing the Ring

  1. greg berg says:

    I very much agree with your astute review of today’s Gotterdammerung. I was especially thrilled with Voigt’s Brunnhilde. This strikes me as the best of the three B’s for her- as she fully demonstrated today.

  2. barczablog says:

    Thanks Greg. When she’s feeling confident (as she did today) she’s amazing. I want to see the encore.

  3. One thing I am sure about is that the way Gary Halvorson is presenting the ing in the HD broadcasts is very different from what one would see and hear in the house. This was especially true yesterday when he seemed to do everything to avoid showing the things the theatre audiences have most objected to. It’s also clear that the sound balance has been altered. Everyone I know who has seen The Machine live has complained about how noisy it is. You wouldn’t know that from the broadcasts.

    Bottom line, I think one can evaluate Lepage/Halvorson on its own terms but it’s a very imperfect vehicle for evaluating Lepage’s production.

  4. peggylenox says:

    I too loved it. Amazing afternoon. I was stunned and saddened to see so many people leave after act one, and more after act two. How could they? Only good thing is we didn’t have any heads to look over! How fortunate we are to have these HD performances available.

  5. barczablog says:

    @operaramblings: i actually did hear the machine in the highdef broadcast a couple of times. It doesn’t bother me. But NB i am not there to evaluate theproduction, i am there to enjoy it, or perhaps more accurately, to let it have its way with me. When I write about my subjective experience it’s a bit like kiss and tell. If the experience has not been as rapturous as i would want, i try to be an honourable lover, and not disgrace those who are –after all– artists doing their best to thrill me.
    @peggylenox: sigh yes, the ones leaving do sadden me, and I saw much the same at Love from Afar (an opera composed in 2000, that i saw recently at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto). I do hope they eventually make this Ring available on DVD. I hope we get encore performances to watch.

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