Met closes Ring cycle with a grand and satisfying “Götterdämmerung”

April 24, 2013
By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

Hans-Peter König as Hagen and Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

No walls come tumbling down in Robert Lepage’s staging of Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, revived Tuesday evening at the Metropolitan Opera. The twirling planks of Carl Fillion’s massive set go on creaking and thudding as in previous installments, and François St-Aubin’s costumes for the Gibichung vassals look to have been snapped up at a Monty Python and the Holy Grail tag sale.

There are shrewd touches: Lionel Arnould’s video imagery conjures rippling water and dizzying tree rings, amplifying the sense of events set in motion long in the past and of time rushing forward even as it turns in on itself. And in musical terms this Götterdämmerung does honor to Wagner’s work. While not a performance for the ages, Fabio Luisi’s alert conducting and a handful of masterful vocal turns make it a rousing climax to Wagner’s sprawling, sixteen-hour cycle of operas.

It is hard to imagine a stronger ensemble of secondary players than the one assembled by the Met. Elizabeth DeShong, Michaela Martens, and Heidi Melton brought luscious tone and chthonic mystery to the Three Norns’ music, with Melton’s bright, penetrating sound and commanding presence hinting at a Brünnhilde in the making. From the mad dash of her entrance to the mounting panic with which she learned of her sister’s determination to keep the ring, Karen Cargill was a riveting Waltraute. She scaled down her voice to a thread as she told of Wotan’s resolve to die, her tone beautifully supported yet icy and hopeless, at one with the shredded orchestral textures summoned by Luisi.

The Günther of Iain Paterson was a shifty, spineless, self-important ass—in other words, a first-rate Gibichung lord. Though his voice sounded a touch underpowered in its lowest reaches on Tuesday, he is a canny stage animal who digs into his words and knows how to let his voice rip while phrasing in a supple, musicianly manner.

Hans-Peter König’s thunderous, rock-solid tone would make him a vocal marvel in any era, but he is something rarer and more valuable altogether: a true and complete operatic artist. His Hagen was a joyless villain, a being bred to take on another’s burden of hate who unnerved less with brawn and malice than with a sense of yawning inner emptiness. He appeared most in his element during Alberich’s visitation: still, impassive, hovering in some shadowy realm just shy of life. And as the bridal procession escorted Günther and Brünnhilde from the stage in Act II, he lagged behind, ever the outsider, a desolate and ominous presence.

Each time Eric Owens’ shrivelled, white-haired Alberich uttered the words mein Sohn to Hagen, he seemed to lash him with a whip. Wendy Bryn Harmer’s voice bloomed fetchingly after Hagen’s potion won her Siegfried’s love. Dísella Làrusdóttir, Jennifer Johnson Cano, and Renée Tatum as the Rhinemaidens trilled and teased and warbled with glittery, seductive tone while scampering up and sliding down the planks of the machine.

Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried flubbed a single high note in Act III but otherwise sang and acted with his customary verve. His death scene was unusually moving: he struggled to lift Nothung as life drained from him, and memories of happiness seemed to crush him, his voice frail and ashen against the incandescent orchestral flourishes that had greeted Brünnhilde’s awakening in Siegfried. His lower register is rich and firm, and his soft singing—when he recalled the forest bird’s counsel or first looking upon his sleeping bride—was admirable.

After a shaky outing in Siegfried, Deborah Voigt sang Brünnhilde’s incomparably longer and more difficult music in Götterdämmerung well, though at this stage of her career she simply cannot muster the thrust and metal needed for this role. Pale, bewildered, and powerless as she was paraded before the Gibichung court, she spat out her alliterative verse—Ratet nun Rache, Zündet mir Zorn, and the like—with grandeur and bite. She cut short a few high notes (and dropped several words) during the immolation scene but sang it with more womanly tenderness than most Brünnhildes. Donald Palumbo’s chorus sang magnificently as the Gibichung warriors, and Erik Ralske played the stage horn solos with panache.

Luisi and the Met orchestra lost focus as the opera hurtled to its conclusion but gave a supple and sparkling account of Siegfried’s Rhine journey. The Met has not lacked for superb Wagner conductors in recent years, James Levine first among them, but there is a particular brand of sweetness that Luisi coaxes from the Met’s glorious string section, and it poured forth to intoxicating effect as day dawned on Brünnhilde and Siegfried in Act I and again in the final measures of the score, as the world shimmers, cleansed and at peace, after Brünnhilde destroys the gods.

In the Met’s production, Brünnhilde advances slowly towards Siegfried’s funeral pyre astride her steed Grane, a handsome, life-sized puppet, her arms flung out and her head thrown back in ecstasy. That image takes your breath away; the ensuing video-generated conflagration and flood are standard issue, and the staging ends, inevitably, as it began, with planks rippling against a glowing blue horizon.

On balance, Lepage’s Met Ring production is deeply conventional, without provocative metaphors or incisive direction of characters: not much of a bicentennial gift for Wagner. Still, we have had the chance to hear some remarkable artists bring Wagner’s music to life, and that is gift enough for anyone.

The Metropolitan Opera’s Ring Cycle II opens on April 25, and the season’s third and final Ring Cycle begins on May 4.; 212.362.6000.

2 Responses to “Met closes Ring cycle with a grand and satisfying “Götterdämmerung””

  1. Posted Apr 25, 2013 at 10:20 am by Dave

    Just the smallest correction, the sun rising on Brunnhilde and Siegfried is in the prologue, not Act I

  2. Posted May 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm by David Barchard

    A very good review but in my opinion, listening to this ring from far away over the BBC Internet, Fabio Luisi’s ‘Ring’ is most definitely ‘for the ages.’ I have heard him in different years and he is as good or better than any conductor I have known.