DIE WÄLKURE - Season Premiere
Sam Shirakawa, peripatetic Wagnerian that he is, was at the opening night of Die Walküre at the Met on Monday night. His squib:
Season Premiere 6 April 2009
The Muses were in attendance at the Met on Monday night. I never thought “riveting” would be an appropriate way to describe James Levine’s reading of any score, but absent a lapse here and there, his umpteenth traversal of Wagner’s [who else’s?] Die Walküre was indeed riveting. The pacing seemed livelier, the dynamic thrust more propulsive than ever before.
After a briefly tentative start, James Morris sang possibly his finest Wotan at the Met to date. Few veteran singers get to show what they have learned over the years, because their voices give out before they get the chance. Morris is one of the lucky ones. Drawing from a wealth of acquired and innate reserves, he rendered a deeply moving account of an embattled god, forced to sacrifice two of his most beloved children. On Monday, though, his soft and heartbreaking farewell to his love child was overshadowed by the orchestra. Too loud, Jimmy!
The much anticipated curiosity of the evening was the debut of Iréne Theorin, a hastily recruited Brünnhilde, replacing the indisposed Christine Brewer. The Swedish soprano has an ample voice that’s evenly distributed from top to bottom, and she showed no signs of strain in scooping up to those treacherous Bs and Cs in the valkyrie’s signature war cry. What her voice lacks at this point in her young career is a personality that is distinctive and lingers in the ear. Withal, Theorin proved herself an effective actress on her first showing, and she needed no extra makeup to highlight her estimable comeliness.
The same can hardly be said of Jan Botha’s appearance. The stage lights may have been kept on extra low wattage to mask his corpulence. Ah, but the rotund sound of his Siegmund! Think Jon Vickers meets Franz Völker: seductive, sweet and potent. Too bad Wagner kills the Wälsung off at the end of the second act.
Too bad, too, that the composer also kills off Hunding almost at the same moment. Especially when the role is so deftly portrayed by John Tomlinson -- another veteran Wagnerian, who’s made a well-deserved name for himself as Wotan and Sachs over the years. As an acquaintance sagaciously commented during the first intermission, Tomlinson purveys a depth of understanding about the role that makes Hunding far more complex than a brutish cuckold. And it’s not all about the singing, about which: no complaints. The way he listens to Siegmund’s tale of woe and becomes aware that he’s giving hospitality to his arch-enemy; the way he makes his long-suffering trophy wife stand up so that he can sit down.
And speaking of that long-suffering wife, Waltraud Meyer is back again as Sieglinde. I’ve always liked her, but I don’t care for mezzo-Sieglindes. I long for that slightly girlish inflection that real sopranos bring to the role. But Meyer was in full possession of her dark powers on Monday night, and satisfied customers gave her huge ovations.
Yvonne Naef is a cooly bitchy Fricka in her Virginia Woolf encounter with Morris. When she quits the stage with no loss of perspiration, you know it’s Game Over.
The eight Valkyrie Sisters -- all in great shape.
Monday’s cast is set to appear on the broadcast matinee. Theorin will also appear in Siegfried, which is fortunate. But not, apparently, in the broadcast of Götterdämmerung, which is unfortunate.
A sidebar to Monday night’s performance: It was marred by the cacophony of cellphones beeping and jangling throughout the performance. The hall frequently sounded like an intensive care unit. Isn’t it time for a full-page ad opposite the cast listing in the program, telling patrons to shut off? Or maybe the security personnel at the entrances should make it mandatory. Even better, why not create a firewall around the building to prevent incoming calls? If Wotan could do it for Brühnnhilde way back in those pre-digital days of yore, certainly the Met management can do it for its public now.
© Sam Shirakawa