Saturday, May 19, 2012 is going to be quite a day, because starting at noon, and running six hours from start to finish is the final installment of Wagner’s Ring Cycle transmitted Live in HD by the Metropolitan Opera. That long stretch of Wagnerian story telling is daunting not only for singers, but for audiences as well. Happily, it includes two intermissions and some special backstage peeks with host Patricia Racette, and of course, some of the most glorious music ever written.
The Complete Ring Cycle in HD Soon?
So far, nothing has been announced for those who would like to take part in a marathon Ring Cycle transmission over one weekend, or perhaps even in one very long day of encores of the previous telecasts.
But the idea of encore performances of The Ring is exciting, and I have little doubt that Met General Manager Peter Gelb has something in mind, to be announced later. We are on the Met’s radar, so stay tuned.
The Monstrous Valhalla Machine
Ah, how we love to talk about the controversial – and innovative – Valhalla Machine. Many love it for its adaptability. Others who attended the initial performances were flummoxed by the high tech gadgetry. The stage wings had to be shored up to take the weight, and it did not always function perfectly. Many think it was used too much in the earlier Ring operas. Now some are saying it is used too little, or that it is slowing down the tempi. Opera lovers are clearly divided. For Götterdämmerung the rotating platforms are used less. My observation is that this allows the real innovations to come to the fore, the amazing projections. But whatever is going on with the stage business, it is the music that one goes to hear at The Met. The sets – lavish or simple as they may be – are just part of the stage pictures. After all true opera lovers say they “heard” an opera rather than merely “seeing” it.
So it is fair to say that Robert Lepage’s technologically advanced new staging of Wagner’s Ring cycle comes to an epic climax with Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods.”) Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi leads one of opera’s most thrilling dramas, which stars Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde, the warrior-maiden-turned-mortal whose actions lead to global apocalypse. Jay Hunter Morris, who stepped into the title role of Wagner’s Siegfried earlier this season to great acclaim, again sings the role of the doomed hero. The distinguished cast of Wagnerians also includes the American soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer as the princess Gutrune; the German mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier as Waltraute, a Valkyrie messenger of doom; German bass Hans-Peter König as the greedy villain Hagen; American bass-baritone Eric Owens as Hagen’s father, the evil dwarf Alberich; and Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson as the cowardly human king Gunther.
“Götterdämmerung is the most theatrically effective staging of the four works in this epic series, and the clearest representation of the director Robert Lepage’s vision…Fabio Luisi drew an uncommonly articulate and nuanced account of this daunting opera.”— The New York Times
The February 11 matinee of Götterdämmerung will be transmitted live around the world as part of The Met: Live in HD series, which now reaches more than 1700 movie theaters in 54 countries.
In the Berkshires, these may be seen at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, and the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown.
Luisi will lead his first Met performances of Wagner’s epic conclusion to the Ring tetralogy. Earlier this season, he led the new production premieres of Siegfried and Don Giovanni, and he will conduct the first complete cycles of Lepage’s Ring staging beginning this April. His future Met engagements this season also include the new production premiere of Massenet’s Manon and a revival of Verdi’s La Traviata. Lepage’s Ring production, which features a unique, technologically advanced set that can assume many configurations and receive video projections to realize Wagner’s stage directions, opened the Met’s 2010-11 season with the premiere of Das Rheingold; the new productions of Die Walküre and Siegfried followed in April and October 2011.
Voigt, long acclaimed for her Wagner performances at the Met, is singing her first Brünnhildes in this production of the Ring. Götterdämmerung will be the seventh Wagner opera in her Met repertory, which also includes Brünnhilde in Siegfried, both Brünnhilde and Sieglinde in Die Walküre, Isolde in Tristan und Isolde, Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer.
Earlier this season, Morris took over the starring role in the new production premiere of Siegfried with a week’s notice, and had a major success in the demanding title role. Last season, he sang Siegfried in complete Ring cycles with the San Francisco Opera. Throughout his career, he has starred in numerous world premieres, including John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, Howard Shore’s The Fly, Elliott Goldenthal’s Grendel, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
Harmer, who sang Freia in the new production premiere of Das Rheingold, will make her Met role debut as the lovelorn Gibichung princess Gutrune. Meier will add the role of Waltraute, Brünnhilde’s fatalistic sister, to her Met repertory, which also includes notable performances of Sieglinde, Isolde, Venus in Tannhäuser, and Kundry in Parsifal; last season at the Met, she sang her first performances of Marie in Wozzeck. Scottish bass-baritone Paterson made his Met debut as Gunther in the 2008-09 season. Owens was critically acclaimed for his role debut as Alberich in the production premieres of Lepage’s Das Rheingold and Siegfried stagings. König has appeared in all three prior Lepage Ring production premieres, singing Fafner in Das Rheingold and Siegfried and Hunding in Die Walküre.
Katarina Dalayman, who sang the Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde during the Met’s last complete Ring cycles in 2008-09, will take the role on February 3. Stephen Gould, last heard at the Met as Erik in Der Fliegende Holländer during the 2009-10 season, will sing Siegfried on January 31 and February 3.
The production team for Götterdämmerung is the same as in previous Lepage Ring productions: set designer Carl Fillion, costume designer François St-Aubin, and lighting designer Etienne Boucher. Video image artist Lionel Arnould makes his Met debut with Götterdämmerung.
The Met will present three complete Ring cycles in spring 2012, the first complete performances of Lepage’s production. The first cycle begins on April 7 and continues on April 13, 21, and 24. A second takes place April 26, 28, 30, and May 3, and a final cycle will play May 5, 7, 9, and 12.
For more information, including bios of the performers and production team, and general information about the Met season, please visit the Met’s Web site at http://www.metoperafamily.org/
PROLOGUE. On the Valkyries’ rock, three Norns spin the rope of Fate, recalling Wotan’s days of power and predicting the end of the Gods. When the rope breaks they descend in terror to their mother, Erda, goddess of the earth. At dawn Siegfried and his bride, Brünnhilde, emerge from their cave (“Zu neuen Taten”). Though fearful that she may lose the hero, she sends him forth to deeds of valor. As a token of his love, Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the magic Ring he took from Fafner, and she gives him her horse Grane in exchange. Passionately they bid farewell as Siegfried sets off into the world (Rhine Journey).
ACT I. In their castle on the Rhine, Gunther, Lord of the Gibichungs, and his sister Gutrune, both unwed, ask counsel of their half-brother, Hagen. Plotting to secure the Ring, Hagen advises Gunther to marry Brünnhilde: by means of a magic potion Siegfried can be induced to forget his bride and win her for Gunther in return for Gutrune’s hand. The hero’s horn announces his approach. Gunther welcomes him, and Gutrune offers him the potion. Remembering Brünnhilde, he drinks and forgets all, quickly succumbing to Gutrune’s beauty and agreeing to bring Brünnhilde to Gunther. The two men swear an oath of blood brotherhood (“Blühenden Lebens”), and then depart. Hagen, left to keep watch, broods on his plot’s success (“Hier sitz ich zur Wacht”).
On the Valkyries’ rock, Brünnhilde greets her sister Waltraute, who says Wotan has warned the gods their doom is sealed unless Brünnhilde yields the Ring to the Rhinemaidens. But Brünnhilde’s new love for Siegfried is more important to her than concern for the Gods. She refuses to give up the Ring, and Waltraute rides off in despair. Dusk falls as Siegfried returns transformed by the Tarnhelm into Gunther’s form. He tears the Ring from the terrified Brünnhilde’s finger and claims her as Gunther’s Bride.
ACT II. At night, before the Gibichung hall, Hagen dreams of his father, the Nibelung Alberich, who forces him to swear he will regain the Ring (“Schläfst du, Hagen?”). As dawn breaks, Siegfried returns with cheerful greetings for Hagen and Gutrune: he has won Brünnhilde for Gunther. Hagen summons the vassals to welcome the king and his bride (“Hoiho, Hoiho!”). When Gunther leads in Brünnhilde, she is startled at seeing Siegfried; observing the Ring on his finger, she decries his treachery and proclaims Siegfried her true husband (“Heilige Götter!”). Still under the potion’s spell, the hero vows upon Hagen’s spear that he has never wronged her (“Helle Wehr! Heilige Waffe!”). Brünnhilde swears he lies, but Siegfried dismisses her charge and leaves with Gutrune. The dazed Brünnhilde, bent on revenge (“Welches Unhold’s List”), reveals to Hagen the hero’s one vulnerable spot: a spear in the back will kill him. Taunted by Brünnhilde and lured by Hagen’s description of the Ring’s power, Gunther joins the murder plot. The couples proceed to the wedding feast.
ACT III. On the bank of the Rhine the three Rhinemaidens bewail their lost treasure (“Frau Sonne sendet lichte Strahlen”). Soon Siegfried approaches, separated from his hunting party. The maidens plead for the Ring, but he ignores both their entreaties and warnings. When the hunters arrive, Siegfried at Hagen’s urging describes his boyhood with Mime (his Nibelung foster father), his slaying of the dragon Fafner and finally – after Hagen gives him a potion to restore his memory – his wooing of Brünnhilde (“Mime hiess ein mürrischer Zwerg”). Pretending indignation, Hagen plunges a spear into the hero’s back. Remembering Brünnhilde with his last breath, Siegfried dies and is borne off (Funeral Music).
At the Gibichung hall, Gutrune nervously awaits her bridegroom’s return. Hagen tells her Siegfried has been killed by a wild boar, but when his body is carried in she accuses Gunther of murder. Hagen admits the crime (“Ja denn! Ich hab’ihn erschlegen”). Quarreling over the Ring, Gunther is killed by Hagen, who falls back in fear when the dead Siegfried raises his hand. Brünnhilde, entering, orders a funeral pyre for Siegfried (“Starke Scheite”). She condemns the gods for their guilt in his death, takes the Ring, and promises it to the Rhinemaidens. Placing it on her finger, she throws a torch onto the pyre and joyfully rushes into the flames. As the river overflows its banks and the Gibichung hall is consumed, the Rhinemaidens, dragging Hagen to his death, regain their gold, at last purified of its curse. Flames engulf Valhalla, leaving a human world redeemed by love.