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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 9

The Met Live in HD: Die Walküre

by Joseph So / June 13, 2011

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This Met in HD, Die Walküre, the second installment of the Lepage Ring, reinforces my original impressions of Das Rheingold from last fallthe complex technology conceived for this production is a double-edged sword. To be sure, it is taking the Met out of its historically dominant mode of representational productions into a more cutting edge style typical of 21st century opera stagings. The massive set, nicknamed “The Machine,” is remarkably adaptable, capable of generating many stunning visual effects. But it comes with a price.

What appears realistic in the theatre doesn’t always stand up to close scrutiny. For example, the close-ups of the tree trunk in the middle of Hunding’s hut, while realistic in the theatre, reveal images projected directly onto the singers’ bodies. There are the occasional ill-judged effects, like the phony “primitive people” projections during Siegmund’s storytelling. The addition of leather straps for the valkyries to ride the “piano keys” appears ridiculous up close.

In the live theatre, a computer glitch on Saturday led to a 40-minute delay. However, the creative team is to be commended for making the set work for the soloists—the physical awkwardness of the singers negotiating the treacherous set in Rheingold is absent in Walküre — it helps to put Fricka on a motorized ram-chariot! More problematic is a lack of interpretation in Lepage’s vision of the Ring—it simply does not speak to the deeper meanings of the work. For all its visual wizardry, this Ring so far is interpretively neutral, even absent. Maybe this is just fine for the more conservative members of the Met audience, but it goes against the current trend in staging.

No such reservation exists musically as the performance on May 14 was terrific, with an outstanding cast led by the resplendent Wälsung Twins of Jonas Kaufmann and Eva Maria Westbroek. Bryn Terfel was a mellifluous Wotan and dramatically more interesting than in Rheingold. Stephanie Blythe’s mezzo rang out powerfully as Fricka. Deborah Voigt was a sympathetic if metallic-sounding Brünnhilde. James Levine, looking frail, was sluggish in the quieter moments, but he rose to the occasion in the big climaxes. It whets one’s appetite for the third and fourth installments due next season.

Lepage Gives the Met a Machine-Made Die Walküre by Paul E. Robinson

Watching Robert Lepage’s Die Walküre Live in HD, I was often enraptured by the words and the music and moved to tears on several occasions. It was a great performance, no doubt about it, with some of the finest Wagnerian singing and conducting one could ever hope to hear. And Lepage, the stage director, deserves much credit for the power of the experience.

However, Lepage’s overall vision, including the sets and projections, was disappointing and, under the circumstances, obscenely expensive. Peter Gelb must have lost his mind the day he agreed to fund a new Ring cycle based on a 45-ton machine prone to malfunctioning.

But worse than that, “The Machine”, as it is fondly called at the Met, has yet to give us anything of artistic merit that is worth the great amount of time and money spent on it.

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