By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Live in HD — Richard Wagner: Siegfried
Saturday, November 5, 2011 Alhambra Renaissance 14 Theater
Encore performance: TBD
Next segment: Gotterdmerng,
telecast on Feb. 11 beginning at 9 a.m. (PST)
For reasons not explained (at least not that I have seen),
the encore performance of the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” telecast of
Wagner’s Siegfried is listed as TBD.
Part of the issue may be finding a time slot in theaters for a 5-hour-plus-long
telecast. But whenever it is, you don’t want to miss it, especially if you’re a
Wagner fan, so keep checking the Met’s Web site (above).
As most opera lovers know, the Met has been unveiling
segments of its new production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, over the past
year so, leading to three productions of the entire cycle beginning April 7,
2012 (see the Hemidemisemiquaver
The new production, which replaced a 20-year-old version,
was designed by Canadian Robert LePage and is dominated by an extremely large,
heavy (45 tons, so heavy that the Met had to install three 65-fooot steel
girders to reinforce its stage), complicated and expensive apparatus known by
some as “The Machine,” which uses 24 Fafner-sized metal planks that rotate,
pivot, move up and down, etc. to create sets for the four operas.
As was the case with LA Opera’s Ring cycle a few years ago, things seem to be improving
significantly for the Met’s Ring as
it moves forward, at least based on what I saw at my local movie theater today.
Part of that is due to improvements in the technology, including the addition of
some striking video projections and 3D animation effects. However, those took a
back seat to the music: the Met Orchestra, led by the company’s Principal
Conductor, Fabio Luisi, and the cast, headed by what amounts to a Peggy Sawyer
story (think of the 42nd St. movie)
for American tenor Jay Hunter Morris.
Morris, who hails from Paris, Texas and speaks with a
distinctive drawl (that doesn’t show up when he sings German), replaced Gary
Lehman in the title role eight days before opening night when the latter came
down with an undisclosed illness. Morris wasn’t exactly Sawyer (who stepped
onstage as literally an overnight replacement) and this wasn’t exactly new; he
actually made the same sort of rescue earlier in the year when he replaced Ian
Storey in the same role for San Francisco Opera’s Ring.
Nonetheless, Morris had to get up to speed on a complicated
production, mesh with cast members who were already deep into rehearsal, and
get ready to sing at the Met for the first time (the opening of the telecast showed
him getting lost trying to find the Met cafeteria and exclaiming at the view of
the empty opera house from the orchestra pit).
The first thing to say is that Morris’ youthful good looks
mean that he comes as close to what Wagner imagined for the youthful Siegfried
as probably anyone. In truth, Wagner asked for the impossible; he wanted a
teenager who could sing like an adult heldentenor
for five or so hours, finishing with a duet with a soprano who has been
resting until those climactic moments. You can get one or the other but not
both, but Morris comes pretty darned close to the ideal. His voice doesn’t
quite have that heldentenor ring yet
but it is bright and gleaming. He held his own with Deborah Voigt as Brnnhilde
and sang with lyrical grace whenever possible. Moreover, Morris acted the role
with real sensitivity (as did Voigt) — more on that in a moment.
Perhaps more than anything, today’s telecast was another
potent argument for the validity — and indeed, in some ways, the superiority –
of seeing an opera in the movie theaters. I don’t want to debate the merits of
seeing a production live as opposed to telecast from a sound point of view or
the electricity that can leap between performer and audience in a live house on
the best of days. Nonetheless, those in the theaters enjoyed some visuals that
can’t possibly have been seen from most of the seats in the opera house.
Two examples: When Morris and Voigt were singing their final
35-minute duet, there was a moment when Voigt was lamenting her fate and Morris
gave her a swift — almost infinitesimal — side glance of sympathy (mirth?
pathos?). I doubt anyone in the Met could have seen it. Moreover, I wonder how
many people in the opera house could have seen how the woodbird was “singing”
in synch with soprano Modjca Erdmann (sort of a reverse Milli Vanilli); an
intermission interview revealed that the singer was actually controlling the
animation effect through her voice. Those were just two of many such episodes.
As usual, the intermission features were fascinating,
beginning with the exhilaration being felt by the singers as the came offstage
at the end of each act. A segment on Morris showed him collapsing on a couch in
his dressing room at the end of Act II in dress rehearsal, pulling off the infamous
ring and saying, “Here, take it!” He did the same thing, playfully, to Rene
Fleming, who was the performance hostess, at the end of Act II today. A lengthy
feature on Morris’ rise to this point in his career displayed a great deal of
humanity from the singer — he’s still somewhat in the “don’t pinch me in case I
wake up” mode.
In addition to Morris, the balance of the cast was
excellent. Voigt has gotten snipes in reviews for her singing but I thought she
sounded lustrous today and brought real pathos to the role of the woman who
goes to sleep as a goddess 18 years earlier (as she joked in an interview –
there was an 18-year-gap between when Wagner completed Act II and began Act
III) and wakes up as a mortal. Moreover, she and Morris genuinely seemed
smitten with each other by the final curtain (it doesn’t always happen).
Bryn Terfel sang with impressive majesty as the Wanderer;
he’s clearly a worthy successor to Thomas Stewart and James Morris in the Met’s
Wotan/Wanderer legacy, and if he isn’t then Eric Owens, whose dark bass voice
was perfect for the malevolent Alberich, could be next in line.
Another star was Gerhard Siegel as Mime; he’s sung the role
of Siegfried many times and he has that sort of voice, which was on full
display as he portrayed the scheming dward. Siegel also related in an
intermission that when he was singing in the Met’s 2009 presentation of the Ring, he suffered a heart attack (“The
Met saved my life,” he exclaimed fervently). Hans-Peter Knig boomed darkly as
The Met Orchestra remains one of the marvels of the musical
world; it hasn’t lost a beat under Luisi’s ministrations. The Italian maestro
moved things along briskly — the performance lasted far less than the six hours
that the Met’s Web site had forecast. Luisi also showed a great deal of
sensitivity in accompanying his cast and really let Wagner’s music speak for
Speaking of Fafner, the Met follows in a long tradition of
being unable to come up with a convincing dragon. You’d think with the amount
of money being spent on this production that someone could have created
something more convincing than a head with sharp teeth and a long neck. As I
said, others have failed, as well. The performance did have a bear that made a
brief appearance in Act I, although he looked more cuddly than ferocious.
The video projections on the 24 giant planks were striking
and, in most cases, added to the drama. The video wizards managed to create an
effective stream that, inexplicably, seemed to run through Mimi’s hut/cave and
also added reflections in the water that showed up when Siegfried is wondering
how he can be related to Mime. The projections also created a realistic forest
for Act II, although Fafner’s cave was somewhat indistinguishable.
The real oddities came in Act III. The pulsating prelude was
accompanied by Wotan/Wanderer stirring a lake that eventually dissolved into a
glacier (ask not why). After Siegfried got through the fire surrounding the
rock where Brnnhilde lay asleep (highly effective) he seemed to have trouble
discerning someone lying on the rock; it was difficult to see it in the movie
theater and I suspect might have been even more incomprehensible inside the
All of these are minor quibbles in the grand (5-hour-plus)
scheme of things. As I said, things seem to be looking up for the cycle and, as
was the case in Los Angeles, I suspect that the totality of the Met’s cycle
will be much greater than its individual parts that we’ve seen so far. If
anyone has a few thousand dollars and wants to sponsor me, I’d love to go.
When the Met announced it would begin telecasting operas
into movie theaters, those of us on the West Coast joked that people might come
in their pajamas. That certainly was possible today with a 9 a.m. start time
but a good-sized crowd showed up at the Alhambra Renaissance 14 Theater.
Considering the kvetching that occurred when LA Opera ran
its cycles over a nine-day cycle (the traditional cycle — i.e., Bayreuth –
usually takes six days), it’s interesting to note that the first of the Met’s
cycles begins April 7 and ends April 24, while the second and third cycles
stretch over eight days each.
Although James Levine is currently listed as the conductor
for 2012 Ring cycles, Fabio Luisi
will be conducting the performances of Gotterdmerng,
which begin January 27 (the theater telecast is slated for Feb. 11) while
Levine continues to recuperate from back surgery. Stories printed yesterday
said that a decision on whether Levine would conduct the cycles would be made
within the next two months.
Casts announced for the cycles also involve some
interesting changes. Gary Lehman, who was replaced by Jay Hunter Morris for
this Siegfried and the
January-February Gotterdmerng, is
currently slated to sing the roles in the cycles. Seems a little unfair for
Morris. Meanwhile, Deborah Voigt will be alternating roles with Swedish
Katarina Dalayman in the three cycles.
Morris was replacing Lehman who replaced Ben Heffner, who
pulled out in February. That eventually set off a set of musical chairs that
involves San Diego Opera’s production of Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick. Read about it HERE.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.