When I bought tickets to Richard Wagner's Die Walküre months ago, urged on by the announcement that Lorin Maazel would be returning to The Metropolitan Opera to conduct, I didn't realize that the performance that I selected (the last time the work was presented on February 9) was instead going to be conducted by Sir Donald Runnicles, the energetic Scottish Music Director of the San Francisco Opera, and newly appointed General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. What a great surprise this was! Sir Donald is one of our great Wagnerians, and I have relished his conducting and wanted to see him performed since I heard a live recording of the controversial production of Parsifal from the Vienna State Opera, featuring Johan Botha in the title role and Thomas Quasthoff as Amfortas. You might want to see the CD cover that I created for this recording by clicking here. I found out that Mr. Runnicles was conducting my performance of Walküre while I was attending a dress rehearsal of Verdi's Otello a day earlier at the MET. Interestingly, the title role of Verdi's great opera was sung by Johan Botha.
Now, about the Walküre performance: Runnicles led with a sure hand right from the Act I downbeat. As a matter of fact, the first act was perfect, with all three singers in terrific voice. Siegmund was sung by Simon O'Neill, a wonderful tenor from New Zealand who faced the challenges of the role with true bravado and a huge, focused voice to match. Deborah Voigt's Sieglinde is a well-known commodity by now. She has been the house Sieglinde for many years and rightly so, although lately her voice has gotten a bit more strident than usual. Mikhail Petrenko sang an ominous Hunding whose presence spelled future dread.
This performance would have been ideal had it been a one-act opera. Then came Act II and many things did not come together. Lisa Gasteen sang a weak Brünnhilde, barely approximating the correct top notes of her treacherous Hojotoho entrance. James Morris performed a noble rendition of Wotan. Although his voice is getting drier each year, his performance was graced by the kind of experience that made Hans Hotter's last performances unique even when vocally they had lost the luster of youth.
Through it all, it was Sir Donald that kept things together, and the one performer who ultimately took the loudest ovations at the house. Personally, I was so glad that I did not read the MET's roster too carefully before ordering my tickets.