Monday, October 31, 2011

Give the Kid a Mike!

Sam Shirakawa has been in New York City for the past couple of weeks and attended the opening night of the Met's new production of Siegfried. Here's his review:

Wagner: Siegfried (New Production)
Metropolitan Opera
27 October 2011

Have you ever attended a performance of Siegfried wishing afterwards that Brünnhilde never woke up?

Everything was going smoothly at the premiere of Robert Lepage’s new production of Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera until well into the third act. That’s when the hero broke the Wanderer's spear and things started getting dodgy. Up until that point, Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried was proving himself an able though somewhat smallish-voiced replacement for the ailing Gary Lehman, Bryn Terfel was done successfully navigating the Wanderer’s journey, and Siegfried’s miserable guardian Mime, sung  sympathetically by Gerhard Siegel, was long since done in.

But the crucial vignette in which Siegfried smashes the Wanderer's spear and strips him of his power was enacted upstage instead of toward the audience, thereby diminishing its impact as the most significant moment in The Ring of the Nibelung. A few moments later, Morris caused gasps as he slipped and nearly fell while traversing a fire-enveloped trough created by the dilatory planks that form Carl Fillion’s unit set.

The uh-oh moment of the performance came up when Brünnhilde arose from her slumber and greeted the sun. By the way, how does the Valkyrie manage to change into that cream-colored number if she’s been asleep all these years?

Anyway, Deborah Voigt sounded ill at ease from the start, and she gave some listeners no little discomfort whenever she was obliged to ascend above the staff, which was often. For those who are acquainted with the music in the final scene, the pair of high Cs that top out the longish section beginning with “Ewig war ich” are anticipated with either eagerness or dread, depending on the soprano’s vocal estate. On Thursday night, the wait was dreadful.

Disappointment at Voigt’s performance raises some questions: Was it simply a bad night? Undoubtedly. Is the role unsuited to her? Likely. Is her voice on the skids? Unlikely. To look at her account of the awakened Valkyrie in the most optimistic light, her voice may now have arrived at a key point in transforming itself from, say, soprano to mezzo-soprano.

Voigt, after all, is no longer a youngster. She made her Met debut in 1991 as Amelia. That was a spectacular, I Was There Event. Her voice was rich and on the dark side from the get-go, and it remains an essentially attractive instrument. While her lower and middle ranges have deepened with maturity, her upper register occasionally has sounded strained under pressure in recent years. The time may be at hand for Voigt to start looking seriously at Charlotte, Didon, the Composer and ... and ... and. If she hasn’t already.

I’m not sure whether Fabio Luisi’s tempi were on the slow side but they occasionally sounded slow. But they didn’t help Voigt get through her relatively brief stint. Which is not to say, that faster tempi would have ameliorated the serious matters confronting Voigt right now. That said, the Met Orchestra responded with some gorgeous playing. Luisi’s forte in Strauss and late Romantic music is his capacity to draw transparency from his players without sacrificing energy. This mindset in the Ring is an interesting alternative to Levine’s gracious but in-your-face directness.

Turning back the clock for a moment, the buzz surrounding the premiere was whether Jay Hunter Morris could acquit himself in the title role. As it turned out, he sang with unflagging enthusiasm, lyricism and intelligence, and never pushed beyond his means. His problem with this role is not of his own making. Siegfried demands a voice capable of trumpeting out in the forging scene and during the final pages of The Duet. More than once, I was thinking, give the kid a mike! His estimable vocal arsenal would fire off more tracers in any house smaller than the Met.

Others in the classy ensemble included Eric Owen’s nasty Alberich, Hans-Peter König as a drowsy Fafner, Mojca Erdmann as an instructive Woodbird, and Patricia Bardon at her best when telling Wotan he’s on his own.

Robert Lepage’s pretty, graphics-intensive production is less noisy than his Rheingold and Walküre, but it fails to render a sense of Siegfried ascending to a higher plane in the third act. He makes the hero’s journey to Brünnhilde’s lair more a hike through a fiery ravine than a climb to perilous heights.

Oh, yeah, the Dragon. Scary? Call it the Lizard of Oz.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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