Monday, May 4, 2009


James Morris is no youngster -- but you might think otherwise from his junger Wotan tonight. It was good to have back Yvonne Naef as Fricka (will the Met offer her the Italian roles that she'd also like to do here?), and Charles Taylor (a good Herald in LOHENGRIN three years ago) suggested Heldenbariton potential with his dark Donner.

But both musically and dramatically the evening belonged to Richard Paul Fink, as Alberich. He unleashes a titanic sound that is bassy with full baritone range, acts at every moment (I loved his "Oh stuff it" gesture at the Rhinemaidens when they're starting to tell him of the power of the Gold), and, in the Neidlinger-Kelemen tradition of "bel canto" Alberichs, he sings every note: not a hint of growl or Sprechgesang (though he certainly has the evil laugh thing going for him when he wants it).

When Fink got to the dramatic pause at the "crest" of the Curse -- right after "des Ringes Herr als des Ringes Knecht" -- there wasn't a cough, there wasn't even an intake of breath in the whole house.

Fink got the second biggest hand at curtain calls, after Morris.

Giants: Rene Pape and Sir John Tomlinson. If you can beat that, you can build Valhalla. Pape's lyricism put across Fasolt's underlying tenderness. Sir John has no problem putting across thugs (has anyone ever reviewed him w/o using the word "craggy"?), but it's more than that. E.g., it was chilling the way he looked from the pile of gold to Wotan's hand during the passage in Scene Four where Fasolt is wavering about accepting the deal. I understood this moment as never before: Fafner cares nothing for Freia except as a bargaining chip: he wants the gold. For him, recidivism on Fasolt's part serves no useful purpose. Then he sees It -- on Wotan's hand. Suddenly, Fasolt's backsliding is very useful indeed: it's the way to bargain for the new Precious that Fafner has only just discovered.

Kim Begley turned in a professional-caliber Loge, singing and acting very well though not outdoing Siegfried Jerusalem in the DVDs. At curtain-close, you'll remember, Jerusalem folded his arms at us and looked bemused; Begley made a what-u-gonna-do gesture. Both fit this production's concept of the end of RHEINGOLD, which gives viewers a stunning Valhalla and Rainbow Bridge, but at the last second closes in on Loge, his skepticism, and (presumably) his incendiary intentions.

I've heard critiques of Wendy White's Erda, stepping in for Jill Grove in the second cycle and this one. But what's not to like? She's not technically a contralto, but her mezzo sound is darker than Naef's, which itself is dark enough for Fricka.

Levine and the orchestra were as always: Wagner on the grand scale, with exquisite attention to detail, and (so far as I could tell) flawless execution of the Vorabend's many difficult and painfully exposed solo instrumental parts.

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