Sunday, May 15, 2011

"WOTAN" or rather "Die Walküre": Last night's HD live broadcast from the MET

Oh goodness, oh goodness. I had a hard time falling asleep after this! What joy, what excitement. When you go somewhere, expecting more than you want to admit and receiving more than you expected...

Before I get into details let me say that everyone, to my great joy and satisfaction, was in excellent voice.

Act 1

The music is so thrilling, that it surprises me every time. I was awestruck by the visual effects for the forest, which dissolved into one big silvery tree trunk, the majestic ash tree, in which Nothung, the trusty sword, is wedged.
I really enjoyed Jonas Kaufmann's ever so slightly cocky approach to this scene. When he (Siegmund) meets Sieglinde (Eva-Maria Westbroek), he doesn't try to hide his feelings. He is already on the way to seducing her. i.e. when she passes him the horn with Met, of which she drank, he turns it around, so as to touch with his lips the same place her lips touched. This was an effective gag. Sieglinde (played very convincingly) has been waiting for someone to come and change her life. She is very curious about the stranger and instantly feels more connected to him than any other. Eva-Maria gave a wonderful performance of Sieglinde in this stage. Also her shuddering at Hunding's stifling presence was more than convincing.
Hunding, sung and played by Hans-Peter König, was a great dynamic element to this scene. Usually I find Hunding bothersome (which he is) and want him to go to sleep already, so we can get on with the rest. But this Hunding was entertaining, intimidating with his gestures to keep Sieglinde constrained-the sort of man that any woman (or man) watching would loathe.
Oh, yes, I haven't got to the singing part yet. The singing was great! My favorite of this act was Kaufmann, since his noble line, which steadily carries through to the end, his sculpting of phrases and building of intensity add so much shape and nuance to the role. Hunding had an adequate, potent sound, if a bit barrelful and undguided at times, maybe adding moreso to his unattractive demeanor.
Eva-Maria Westbroek was at her best here, considering we didn't get to hear her goods on opening night. She sang with power and authority, sorrow and hope. I'm not sure how well the two voices of the twins worked together, but each had their beauty and strength. The chemistry was there, adding credibility to their evoked passion. Somehow the "arias" weren't the highlight of this performance, not discrediting them, it's just that the throughcomposed nature of this music lived seamlessly, which is as it should be.

Act 2

Now this is where I wasn't sure what to expect! And yes, I did find the greeting ceremony of Wotan and Brünnhilde a little over the top, what with all the hugs, spearkpoking and giggles involved, but Bryn Terfel singing Wotan had dropped his Baby Huey act from Das Rheingold and showed great poise and wisdom in his portrayal. Deborah Voigt's Brünnhilde, even with her American pronunciation of "Fricka" and "Vater" etc., was more secure and consistent.
This is a long and shifting act.
Fricka had matured into the "pantswearing" wife and was very threatening. I understood Wotan, who didn't want to cross her. As already stated after listening to the opening, Stephanie Blythe sings with incredible vocal line and rocksolid technique. The little moving she did was in its own way quite effective.
It was when Brünnhilde returns to listen to the deepest wishes her father reluctantly relates to her that Bryn Terfel started to steal the show. This tendency (I think) continued through to the end.
Siegmund and Sieglinde's elopement scene was maybe the weakest of the opera. Somehow Sieglinde's desperacy and Siegmund's determination to batter their foe didn't quite work together. The scene was too static for these elements to stir properly. Instead the scene slightly toppled into the likes of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" or "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", when Janet yells "stoooioooiooop". Eva-Maria was holding her hands to her ears, crazed by undefined noises and Jonas Kaufmann disappeared in the shadows of the woods, handling his sword like a new toy, playing Robin Hood around the Christmas tree.
He was more like the cliché male who didn't understand why the woman was having a fit and she was having a fit, not understanding why he remained so calm. Anyway...the somewhat failed scene didn't seem to break the magic spell on an overall scale.
When Sieglinde was calmly slumbering and Brünnhilde appeared to the doomed hero, the energy shifted again. Kaufmann's 2ft. drool is now eternalized on HD film! This little mishap was the 2nd and worst of its nature last night. Even though we felt for him and were slightly grossed out (judging from the gasps in the cinema audience) I don't think anyone really cared or resented him for it. It happens.
His inquiry about finding Sieglinde in Walhalla was heart wrenching. I believed that he wouldn't go anywhere without her. But somehow the scene leading to him wanting to kill her if anyone else must touch her wasn't built up right. For a newcomer to the opera this action would have been completely illogical. Anyway...The battle between him and Hunding wasn't electrifying enough until Bryn stepped back in. I found myself feeling relieved when he has back on scene, as if the dynamics were balanced again. Hopefully he didn't hurt Voigt as he shoved the Siegmund supporting Brünnhilde aside with one swipe of his bear paw.
The element of time and space was a bit confusing. Brünnhilde escapes with Sieglinde, albeit Wotan's wrath menacing at an armlength. Bryn, as this was his night, left you excitedly anticipating the last act.

Act 3

What music! Too bad one felt uneasy about the Valkyries sliding down the machine. I was so scared that one of their feet would get caugth in the "reins". I liked the voices very much. Gerhilde (Kelly Cae Hogan) and ex-Freia Wendy Bryn Harmer as Ortlinde were the ones who stood out the most to me. I realized how big Wendy's voice is compared to the other Valkyries, which got me thinking about how big the whole main cast's voices must be, since when she was singing Freia, her voice did not stand out as being especially powerful.
 I just loooved how the "machine" turned into gigantic spread wings when Brünnhilde "came a riding", yielding Sieglinde on her pack. Here Brünnhilde and at first somewhat resigned and passive Sieglinde were very convincing in their emergency. I really liked how Eva-Maria Westbroek took the news of bearing Siegmund's child and immediately switched her energy.
As it was, Deborah Voigt's "Fort dann eile" was not exciting enough. It reminded me more of when Dorothy and her 3 friends decided that the only way they could get what they needed was to go see the great wizard. "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee're off to see the wizard".
But on a more serious note, Eva-Maria's "O hehrstes Wunder" was beautiful, spiritually and vocally concentrated. I liked it. She really made her exiting mark with this last wonderful inflection.

Wotan is a scary thunderstorm of choler. The Valkyries shivering at his mercy made for a suspenseful scene. Brünnhilde seems bold even in her utterings. One actually feels sorry for her! Her knowing her father almost better than he is willing to admit comes through so comepletey in her mentioning that the Wälsung blood forges a new hero in Siegfried.
This is Deborah Voigt's best moment, when her sisters have left and it's just she and daddy-W.
Her singing here was at its best, more nuanced and heartfelt than the rest.
But Wotan, oh Wotan. Now I begin to understand, when I as a listener am weary, and Wotan has to just go on and on, managing soft passages as if it were the beginning of the opera. I am more than impressed, marveled and wonderstruck by Bryn Terfels artistry, stamina, and endurance. He is the best Wotan ever! How many start to shout and get vulgar, due to exhaustion? Although sweat was streaming down his forehead, his voice was soulful and guided, artistically and emotionally shaded until the very last moment. Even his movements remained smooth and strong. Chapeau! Chapeau! Chapeau!

Best boo-boos:

1. Jonas Kaufmann's 2nd drool
2. Jonas Kaufmann's 1st drool
3. Jonas Kaufmann's defiant hair band
4. Bryn trying to free the winged headpiece from Brünnhilde's double's wig

Best moments:
1. The whole opera!
2. Wotan's farewell to Brünnhilde 
3. Fricka sobbing with her head down and then sheepishly looking up when Wotan agrees to obey her
4. Wälsung! Wälsung!
5. Jonas drinking Eva's cudies
 Hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did! 

1 comment:

  1. Like yourself, I enjoyed it very much, it was well worth the 45-mile drive. Even the intermissions turned out to be very enjoyable and interesting. I didn't exactly had in mind an intermission before the show, but I'm glad the technical issue was resolved. I think I'll focus now on the first Act, maybe later some comment on the others as well. You're right, the visual effects for the forest were very nice and effective (lovely picture, by the way). I didn't think too much of the set itself, for the first act. The best you can say, it wasn't distracting from the singing, because it wasn't really there. Most of the time the singers were on a level beneath the main stage. I didn't think that was a good idea. But it seemed to be practical, Sieglinde getting all the props somewhere from beneath. I thought the orchestra, or Levine's conducting, in the first act was not just bad, but very bad. There's such amazing music in the first act and, to my hearing, it was a very poor performance. It's a shame, in a way. Acts 2 and 3 were much better, from an orchestral point of view. Then to the singers. I liked Hunding, as far as you can like him. He sings with authority and his brutality came across. But it takes two to get this across and Eva-Maria did well. A little thing that distracted me was when they were sitting at the table and Hunding adressed Siegmund, the former's eyes weren't really focused, frequently changing from Siegmund to the audience. A bit weird. Another little distraction of the first act, although I wouldn't blame Kaufmann for that, was the major drooling. Just at the moment of an HD close-up... It looked like he was completely startled for a moment. I felt a bit sorry. He comes across sympathetically, Kaufmann, from what I saw in the first intermission interview.
    But his singing, in the first act especially, I guess it takes a little time for me to get used to it. Contrary to you, I don't feel he needs to add all kind of things to Siegmund, he just needs to be Siegmund. Vocally. I think this noble singing can be effective a number of times, then it certainly sounds very beautiful, but I feel there is much more to Siegmund. Certainly in this long first act it tends to get a bit monotonous. At least that's the way I experience it. I thought he was very good in the second act. As to Eva-Maria, I have a lot of respect for the way she held on. She has cancelled all her performance in the next months due to health issues, but she performed admirably. I think these health issues are related to her voice. By the end of July she's expected to return. Her strongest act might have been the second. I also could see, as an actress, she wasn't involved as much as she usually is. I really could see, not only voice wise, but also in her stage presence, she isn't a 100% at the moment. It's a shame, but I guess these things happen to every singer, now and then.