For those who get the reference, well done. For those who don't, it is from Warner Brothers' "Whats opera doc?" that awesome cartoon which has Bugs and Elmer Fudd making fun of Wagner's Ring Cycle. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQlmXU1zqfc&feature=related )
So, this afternoon, a small handful of us went to the cinema to see another "Live from the Met in HD" opera recording (which was only about a month late!) This time, it was the second part of The Met's new Ring Cycle, Die Walkure, featuring a great cast and "the machine"
First, a bias. Part of me had been hoping in the lead up to the recording, that the Siegmund was going to be unable to sing on the day and the Australian tenor Stuart Skelton, his understudy, would get to sing. Sadly, this was not to be. However, having heard Jonas Kaufmann (and watched him as well) I certainly am not going to complain. Jonas is an outstanding singer, and cute to boot. His Siegmund was a masculine, virile presence who certainly was believable from the word go as the outcast who had spent his life fighting with his sword, till he collapsed totally exhausted. Not to mention, he sang outstandingly, and was convincing as the tortured soul that he played.
As his love interest/twin sister (yes, there is incest in opera, not just in Game of Thrones), Eva-Marie Westbroek was also suitably impressive. She, too, sang beautifully, and her transformation from abused wife, to woman in love, to woman in fear of what was to happen next was totally believable..
Her husband in this was performed by someone I have not come across before, a singer I hope to hear again in the future. And once again, it was a villain who I wanted to hear singing Wotan, for his sheer vocal power, and his ability to act with his singing, without losing the quality of his sound. Hans-Peter Konig (who sang Hunding) is definitely worth investigating further.
As Fricka, Stephanie Blythe proved why she is one of the US's most sort after dramatic singers. She only had one scene, but it is pivotal. She is the one who convinces her husband Wotan to go against his plans, and Blythe is convincing. She has a big powerful voice, and a physical presence that she uses to dominate the scene. Doing that against Bryn Terfel is no mean feat.
As Wotan, Terfel is much more at ease this time, than he was in Rheingold. He just sounded more at ease, and seemed much more in command of his performance. He was of course, as is required by the role, much more troubled by doubts and fears, but he carried that off in spades.
Which brings us to Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde. I think we can say that in Deb we have found the next great Brunnhilde. She was convincing from the first notes. As the performance progressed you saw her change from the carefree, girlish figure who is the favourite of her father Wotan, into a woman making her own choices and learning to live with the consequences, even if it means becoming mortal. Her bright silvery tones rang out clearly, making the role seem easy, even though we know it not to be the case. She did not sound tired even by the end, after that long last act where she sings constantly.
Which brings us to the production, and The Machine, that piece of staging that dominates this Ring cycle, in a way no other set would. Unlike the first opera, this time I did not feel like there were times when it was used because they wanted to show of the toy, rather than because it was a good choice. Hunding's hut was cleverly created, as were the various forest scenes. The rocky crags that feature prominently in this opera also worked well. Perhaps less well was using the machine to provide the horses, but I personally liked that, even though others felt it was a bit too "cutesy" It certainly was a better solution than having horses on stage with all the risks that come with them. My only real complaint about the machine was the ending when Brunnhilde ends up surrounded by fire. Somehow I cannot see Wotan leaving his favourite daughter upside down when he leaves her for the future hero to come. Also, call me old fashion, but if it calls for fire in the script, I want it to look convincingly firelike. It took for a long time before the magic fire looked convincing. Surely, if it were magic, it would look convincing from the word go? A minor quibble, but considering this was at the end, and what people were going to walk out of the theatre with, this matters.
So, in the end, I am left with this. A great cast, mostly served well by the production, but not all the time...
I will settle for a great cast anytime, myself..