Before going to a performance of Wagner’s third Ring Cycle opera you should wear comfortable shoes, loose clothing, and drink no fluids starting six hours before the curtain. Thus prepared I got through Siegfried without losing consciousnesses more than two or three times. In fact I enjoyed the performance. Robert Lapage’s Rube Goldberg set consisting of a couple of dozen planks driven by more computer power than anyone save Google could muster and lit by more candle power than a dozen suns from 100 banks of projectors didn’t break down or force the singers into contortions requiring an advanced degree in yoga as it sometimes did during the first two of the Ring operas of this current series. Reviewing Wagner is a well known cause of compulsive logorrhea; so forgive me if my sentences start to get away from me. Götterdämmerung will conclude the new Met cycle starting in January next. This review is a day late because I wanted to be sure that the opera was really over having been burned before when I prematurely declared a performance of Parsifal as done when it still had several more days to go.
Lepage even condescended to allow a small part of the set to represent Mime’s hut or workshop in the first act. There were even a few props. But by and large walking these planks was a walk in the dark – uh park. Despite the candlepower everything was pretty dark, including the scene at the Dragon Inn which is supposed to take place in bright sunshine. Also the projections were said to be in 3-D; we were in a 2-D theater. Adding another dimension to Wagner is probably more than I can handle. And I don’t know where the prop man got Nothung – the sword. It looked like it came from a roadshow production of The Chocolate Soldier.
But as is always true for an operatic masterpiece, the performance depends less on the staging than on the singers and orchestra. The title role was sung by American tenor Jay Hunter Morris. Morris was the cover for Gary Lehman who withdrew from the production just before the dress rehearsal. Morris who’s been interviewed several time by the Met has an infectious personality that really make you root for him. His website is a gem; you should read through it. He’s amazed that he’s made it as an opera singer and is singing at the world’s leading houses. He started out in Paris, Texas singing in the choir of his father’s Baptist church under the leadership of his mother. He’s not completely a country boy; he did train at Julliard. Nevertheless, his is a great story.
Siegfried is one of opera’s toughest roles. It lasts longer than Spring Break; it puts relentless pressure on the singer’s middle voice. Morris came through with distinction. The middle of his bright semi-spinto voice is its best feature. After forging the sword, slaying the dragon (who looked like a Sesame Street import), killing Uncle Mime, and breaking Wotan’s staff which had morphed into a metal rod, he still had enough voice to sing a 30 minute duet with Brünnhilde at the opera’s end. I think that was the end. And I think it was a duet, though neither of the two sings when the other is holding forth. Morris produced only one strained note during the long afternoon. It was a high note at the end of the first act. I wonder how he’d do in an Italian opera with its higher tessitura and greater emphasis on high notes. It may be that Wagner is where Morris should be. Regardless, he should be in great demand for the heldentenor roles that are always difficult to cast even if his voice is not quite that dramatic.
Brünnhilde was sung by Deborah Voigt. This was one of her more successful outings on this series of telecasts. She doesn’t quite have the right sound for this part. Her voice sounds covered and held back when it should soar, but she was quite good nonetheless. She had less trouble with her high notes than previously, perhaps because there are only a few of them.
Gerhard Siegel has made a career out of singing Mime. He has so much voice left that he could sing Siegfried again if needed. The latter was in his repertoire until recently. He showed that it was possible to sing and act in a Ring opera.
From a purely vocal standpoint the afternoon belonged to Bryn Terfel. His beautiful voice soared through through the Wander’s difficult part. Vocally, no other Wagnerian bass-baritone is in his class. As for acting he seems to consider it a secondary condition of his part. His left eye – the one he sold before the Ring began – was once again different. This time he had a dark contact lens in place. Black make up surrounded this orbit.
The remaining parts were sung were sung at the highest Wagnerian level. The use of sub-titles in a Ring opera is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it allows comprehension, on the other it reveals all the flaws in the dramaturgy. That, apart from the music which is always intricate and sometimes glorious, serious people took this story seriously (and some still do) is hard to understand in the 21st century. But the music is serious and need a magisterial conductor.
In Fabio Luisi the Met had the right maestro. Under his authoritative baton the Met’s brilliant orchestra delivered both a thunderous and nuanced performance. He made moving from Don Giovanni last week to Siegfried yesterday appear an effortless transition; obviously a lot more than effort is required for such a transition. Luisi seems the right man to succeed James Levine whose physical condition may prevent from returning to the podium.
In summary, an excellent mounting of Wagner’s third installment of the Ring perfect for someone who just wants to see and hear one complete Ring Cycle and equally valuable for a Ring addict.
Metropolitan Opera House
November 5 2011 Matinee
Richard Wagner–Richard Wagner
Siegfried……………Jay Hunter Morris
Forest Bird………….Mojca Erdmann
Stage Horn Solo: Erik Ralske
Associate Director……Neilson Vignola
Set designer…………Carl Fillion
Costume designer……..François St-Aubin
Lighting designer…….Etienne Boucher
Video Image Artist……Pedro Pires
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson
In collaboration with Ex Machina