Die Walküre at the Met

Wagner must be the crack cocaine of opera–not long after coming down from yesterday afternoon’s high of watching the live HD broadcast of Die Walküre from the Met, I had to drag out the Boulez/Chereau DVD from my secret stash and watch portions of that as well.

To my mind this new production is far more satisfying than the Metropolitan Opera’s 1990 production by Otto Schenk, also conducted by James Levine. I liked James Morris as Wotan, but Gary Lakes and Jessye Norman lacked the necessary chemistry as Siegmund and Sieglinde to carry off Act I. This new production, directed by Robert Lepage, opens compellingly with Jonas Kaufmann and Ewa-Maria Westbroek as the passionate siblings. Jonas Kaufmann in particular stole the show with his fluid singing and magnetic stage presence; I can’t wait to see him perform more Wagner roles in the future.

The rest of the cast was solid. Perhaps Deborah Voigt doesn’t have as much power in her voice as the greatest Brünnhildes, but I liked the almost childlike enthusiasm she gave the character in Act II. Over the course of the opera she and Bryn Terfel developed an emotionally convincing rapport as the god Wotan and his favorite daughter, especially in the farewell scene of Act III.

In his April 23 review in the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini complained about the obtrusiveness of Robert Lepage’s multi-bladed mechanical apparatus, which apparently creaks and has been notoriously prone to mechanical problems. (Saturday’s broadcast was in fact delayed by 45 minutes.) In some ways, I wonder if Lepage didn’t direct the opera with its afterlife on video in mind as much as live productions on the stage. The performances all display a great deal of nuance that is probably lost in the large Metropolitan Opera auditorium. Certainly, any creaking noises were not audible in the broadcast. The only thing I found distracting was that occasionally the actors blended into the background too much when the textured light projections fell on them; this was especially apparent when Jonas Kaufmann stood against the ash tree in Act I. Also, in the same scene it was odd to have Siegmund and Sieglinde stand below the level of the main stage so that they were cut off at the knees.

The video direction of the broadcast was skillfully executed, maintaining just the right balance between closer shots and larger tableaux. (The earlier Met HD broadcast of Nixon in China, directed by Peter Sellars himself, was overly enamored of details and too often forgot to pull back and show the stage as a whole, undercutting the impact of Sellers’ own, very striking stage design.) I, for one, look forward to seeing what Lepage does with Siegfried and Götterdämmerung next season.

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About James Steffen

I'm currently the Film Studies and Media Librarian at Emory University in Atlanta. Although my primary passion and expertise is in film, I also love literature, music and other arts.
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