Robert Lepage's Metropolitan Opera Ring of the Nibelung has finally come to a conclusion with the unveiling of Götterdämmerung, the last music drama in Richard Wagner's mighty trilogy. Readers of this blog, and those who have been following the Peter Gelb years at the MET, are probably aware by now that the crux of this production revolves around a 45 ton 24 plank behemoth known simply as "the machine," a complex mechanical apparatus that twirls into different shapes and intricate formations, while hyper-realistic projections are shone on its planks, thus creating environments that oftentimes react to the singers' voices and movements. The machine is the perfect metaphor for the one major fault in the conception of this production: on the one hand the gizmo is a marvel of up-to-date technological stagecraft, and at the same time it is a clunky and noisy piece of 19th century machinery.
And like the machine, the production is of two minds: half conservative and wanting to please the MET Old Guard with the moneybags, and half radical and innovative, and hungry for younger audiences that will hopefully keep the MET afloat in the years to come. When Peter Gelb was guest of honor at the Metropolitan Opera Club a year before the unveiling of this production he was asked if the new Ring would take place in mythological times and he assured the club that it would. He did not tell a lie. Once the machine arranges itself into place, the scenes that it creates are quite traditional. The problem is not the machine's ability to create beautiful settings, it is the machine itself. And it is not just the critics that object to this dychotomy. MET audiences are not buying that the end justifies the means. On opening night of Götterdämmerung, Lapage and his creative team were once again booed, as they were last year when Das Rheingold's rainbow bridge failed to work. I'm not sure if the booing came from the Parterre or from the Family Circle, but one thing is clear: the outburst that followed Götterdämmerung seemed not to be directed just at the final opera, but at the whole conception of the tetralogy.
These days solid, across-the-board Wagnerian singing is hard to come by, and modern audiences seem to have accepted this. This Saturday afternoon the performance of Götterdämmerung featured some stellar singing from Waltraut Meyer in her sole scene as Waltraute, and from Hans-Peter König, whose dark, cavernous and nasty Hagen brought Golden Age singing back to the MET. Also fairly strong were Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune, as well as Iain Paterson as her brother Gunther. Eric Owens, who scored a triumph as Alberich in Rheingold, was back reminding his son Hagen of their rightful ownership of the ring. Mr. Owens's voice sounded a bit tired this time around, and he resorted to a hint of the Bayreuth bark in his scene.
Deborah Voigt's recent vocal problems have no doubt been precipitated by too many journeys down the Rhine. Her choice to sing Brünnhilde was a brave one, and at the same time the logical role to take on at this point of her career. The results have been mixed. Her voice lacks luster, and is devoid of much warmth these days, and without these the role of Brünnhilde fails to be complete. Jay Hunter Morris, as Siegfried, got through the role, and actually improved as the afternoon went along. His heldentenor voice is strong and able to ride above the crowded pit, but the quality of his instrument is not too appealing, and ultimately he produced some sharp ugly sounds along the way.
The chorus, an absent commodity in the rest of the Ring, is a very vivid presence in Götterdämmerung, and it sang with incredible power and masterful diction. At times, I thought it sang too loudly, though, seemingly starting at fortissimo and increasing in volume from there. However, their sound managed to stay solid and impressive, making the vassals scene and the welcoming of Brünnhilde and Gunther the show stopper that it should be.
Fabio Luisi has taken over the Ring from the ailing James Levine. It is too early yet to make an objective decision as to his conducting. The orchestra still seems to be in Levine-mode, and Mr. Luisi seems to like that just fine. There were a few uneven entrances from the brass section, but overall, the orchestra handled this huge score with its usual expertise, producing some luscious, incredibly beautiful sounds. We might get a wonderful Italianate Ring a la Toscanini from him in the future, and I am sure that by the time the MET mounts its three Ring Cycles towards the end of the season, Mr. Luisi's interpretation will be in place.
The end of Götterdämmerung should wow an audience. This is when every production team and every opera house has a chance to pull out all the stops. Unfortunately, this production doesn't even come close. Though it is nice to see Grane, Brünnhilde's steed back in the Ring, this particular nag looked like a reject from the production of War Horse next door, and not the noble horse that once upon a time flew around with a Valkyrie on its back. Then the fire that consumes the world looked digitized, fake, and ultimately quite cold. The very last image of the production: an empty machine surrounded by thick clouds of fog was somewhat memorable -- but only because deep down I wanted the machine to just die and never rotate, twirl, or do any other production aerobics ever again.