I fear the Met may not be broadcasting its best this year. Granted, I’ve only seen two of their broadcasts so far this year(although this was partly because we had severe doubts about at least two more), but both were of pretty mediocre productions that displayed the Met’s reoccurring difficulty with going outside the box. The results were actually somewhat different, but this was largely because of the quality of the two operas themselves.
The thing one realizes while sitting through Wagner’s six-hour finale extravaganza is that he really is a genius, because to some extent it doesn’t matter just what they do up on the stage, so long as all the performers are good. Not only is the music beautiful, but it also tells the story almost by itself, and not just with the words, but with the notes, the motifs, sometimes just the undertone. You don’t even mind the extensive interludes, no longer necessary because not even a modern set as mechanical as this one actually needs all that time to change, but just listening to them’s worth sitting through all those planks’ silly moving about.
The set actually does some of its fanciest maneuvering in Gotterdamrung, even to the point that occasionally you forget it’s there, which was quite polite of it, mostly during the sequences in the “human world,” which perhaps works as symbolism, sort of. Unfortunately, after also impressing during the scene of Siegfried’s death, the staging in general falls flat during the final sequence of Brunnhilde’s burning the world down, and while Deborah Voigt is quite happy to be too spectacular for the audience to care for the first twenty minutes of it, then she kills herself, and you’re left to enjoy the music, but you have to ask those undulating planks, “Is that all?” It’s supposed to come full circle, of course, because they undulated at the beginning of Das Rheingold, but that just made me think that they were unimpressive then too, though at least both occasions have music so good it’s all okay.
The other big highlight of this particular show, though certainly everyone sung well enough, was in the third act, when after two operas of expending all his energy keeping up with Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris actually gets a chance to exceed our expectations, by not only singing but doing a wrenching acting job during the death of Siegfried; it really is remarkable for how much of this one he really does keep you from disliking Siegfried, seeing as the character’s still an asshole. He’s not quite wide-eyed anymore during his interview, and of course they’re now throwing in calculated things like references to his wife and kid(there have been quite a few gay rumors going around, apparently), but despite the hostess this time being nothing special, for some reason the interviews were much more entertaining than usual, perhaps as they tried to get around the fact that the only character who even half makes sense psychologically is the villainous Hagan(that singer wasn’t interviewed). But hey, we’re used to ignoring that by now, right?
As is now typical of them, the Met started their presentation of Siegfried a week ago during the Don Giovanni broadcast by interviewing the star, and they were sure to emphasize how lucky they were to find a Siegfried on such short notice, it being such a hard role to do and their original guy having bailed on them weeks before the opening. They managed to recruit a Texan who apparently has been working on the role for four years, though not with the thought he’d be performing it on this high profile a stage. Vocally he pulled it off fine, and in all the various interviews and backstage footage they showed of him Jay Hunter Morris came across as so damn earnest you can’t help but love him, and he brings that perhaps to the character too, who’s enough of an asshole that if you can avoid disliking him for the majority of the show, than the singer has truly accomplished something great. If he gets a little outsung by some of the others, especially Deborah Voigt, who blew the stage off, it’s okay; he’s done enough.
The production itself also made the best use yet of the set, leaving off absurdities like Valkyries riding the planks in favor of high tech projections including truly remarkable water effects, and even the 3D bird flying about only really goes overboard when it tries to land on Siegfried’s hand and is thus projected on him. That it didn’t malfunction on Saturday was obviously a point in its favor as well. Though perhaps the best use of it was actually a lack of light, done when the Wanderer called Erda up, and they made it look like he was floating in mid-air.
The biggest problem with Wagner’s Die Walkure isn’t its length, even though yesterday a five and a half hour viewing experience was stretched to six when there was half an hour’s delay before curtain, apparently because the computer that dictated the movement of the set was lacking some data(21st-century theater problems!). For the first two thirds, in fact, you don’t really feel the time, which is a sign of something being good. It does start to drag more during the end, when you start to think Brunnhilde might have to die, because usually in opera a death at the end is the only thing that will stretch it out to that extent. I suppose the death of her immortality can arguably be given the same importance.