Sunday, May 10, 2009


Loge's fire and the Rhine's waters ended the world and the Schenck/Schneider-Siemssen RING last night in fine style.

Linda Watson's wobble was gone. Instead, she simply shone as Brünnhilde. Is she Flagstad? No, but she's a keeper, if she keeps on like this. Likewise Jon Fredric West, who showed not a trace of the too-common diminution of voice in the Act III narrative, and who even sang with some soft sadness -- within the limits of his instrument, which tends towards the fortissimo-only setting -- in the death scene.

Margaret Jane Wray, from whom your reporter saw an effective Ortrud three years ago, was radiant as Gutrune. Great things coming here. Our Gunther was Iain Peterson, who showed an impressive baritone voice, while his bio shows confusion as to whether he's a baritone or a bass. Pick baritone and stick with it, I'd say. Fwiw, in an effort to strengthen the weak character of the Gibichung chieftain, he did the DFD bellow on "greife dich immer," leading to a well-staged fight with Hagen -- Sir John Tomlinson, practically perfect in every way.

Richard Paul Fink made the most of this opera's short but important Alberich scene -- and once again did his little curtain-call dance as he took his solo bow at the end of the Act II. Another audience favorite. Has anyone noticed that in this production, Alberich's cape, already seen in RHEINGOLD, has grown to regal proportions in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG? Bravo, Mr. Langenfass!

Norns: the First doubled the Erda of earlier evenings, as is traditional, and had an acceptable exponent in Wendy White. Numbers Two and Three did not, however, double Waltraute and Gutrune, respectively. The Second Norn was sung respectably by Elizabeth Bishop, and the first evening's Freia, Wendy Bryn Harmer, had a true star turn as the Third Norn. Later, Yvonne Naef worked her now-familiar magic as Waltraute, setting aside Fricka's hauteur for the Valkyrie's despondent humility, but with the same plangent mezzo sound.

Last Monday's Rhinemaidens -- Lisette Oropesa, Kate Lindsey, and Tamara Mumford -- returned, popping up downstage with a pert ta-daaa gesture and familiar fine voices: a fitting light opening for the act the ends the world.

A few advantages of seeing this spectacular production from the Family Circle: though you miss the Rainbow Bridge in RHEINGOLD, you see the River Rhine at certain points in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG where I'm sure you can't see it from "better" seats; e.g., off to the right in Act II, and off to the left and upstage in Act III Scene I (except for the little downstage estuary in which the Rhinemaidens cavort).

Günther Schneider-Siemssen took a bow with Levine. [EDITED TO ADD: But see comments infra. Seems I was wrong about who was taking that bow, but I stand by the remarks that now follow.] He deserves to: not only for this production's set designs -- though that would be enough -- but also: how many designers have done back-to-back RINGs, at the Met or anywhere? Yes, GSS was the set designer of the previous RING as well, the so-called "Karajan RING." He is diversely talented. Since 1967, when the Karajan WALKURE premiered at the Met, no other designer has done a RING opera at the Met (except for visitors from outer space like the Kirov in '07). That's 42 years, and counting until the proposed opening of the LePage production in 2012....

Will the LePage production be the good kind of modern production, as opposed to, you know, the sucky kind? Will there even be a LePage production after all, or will this one live again? Will it be stored and be seen in the future? Singe, Schwester, dir werf ich's zu: weisst du, wie das wird?

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Jon Fredric West gets through this killer role with his voice and energy intact, reliable volume, some attempts at lyricism, decent if not melting sound, comic touches that never cross the line to the inappropriate, and an obvious sense of enjoying what he's doing. Can a Siegfried today do better?

He's a burly guy. A snarky reference to World Wrestling Entertainment was overheard by your reporter at intermission. Well, maybe Siegfried is a big guy, d'you ever think of that?

West is "in it" at every moment, e.g. reacting constantly to Mime, and even (I've never seen this before) looking over his shoulder to see where that bass-baritonal laughter is coming from when he's just killed Mime. And that reminds me, Richard Paul Fink made the most of the SIEGFRIED Alberich -- there's a lot of it to make, though only in one act -- and he proved an audience favorite.

Linda Watson still has a wobble. Well, WALKÜRE was just two nights earlier! But she delivered a lyrical "Ewig war ich" with an on-pitch an un-forced "leuchtender Spross."

James Morris was the other great audience favorite, and he and Levine did their "two Jimmies" thing again at final curtain calls. Robert Brubaker excelled as Mime, Wendy White gave a good mezzo-but-alas-not-contralto rendition of Erda, and the Unseens -- Tomlinson as Fafner and Lisette Oropesa as the Forest Bird -- were superb. Now curtain calls for the latter two, though.

Production note: Sitting were we are -- Family Circle, scrape-the-ceiling territory -- has its disadvantages. Couldn't see the Rainbow Bridge, for example. (!!) However, we had a great view of Fafner the Dragon, seen in this production as Jabba the Hutt's country cousin. From where we sat, his eyes blinked and his mouth moved, as his lines required. The speaker from which Sir John's awesome vocal portrayal emerged was placed right at the mouth. Bravo.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Curtain call question

Since the Met preserves the venerable tradition of curtain calls act-by-act in front of the curtain -- instead of the lame Broadway style where everyone comes out lamely under a lamely raised curtain and bows lamely on the lamely illuminated lame final set -- a question sometimes come up with special acuteness w/r/t Act II of SIEGFRIED (it could come up with B'way style curtain calls too -- did I mention that these are lame? -- but the Met style highlights it): should singers of unseen characters take bow?

My answer is yes: the soprano who sings for Forest Bird and the bass who sings Fafner the Dragon have legitimately sung important roles. As long as they're willing to put on something better than rehearsal clothes for the purpose, they should take a bow.

The consensus answer, however, has been no. I have never seen a Forest Bird or a SIEGFRIED Fafner get a curtain call (tho' I assume it's different in those productions, like Chereau's, where the Dragon turns back into his rightful form as a giant after Siegfried skewers him).

Some say: no costume, no bow. I say that's silly -- but if you insist, OK, let the soprano carry out some feathers and a beak with her, and maybe the bass can drag the giant-crab contraption after him on a leash. Seriously, though, why (tomorrow night) can't Lisette Oropesa and Sir John Tomlinson take bows in presentable non-costume clothing?

I ask because -- and here's the point -- Sir John wants to, and means to.

I could tell you how I know this, but then I'd have to kill you. Or not, but I'd just as soon you worried about it.

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.

In the current RING, Sir John Tomlinson is singing Fafner. That is, a Knight is playing a Giant and a Dragon. How did their unions ever agree to that?

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.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Readers of this blog, if there are any, may have wondered why I haven't blogged up any of the Met's RING broadcasts. Two reasons:

1. I have had a busy spring with my professional and non-operatic social life, and it has actually been very difficult for me to catch those broadcasts.

2. I am on my way to NY, today, with my opera-loving, James-Morris-fan teenage daughter, to see the final cycle. W00t! My goal is to blog up brief reviews, performance by performance, if I can persuade my mom to let me handle my youngest brother, viz., her new I-Mac.

(The SIEGFRIED review, in any case, will have to wait a bit, since right after it I have to dash back to Virginia Beach for our law school's Commissioning, a very important event for the students and for me. Naturally I will fly back up the same day, for GOTTERDAMMERUNG the following night.)

Big drama: cancellations? Is Ben Heppner waiting in the wings w/o public explanation? Will anyone slip on the scenery? Etc. I really hope not. Last year I saw Stephanie Blythe, as the WALKURE Fricka, trip on her hem, and though she and Morris handled it brilliantly -- they never broke character -- I'd rather see THE RING straight (p. the e.).