Monday, 13 February 2012

Met Götterdämmerung - the tragedy

The Met's Siegfried was Wagner as Walt Disney might have presented it. But at least Disney had charm. The Met Götterdämmerung isn't even a cartoon, but a sketch discarded before its ideas are even formed. The Met Ring cycle started with technical problems, but what killed it was its complete inability to connect to Wagner or his music. Its failure, though, highlights what the Ring really is all about: don't put faith in material items, but focus on deeper values. The Met has not learned the lesson of the Ring. It's still relying on big money gestures, not on artistic insight. That's the real curse of the Met Ring. To sell, it has to sell out. (Please read here for more)

With Götterdämmerung, no-one can blame Robert Lepage's Machine, for now it's reduced to little more than a blank screen onto which light shows are projected. All pretence at engaging with Wagner's emotional power is discarded. This is a showcase for celebrities. Perhaps that's why Lepage doesn't seem to have bothered about directing. Experienced singers like Terfel and Kaufmann can direct themselves, and both know what Wagner's is about. Thus Die Walküre had outstanding moments, by far the best installment in the cycle. For a moment, it seemed that the Met Ring might at last deliver. But then the artistic schizophrenia started and sabotaged all hope. (Please read more here).

Deborah Voigt may be a diva, but she's no Brünnhilde. Brünnhilde may be a spolied brat Daddy's Girl, but there's a lot more emotional complexity in the part than Voigt's frighteningly one-dimesnional portrayal even begins to suggest. In Siegfried, Voigt's unvaried fast vibrato was interesting since it suggested a dove cooing as it made its nest. In Götterdämmerung, it  distracted like a maddening tic.Voigt's acting was restricted to widening her eyes and clenching her chin, her vocal tone unvaried. One minute, she thinks she sees Siegfried coming, then she sings about being betrayed. Emotionally it's a huge switch, reflected in the music, but Voigt hardly twitches. Brünnhilde's entry into the Hall of the Gibichungs can be a soul-destroying experience - it is for her - but Voigt's aplomb wasn't stirred. Fans who've come to hear a diva do her thing were probably thrilled, but in Voigt's self-absorbed triumph. there was no room for Brünnhilde 

Voigt and Jay Hunter Morris are made for each other, vocally and interpretively so well matched that one wonders what they'd sound like with other partners. It wouldn't have been fair to judge Morris's performance in Siegfried as he said he hadn't had time to rehearse. Everyone loves an outsider who becomes an overnight sensation. It's human interest and the Met PR went into hyperdrive. They needed a sensation to distract from the productions!  So they made a possibly scripted mini film about him which was extraordinarly effective, creating a fan market. Morris looks good, but his isn't a voice with much inherent colour or range. It's light rather than truly lyrical, and tires easily. As Martin Bernheimer says. Morris's "prime virtues involved stamina, cheer and availability." The Met PR keeps rambling on about stamina, but Morris's voice fell apart badly in the third act. Of course it's a tough part but it's not impossible. A lot of work has been done on him since Siegfried, with good results in the lower register but it's not clear if this is a voice with longevity.

In any case, stamina alone is not a virtue, nor is cheer. There is a lot more to Siegfried than Morris develops. He's good looking, which is enough to convince the fans. But like the Rheingold, glitter isn't enough. Everyone hails Seigfried as a hero, but Wagner shows that Siegfried's a gullible boor who doesn't actually like women and whose successes come from not knowing fear. Siegfried has magic props to help him on his way, but he doesn't have wisdom. There are dark sides to Siegfried, and Brünnhilde's the real hero of the Ring. Morris's pretty, boyish Siegfried works well with Voigt's little girl Brünnhilde, but in this production, neither are called on to do much. Ironically, another lesson of the Ring is that self-awareness and self-knowledge aren't the same thing.

In that sense, Hagen is a kind of hero, for unlike Siegfried, he has an inner life and questions himself when he's lost in dreams. (Please read some of what I've written about him here). Hans-Peter König is a very experienced Wagner singer, who understands that the role is more than boom and gloom, which might throw those expecting Hagen as stock villain. Wagner underlines the mystery in the role with music that becomes tonally ambiguous, but unfortunately the Met's horns took this too literally and went out of tune, diverting from König's subtle, dignified performance.  In comparison, Eric Owens' Alberich was a comic book buffoon (Owens is good but this was a carry over from the comic book Siegfried).

As Waltraute, Waltraud Meier's huge Wagnerian heritage helped her too, though for good reason, she didn't seem much inspired in relation to what was happening around her. Iain Patterson's extensive European experience also informed hs portrayal of Gunther. Gunther isn't as weak as the Met PR would have, for he, like Hagen (must be in mum's genes) intuits the enormity of the situation. In one of the few good moments in this production, Patterson washes his hands of Siegried's blood in the waterfall where the Rhinemaidens sported. The implication may be that we're all culpable if we don't stand up to venality as Brünnhilde (not Voigt) does.

The Rhinemaidens sang joyfully, sliding down The Machine when the music slides and dips. This time no silly fake swimming as in Das Rheingold. Please read more here. The Norns were less appealing, one being rather poor. Choruses were lusty and animated, sounding much more sincere than some of the principals.

Utterly daft ending. Ludicrous horse, wimpy immolation. Someone in the cinema audience where I was thought it meant that The Ring ends happily with the lovers going up to Heaven. Perfectly reasonable conclusion, given the misguided staging, as if Lepage and co had given up altogether.

It's occured to me how delighted some people might feel about the failure of this new Met Ring. Perhaps seeing the Met humbled to the level of  third-rank provincial might cheer some, but it's a loss to everyone, even outside the US.  Fabio Luisi was well respected in Europe and brings a fresher. more elegant brio to the orchestra, opening up new possibilities. But maybe there are too many who oppose change at all costs, and want to bring back the old order. Alas, the Met Ring is old order beneath a new veneer.

Please also see Boulezian here.  Dr Berry is the author of Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fires : Politics and Religion in Wagner's Ring.

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