The Met’s Die Walküre – All Those Valkyries and the Machine Breaks Down!!?!

A scene from Act 3 of Wagner's Die Walküre in a production at The Metropolitan Opera.(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
A scene from Act 3 of Wagner's Die Walküre in a production at The Metropolitan Opera.(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

For some reason I’ve had good luck with performances of Die Walküre.

The second of the four operas making up Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, the Valkyrie of the title is the impetuous Brunnihlde, she of the horns and breastplates from a time gone by.

Throw in a long lost brother and sister who, on being reunited, fall passionately in love (you did not misread that) add an outraged husband, plus Wotan the hapless King of the Gods, and Fricka (Mrs. Wotan) the goddess of marriage, stir in eight Valkyrie sisters and you have a long, fabulous and often noisy show.

I have a 1940 Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Walküre, with Lotte Lehmann, Friederich Schorr, Lauritz Melchior and Marjorie Lawrence.  The first act (with the brother/sister getting together) is near X rated. I’ve also seen this opera with the great Hildegard Behrens, with Jon Vickers, Leonie Rysanek, James Morris, James Levine, and so on. And…

I have never enjoyed Die Walküre as much as I did last Saturday, sitting in the Lennox Movie Theater in a row of fellow elderly homies, complete with popcorn and diet Pepsi.

We waited anxiously for the 12 noon start. It was rumored to be James Levine’s final performance for quite a while (due to his ongoing health problems) and his Wagner is enthralling. The line-up of singers was great.

We waited. And waited. And waited.  Finally,  I called a friend who was listening to the radio and word finally trickled back: The multi-million dollar “machine” of movable panels used for the Ring in Robert Lepage’s production, very simply broke. They couldn’t get it to operate. People in the $400 seats at the Met had to wait along with the rest of us, from Columbus Avenue to Columbus, Ohio.

At last. The music began and Levine let it sing when it needed to sing (Act I) and fly when it needed to fly. The balance between passion, abandon and solid musicianship was impeccable.

Watch Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund in The Met’s production of Die Walküre on April 19, 2011.

I have to say there is s something for looking the part. Obesity has in recent years ended several wonderful careers in opera. Tenor Jonas Kaufman, a buff looker, sang - really sang – without barking Siegmund’s music.

Soprano Eva Maria Westbroek, who a few months ago played Anna Nicole Smith in a new opera (the mind reels) had not only the volume but the warmth of voice imperative for Sieglinde.

The great rock like bass of Klaus-Peter Konig nearly stole the show. Stephanie Blythe played Fricka, the goddess of marriage. She has a twenty minute scene. Would it have been three hours.

Big Bryn Terfel sang carefully and well. He is not a Wotan by nature-you need an effortless ocean of sound and you could sense him working, but he’s Big Bryn. What’s not to love?

Deborah Voigt is not a Brunnhilde. The voice slimmed down when she did – certainly there’s plenty of beauty left, but the lack of volume was worrisome.  That said, she sang fearlessly and shirked nothing.

Levine in his infirmity moved me to tears. Seriously. Older and ailing with disc problems, he spared himself nothing over the five hour afternoon.

It was a great day. With the Met’s enormous deficits and the continuing machine malfunction sending the company into overtime, people might be rethinking production values. I thought a lot of this production – the Walküre forest especially – was visually stunning.

On to next season!

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