Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Well, Placido started, but they took him out for a pinch-tenor in the middle of the first.

Before Act I, the Footlights of Doom went up, and a guy with a mike appeared, but the announcement was that Mr. Domingo, though feeling ill, intended to sing the performance "like the professional that he is."

As his Siegmund stumbled into Hunding's hut, he sounded winded -- and why not? verisimilitude! -- and with the familiar Domingo sound, just a tiny bit less of it. As Act I moved on, it became clear that he was conserving resources: singing near the footlights whenever possible, and introducing mezza voce into long stretches of the narrative. 

Would he make it through "Vaelse Vaelse"? Yes, with good voice, though not very long held. And he continued through the soliloquy. But by the end of it he was, in his own estimation (we in the audience might have been more forgiving, but a pro knows when he's had it) matching vocal condition to lyrics: "Da bleicht die Bluete, das Licht verlicht...."

With that he slipped off into the wings stage left (stage left? audience's left, I mean). To get a glass of water from a thoughtful stagehand, many of us thought. Adrianne Pieczonka, the evening's studendous Sieglinde, who presumably had been briefed on contingencies, slipped out of Hunding's bedroom and asked "Schlaefst du, Gast?" of an empty stage. "Wer schleicht daher?" came from a brand-new Siegmund, who schleiched out from where Mr. Domingo had schleiched away, in costume and ready to go.

It was -- Gary Lehman, substitute Heldentenor extraordinaire, hero of last year's snakebitten run of TRISTAN! He finished the act with aplomb ("'Course he did, where d'you think Siegfried came from, har har har." Shaddup!! -- I shouldn't write these things late at night....) At Act I curtain calls, Rene Pape (Hunding) applauded Lehman directly. But it was in Act II that Lehman really hit his stride vocally, showing a baritonale Heldentenor that I'd like to hear more of, preferably in the starting lineup.

James Morris, as he did last night, sounded splendid, if no longer young. He now takes the Farewell very, very lyrically. Levine of course accommodates him in this expertly, but, if recall aright, so too did Lorin Maazel in last year's performance. If that's what it takes to get Morris through a Wotan these days, I'm for it, because he still sounds great, and has added depth in the years -- decades, it now is -- that he has done this role. At final curtain calls, he and Levine took a special one together, suggesting a special partnership of "the Jimmies" in THE RING.

Linda Watson's Brunnhilde: those who think a wide vibrato is no vice will say she sounds like Gwyneth Jones; those who think it is will say, dude, she's got a wobble. I say she's not the second coming of Dame Gwyneth, still less of Nilsson; but she got through this difficult role with as much voice as when she started it -- in fact her last line, "dem freislichen Felsen zu nahn," was delivered with lovely lyrical control -- and her initial ho-jo-to-hos were mostly on pitch, which these days is saying something. 

I've now seen Watson's WALKURE Brunnhilde twice, tonight at the Met and two years ago at the Washington National Opera; on both occasions she was outshone by her Sieglinde, vocally and visually (Anja Kampe in Washington, Adrienne Pieczonka tonight). But since I don't recommend engaging bad Sieglindes as a way to make your Brunnhildes look better, I therefore do recommend keeping Linda Watson on the roster.

Yvonne Naef rules: Christa Ludwig lives! And what a difference a great Hunding like Rene Pape makes! 

Since I'm known to love this production, let me quickly register two minor critiques: 

(1) Despite years of minor restagings, they have always had Fricka try to reach out, literally, to Wotan at the end of their confrontation scene. Uh uh. Wrong. Buzzer. Gong. Any possibility of communication between these two other than arm's-length-legal has withered a long time ago: the scene is meaningless without that presumption. That's why Fricka is so successful in standing on her (impeccable) legal rights.  

(2) While rich use of color is generally one of this production's virtues, as it should be in a production of THE RING, I've never understood why so many of Rolf Langenfass's costume designs are so gray that certain characters -- notably Wotan, tonight -- become almost invisible at times. In keeping with the production's naturalism, the ground is earth-tone gray. Anyone dressed in that color is generally detectable only when moving, or when under a particularly kind follow-spot. Fortunately, and in contrast to the neo-Bayreuth style, Schenck and his successor-stagers keep the characters moving a lot.

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