Philippe Jordan
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
27 April 2019
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedAndreas Schager
BrünnhildeChristine Goerke
GuntherEvgeny Nikitin
GutruneEdith Haller
AlberichTomasz Konieczny
HagenEric Owens
WaltrauteMichaela Schuster
WoglindeAmanda Woodbury
WellgundeSamantha Hankey
FloßhildeTamara Mumford
1. NornRonnita Miller
2. NornElizabeth Bishop
3. NornWendy Bryn Harmer
New York Times

Two Major Met Opera Arrivals, Just 15 Hours Apart

Even for singers with established international careers, a debut at the Metropolitan Opera is a major milestone. And it’s not often that two important Met debuts take place — in polar-opposite roles, with completely different expectations — just 15 hours apart.

On Friday night, Rosa Feola, 32, an Italian soprano who has appeared to acclaim at the Teatro alla Scala, the Vienna State Opera and elsewhere, made her Met debut as Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” This character, the winsome young daughter of an overbearingly protective father, is a classic role, written for a lighter, lyric coloratura voice and sung splendidly by many over generations, so a soprano must find a way to stand out.

Then, on Saturday morning, the Austrian tenor Andreas Schager, who has made a name for himself in heldentenor roles requiring Wagnerian heft and stamina, made his much-anticipated debut as Siegfried in “Götterdämmerung,” the fourth and final opera of Wagner’s “Ring.” Here the expectations were entirely different. The role, especially in “Siegfried” but also in this concluding, four-and-a-half hour installment, is one of the most punishing assignments in opera. Wagner fans have learned to appreciate any tenor who can at least get through it. After all, no Siegfried, no “Ring.”

So how did these two artists fare? Very well.

Ms. Feola has a warm, full-bodied voice with natural bloom and a touch of darkening richness. She dispatched coloratura runs and filigree with ease and agility. There was nothing generic about the beauty of her singing. Depending on the dramatic urgency of the moment, she would inflect a phrase with an earthy, even steely sheen. She seemed at home in Michael Mayer’s garishly colorful production, which sets the story in 1960s Las Vegas, with the Duke (the tenor Matthew Polenzani, in excellent voice) presented as a sort of headliner on the strip. In fact, the contemporary trappings allowed Ms. Feola to tease out contemporary resonances from Gilda’s character.

From the start, you could sense how exasperated this restless Gilda was with her smothering father, the jester Rigoletto (the baritone George Gagnidze), who tries to keep her in seclusion at home. When the Duke, pretending to be a poor student, romances her, Ms. Feola’s Gilda practically trembles with pent-up longing. Even in the wrenching Act II scene when Gilda, having been kidnapped by the Duke’s men and brought to their boss, confesses all to her father, Ms. Feola’s Gilda was alternately consumed with shame and afire with helpless ardor.

Mr. Schager pretty much met expectations, which is saying a lot given the paucity of tenors who can sing Siegfried. (He shares the role with Stefan Vinke through May 11.) He has a hefty voice with clarion top notes and energy galore. He began his career singing lighter repertory, and remnants of that background came through in the lyricism he brought to Siegfried’s tender moments. Of course, given the vocal demands, Mr. Schager had his share of bellowed outbursts, gravelly low passages and raw sound. His heartiness and vigor were boundless, and, like a college athlete, he scampered up and down the planks of the mechanical set that dominates Robert Lepage’s production.

In a role that can easily make Siegfried seem like some rowdy, clueless, clunky youth, he conveyed genuine romantic longing for Brünnhilde (the soprano Christine Goerke at her best). And during the long stretch of the story at the hall of powerful Gibichung family, when Siegfried — under the spell of a potion that makes him forget Brünnhilde and fall for Gutrune (the gleaming soprano Edith Haller, in her Met debut) — Mr. Schager’s vulnerable Siegfried often seems poignantly confused, with flashes of memory when he appears to know something is not right. Until a dream-come-true Siegfried arrives, Mr. Schager will do just fine.

The bass-baritone Eric Owens made a prideful, calculating and vocally formidable Hagen. And, once again, the conductor Philippe Jordan is proving the hero of the Met’s “Ring.” He led an inexorably unfolding and incisive account of the score, drawing velvety string sound and blazing yet never blaring crescendos from the Met Orchestra, which has seldom sounded finer.

Ms. Goerke was magnificent. With unfailing energy, fearless abandon and gleaming sound, she was a mesmerizing Brünnhilde. She caught all the mood shifts of this volatile character, one moment coming across like a smitten young lover, the next a betrayed and embittered woman, a former Valkyrie warrior who by the end, in a self-immolating act of transcendence, brings down the entire edifice of the gods.

Anthony Tommasini | April 28, 2019


Goerke, Jordan illuminate the twilight in Met’s “Götterdämmerung”

It’s fitting that Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, a nearly nineteen-hour experience taken all together, should have an unforgettable ending. After so much time spent with Wagner’s music, the spectacular conclusion of Götterdämmerung is overwhelming, combining climactic size with emotional force.

This is especially so in a performance led with as much skill and imagination as Philippe Jordan brought to Saturday’s matinee at the Metropolitan Opera, the first of four showings in this year’s set of Ring cycles. Jordan has progressed since the opening of Das Rheingold back at the beginning of March. Whereas his reading of the cycle’s first leg didn’t quite capture the scale and richness of the score, Götterdämmerung under his direction was majestic, boasting lush textures, evocative gestures, and a real sense of dramatic scope.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the opera’s closing scenes, where precise balance and clear intention brought out the emotional power of the music, as the motifs that have driven the many preceding hours of music—the gurgling of the Rhine, the love theme, Valhalla, Loge’s fire—all converged in a breathtaking conclusion. Jordan blended these ideas masterfully, weaving them in and out of each other, and the Met orchestra has rarely sounded better, playing in perfect ensemble and glowing in the pit.

For Christine Goerke, this matinee marked the completion of a remarkable tour as the valkyrie Brünnhilde, her first at the Met. She, too, capped a brilliant performance with a striking last impression, bringing a riveting mix of passions to her immolation scene. She had all the vocal fire required for her final, blazing act of defiance, and indeed her voice thrilled as she threw herself onto the pyre and brought down the kingdom of the gods with her.

But just as impressive is her ability to grasp the quietness of such a complex role, and to hear those two sides in such close tension one more time was stunning. By the end of the Ring, no one has come so far or endured so much as Brünnhilde, suffering betrayal, earning triumphs, experiencing love both filial and romantic. To watch Goerke give such an invested performance throughout the cycle has been a privilege.

Alas, Robert Lepage’s production cannot support the weight of the Ring’s cataclysmic ending. This Götterdämmerung in a sense reflects both the potential and the greatest weaknesses of the Met’s cycle as a whole. The Prologue, in which the segments of Lepage’s machine-set flail violently, destroying the rope of fate as the Norns look on in helpless terror, is among the best demonstrations of this staging’s capacity for powerful spectacle. Yet the final moments, so vivid in the score, are presented as an insipid montage, emblematic of Lepage’s consistently superficial engagement with this complex piece.

The staging gives little for actors to work with, placing all emphasis on the machine behind them and forcing them to entertain themselves in empty space. No one suffered from this more than Andreas Schager as Siegfried, who filled a lot of stage time with bizarre antics such as fixing his hair and cleaning his teeth in the reflection of his sword. His mugging marred an otherwise commendable house debut, in which he showed power in his tenor and bright ring in his top, even if much of his range lacked color.

This cycle has been quite the introduction for Tomasz Konieczny, who made his debut in March’s Das Rheingold and immediately impressed with his dark, powerful bass-baritone. His take on Alberich, the Nibelung who set the plot’s events in motion, is marvelous, dripping with barely repressed fury. His intense commitment to the arc of his character—from a brief moment of intoxicating power as master of the ring to a spiteful, diminished villain with nothing left but his own resentment—made him one of the stars of this cycle.

More subtle was Eric Owens’s portrayal of Hagen, Alberich’s son, whose motives are similar but burn more quietly, letting him stew in his hatred rather than bursting out into the open. This was a welcome return to form for a gifted singer: Owens struggled for a few years, and it was encouraging to hear him sound more focused and more rich than he has in quite some time, bringing back the gravelly, colorful tone that first made him a star.

Evgeny Nikitin brought a robust, surprisingly bright baritone to the role of Gunther, while Edith Haller showed formidable vocal weight and volume as Gutrune, though her voice grew a little unwieldy towards its top. Michaela Schuster sounded too weary to convey the martial vigor of Brünnhilde’s valkyrie sister Waltraute, and Ronnita Miller stood out as the first Norn for the burning intensity of her mezzo-soprano.

Eric C. Simpson | April 28, 2019


Andreas Schager Triumphs In His Met Debut As Wagner’s Tetralogy Gets Fitting Ending

The Metropolitan Opera’s first Ring Cycle of the 2018-19 season came to a glorious end with “Götterdämmerung” in a production featuring a tremendous cast. In some ways, this might have been the most satisfying evening of the entire cycle, with a luxurious cast of true singing actors against a production that, at times, had something to say.

A Hero Above All
Andreas Schager made his Met debut in a way only few can dream of. From his very first “Mehr gabst du, Wunderfrau,” his voice beamed into the Met with tremendous potency and brightness. Over the course of the five-hour night, his singing lost none of that warmth or vibrancy. If anything, he got better and better, putting what was undeniably a heroic shift.

His Siegfried, despite exhibiting maturity, was still very much a young man-child coming into his own. From his playful high fives with Gunther and the other men, to uncontrollable around other women, this was a man with a lot to learn.

Siegfried’s betrayal of Brünnhilde in Act one is a highly debated moment. He drinks a potion and forgets her in one fell stroke. In this manner, Wagner is able to give Siegfried a manner of forgiveness in the audience’s eyes – he is but a victim. But here, Schager managed a greater degree of complexity. As soon as Gutrune entered the scene, Schager’s entire body twisted in her direction, betraying his sexual excitement. He still hadn’t drunk the potion, so he had no excuse for his sudden attraction to her. As he took up the drinking horn, his delivery of “Vergäss’ich alles, was du mir” was gentle in its approach, the voice subtley crescendoing to the final D flat as he pronounced “Brünnhilde, bring ich dir.” While expressing his love outwardly, there was a tinge of melancholy and loss in his singing, as if he knew exactly what he was doing. For the rest of the performance from here on, mentions of Brünnhilde or their past were met with a headache for Siegfried, as if he were in constant inner battle with his betrayal. They became less frequent overall, expressing that Siegfried was overcoming his sense of guilt, but never truly left him. This added to the complexity of the hero as a human corrupted by the social framework he was engaging with.

His confrontation with Brünnhilde was likely the dramatic highlight of the evening, the two singers seemingly pushing one another to greater vocal heights as the scene developed. Schager never let up, his sound growing and growing with each retort, adding to the tension. It is also worth mentioning that Schager’s vocal virtuosity was on full display at the end of the first Act when, disguised as Gunther, he steals the ring from Brünnhilde on the rock. The tenor gave his sound tremendous heft, becoming almost unrecognizable.

He was perhaps at his most rich vocally in the third Act, first in his interactions with the Rhinemaidens and then in recounting his life. The high C with which he greets the other hunters was a true standout moment. Where other tenors scoop up and down from the high note quickly, Schager added a fermata, holding the note for a few seconds to truly visceral effect. The fact that his singing showed no distress as he recounted each of the bird’s moments was all the more impactful, showcasing his vocal prowess and Siegfried’s own heroic nature in a rather direct way.

But nothing could top his final moments as he finally remembers Brünnhilde to some of the most glorious music of the tetralogy. “Brünnhilde, heilig Braut” was sung with expansive line, Schager’s bright sound given a darker hue that immediately expressed a sense of maturity and enlightenment for the character. While some artists cut off the ends of phrases to express Siegfried’s loss of strength, Schager went in the opposite direction, his voice growing to the end of each phrase. His death was transformation and expansion; Siegfried had seemingly come to appreciate what Brünnhilde had sought to teach him. In this context, the death scene had a greater tragic dimension. It wasn’t until he was no more that he could be more. In this manner, however, one can also understand Brünnhilde’s own wisdom to be with Siegfried in death.

The Heroine Of The Tetralogy
It is in “Götterdämmerung” where the audience comes to realize that Brünnhilde is the true hero that Wotan had been searching for. Reborn as a woman and forced to live without his guidance, she is the one who ultimately does what no one else could – return the Ring and bring about the destruction of the Gods. And as Brünnhilde, Christine Goerke was the embodiment of power throughout.

From her first appearance to the end of the opera, Goerke’s Brünnhilde was a dominant presence. Brünnhilde finds herself with the greatest challenges in the entire opera, having to encounter her sister, Siegfried (twice), and then the other characters until she ultimately burns it all down. Not once, did this Brünnhilde betray a sense of insecurity. She undeniably hurt in her confrontations with Siegfried, but you never felt that she was just going to give in and let herself be dominated. This sense of strength and power was at its greatest prominence during the confrontation with Siegfried in Act two (get ready for a lot of mentions of this scene throughout the review). Those “Betrug!” and “Verrat” repetitions on an E flat and G flat thundered through the hall with great power, and you could sense that Goerke’s voice was unleashed in a way we hadn’t heard it before. “Heil’ge Götter, himmlische Lenker” had tremendous harshness particularly in the upper reaches, expressing Brünnhilde’s anger in a truly visceral manner. It wasn’t pretty or polished in sound at all, particularly the repeated high A’s throughout the passage, but it was truly effective from an emotional standpoint. As the scene developed, Goerke really allowed her singing to take flight, her vibrant middle dominating the scene. As with Schager, she just got better as it went along and the sense of the two engaging in mortal battle climaxed with her grabbing the spear and nearly destroying him with it at one point.

Her sense of composure and presence came to the forefront in the opera’s final scene when she came face to face with Gutrune in declaring herself the true wife of Siegfried. Her look was all she needed, immediately pushing back Edith Haller’s Gutrune without much more effort.

The immolation scene is Brünnhilde’s big moment in the cycle. Not only does she bring it all to an end, but she gets to do it with some of the most glorious lines in all of opera. It is the paramount test for any interpreter of the role. Goerke did well in some moments. “Wie Sonne lauter strault mir sein Licht” was undeniably the most poignant moment of the entire scene, with Goerke’s legato lines stunningly beautiful, her sound rich and flowing seamlessly.

But there were others, mainly any punctuated by a high note (of which there are a ton in this passage), that unfortunately didn’t quite register. As the scene draws to its close, Brünnhilde is faced with one high note after another (namely anything above high A flat), and Goerke’s sound increasingly lost focus, volume and pitch accuracy. Of course, she is at the end of a long night and one can understand just how challenging it is to sing this passage, but her high range, in general, seemed troubled over the course of the opera. While the middle of her sound all the way down to the bottom is focused, the top loses that brightness and stability, the pitch often going flat and the sound muddled. In the Act two showdown, this quality doesn’t detract from the fury but adds to the emotional messiness of the moment. But in the moment of heroism, it undercut her proclamations, each high note similarly hit or miss. Fortunately, Goerke’s stage presence made her a force regardless and mitigated these vocal effects somewhat.

If not for the Immolation Scene, this was an incredible night overall from the soprano.

Scheming Siblings
Hagen is one of the most horrid of all villains in opera. He is a brilliant mastermind, who is also the ultimate outsider in the world of men. Power is within his grasp and yet so far away. And Eric Owens proved the perfect interpreter for the character.

The American bass’s dark and edgy sound gave Hagen a sense of crudeness. But this was juxtaposed by Owens’ elegant legato line, which gave the character nobility and avoided a caricature that some often slide into. Just because Hagen is an ugly character at heart, doesn’t mean he has to sound like one.

What was particularly potent about Owens’ interpretation is how he gradually pulled back the layers on Hagen and exposed his damaged heart. When we first encounter him with his siblings, he’s but another human being with a wise mind. His singing in praise of Brünnhilde and Siegfried exhibited elegance and precision. Early interactions with Siegfried were similarly direct and proper, with little semblance of sarcasm in the singing. When Hagen finally exposes his darkness in, Owens started to really allow the ruggedness in his sound to take over. But even here, there remained a sense of composure, which emphasized Hagen’s sense of control.

His encounter with his father at the start of the second Act really emphasized the fact that Hagen was in a weaker state, Owens’ voice delicate and soft, almost piano. He looked weaker in the scene and the lack of pushback on his part, only emphasized how Hagen might actually be little more than a puppet in all this. It humanized him quite prominently.

In his scene with the other men, we saw Hagen the leader as Owens’ voice rang out with amplitude and vibrancy. And this sense of control and might continued during the big confrontation that ensues between Brünnhilde and Siegfried. While the others battle back and forth, Hagen’s interjections retained their vocal wholeness, never betraying a sense of the evil that lay behind. He came off as a fair judge.

But then his evil really started to come to the forefront during his interactions with Brünnhilde in the trio at the end of the Act, but especially in the final scene with Siegfried in Act three. “So singe, Held,” a seemingly innocuous line of encouragement in the middle of Siegfried’s narrative was one of the most startlingly visceral moments of the scene. Owens’ delivery of the “held” had a harsh and overly emphatic quality that came off as sardonic; suddenly Hagen was playing nasty. And he would continue to do so all the way until he viciously murdered the hero.

As he returned to his home, his encounter with Gutrune was underlined with even harsher sarcasm as he told his sister to welcome her hero home. And he ripped off the mask during his encounter with Gunther, Owens’ giving some savagery to his rendition of “Des Alben Erbe fordert so sein Sohn!” There was a cathartic feeling to finally seeing Hagen’s monstrosity fully exposed. As far as character development goes, this was a masterfully constructed slow-burn.

The Gibischung siblings were portrayed by Edith Haller and Evgeny Nikitin. Nikitin initiated his first scene with a tremendous sense of power and might, sitting comfortably at a dining table and calling his servants to and fro. His voice had ample weight and presence with ringing high notes that would be a trademark of his performance throughout. But as the narrative unraveled, his Gunther became increasingly marginalized as a hero and he looked completely at a loss during the scene between Brünnhilde and Siegfried in Act two. A glance towards him during this battle of wills saw a man trying to hide as best as he could. In visual imagery mimicking his first appearance in Act one, he sat in a chair during the final trio of the act, but his body language was that of a conflicted man. He wasn’t so much a pathetic, powerless man, as much as a human being at conflict with what he’s done and what he is being asked to do. While Hagen and Brünnhilde walked about the stage, he was immobile and his voice seemed to lose some of its power, the sound softer and more muted. This continued throughout Act three, but this time, he looked scared and reticent to interact with Siegfried; one immediately saw the sense of guilt coming to the forefront and his rejections of Siegfried had not so much to do with his own personal indignity as a sense of loss for what he has done and will allow done to Siegfried. So when he summarily questioned Hagen on what he had done, it came from a place of guilt and pain, not of incredulity. His attempt to fight Hagen at the end of the Act saw his voice retain some of its initial power, but by this point, Gunther looked like a man running to his death instead of the potent leader one imagined at first.

Haller portrayed Gutrune as a delicate and shy woman, her singing svelte in the middle range, though a bit harsh and pushed in its upper reaches; this was particularly evident on a high A on “Siegfried” that she intoned at the top of Act two and an ensuing high A on “rufe di Mannen.” That aside, she was effective in portraying her an insecure woman fighting to keep Siegfried by her side, though undeniably frightened by the mere presence of Brünnhilde in her midst. This made for a strong confrontation between the two in the opera’s final scene, though their eventual understanding was a nice touch and added to restoring Gutrune to a place of integrity.

The Villain Dominates & Trios Of Destiny
Tomasz Konieczny has been one of the great revelations of this cycle. He had a standout turn in “Das Rheingold” as Alberich, followed by a similarly involving scene in “Siegfried.” His role in the final installment is little more than a cameo, but he made the most of it, particularly in his repeated phrasing of “Schläfst du, Hagen, mein Sohn?” He gave an upwards inflection to the end of “Sohn,” which was effective in how off-putting and unexpected the phrasing proved. It added to the overall eeriness of the scene while intuiting Alberich’s evil nature. The scene was marked by a general sense of control by Konieczny. We’ve seen him rage and throw caution to the winds with his booming voice. But here, Alberich, despite being rejected by his sleep son, held those intense emotions in check, making him all the more imposing as an imminent threat. This scene not only made Alberich more formidable as a distant threat but somehow made Hagen vulnerable in the process. Konieczny was one of the big standouts of this entire Ring Cycle and even in this opera, where he has the least stage time, he managed to elevate his performance and that of his scene partner.

As Waltraute, Michaela Schuster was potent onstage, challenging Goerke at every turn, making the end of their encounter one of the tensest moments of the performance. Even if vocally she was far slenderer than the American soprano, Schuster’s Waltraute was her sister’s match and her agitated physicality only added to the sense of impending doom.

The opera features two distinct trios in the Norns and the Rhinemaidens. Ronnita Miller, Elizabeth Bishop, and Wendy Bryn Harmer delivered rather introspective approaches as the former group, with Harmer a tremendous standout in her passages, her voice booming into the theater with general ease. She’s had tremendous success throughout this cycle as Freia and a Valkyrie and it feels like one of the major sopranos roles in this tetralogy is inevitable.

In the roles of the three Rhinemaidens, Amanda Woodbury, Samantha Hankey, and Tamara Mumford were in sync with one another throughout as they toyed and then warned Siegfried of his impending doom. There was general grace in their singing and their carefree manner with the young hero drew grew laughter and general enjoyment from the audience.

Master Of It All
The orchestra, under the baton of Philippe Jordan, continued to deliver some truly memorable music-making. There were a few issues at intervals with the horn section at the start of the third Act, but it was but a minor blip in an otherwise unforgettable rendition. As always, Jordan’s music-making is far more nuanced in his approach, elegance, and form always at the forefront. This allows him more musical bandwidth when he wants to let the orchestra explode at tonal extremes, such as Siegfried’s funeral music, which might have been the single most incredible orchestral moment of the entire Met season. After hinting at the orchestra’s full brutality in the second Act, Jordan unleashed the instrumental forces during the accentuated chords that frame the famed passage. The tempo itself was expansive and slower, but it allowed for the passage to build and for all the individual leitmotivs to paint a panoramic portrait of Siegfried’s life. This was a true celebration of a hero’s life. The same went for the very end of the first Act, where after keeping tempi stable throughout, Jordan’s super-fast tempo for the coda suddenly allowed the orchestra to race to the finish and leave the audience in an adrenaline rush. You wanted Act two to start right away.

The Act two confrontation between Brünnhilde and Siegfried is arguably the most intense moment of the entire tetralogy, as far as heated arguments going, with Jordan really pumping up the orchestra’s sense of drive and momentum the moment that Brünnhilde took up Hagen’s fear to wear her own oath. The pulsating strings that underscore her lines breathed tremendous energy into the moment.

And the opera’s grand finale had a rhapsodic feel. The entire desecration of the world, replete with motifs flying all over the place, was an explosion of sound, pushing on and on with increasing rapidity. But the famed redemption motif was allowed ample breadth to express itself in the closing bars, giving a sense of glorious longing as this incredible musical journey drew to a close.

The Best & The Worst
In terms of the Robert LePage, this last installment includes both the best and worst features of what the famed machine could do. From a visual standpoint, it is the one to really create an array of beautiful imagery that allows the viewer to constantly be reminded about how the human world is at odds with nature. All of the Gibischung scenes take place, as displayed by the machine, within wooden walls. They serve as a reminder of how nature is used to support man’s world in truncated manners. But they also create a constant reminder of Valhalla, Wotan’s palace which has been boarded up with the branches of the World Ash Tree. Like Wotan’s world, which was corrupted by laws and trickery, among other things, the world of man seems positioned for a similar fate, which of course, it ultimately endures when Brünnhilde burns the entire thing down. This visual symbolism is undeniably the single best and most insightful dramatic comment from LePage over the course of the entire opera.

There is also an inspired decision to turn the entire Rhine river red with Siegfried’s blood, after the murder; this serves as a major statement by LePage to further the notion that humankind is damaging nature.

But this visual symbolism isn’t the only thing going for the machine in “Götterdämmerung.” At one point, we see the Rhine river materialize during Siegfried’s big journey. However, a few planks in the middle won’t quite mesh with the others around it. As the behemoth of planks starts to turn over, we realize that we have been given a perspective from below and that those central planks were Siegfried’s boat.

Of course, the production still features some bland costuming throughout and strange blocking (why does Hagen just stand around while Brünnhilde takes the ring; why does he do nothing when she burns it all down? Isn’t he after the ring so that he can seize control of the situation?). But the biggest issues are the new additions- statues of the Gods and Grane. The God statues look rather unfinished in design. In previous renditions of this production, the audience laughed rather pointedly when the heads rolled off at the opera’s climax. In this iteration, the decision was made to have them fall over; the audience still laughed.

Then there’s Grane, Brünnhilde and Siegfried’s noble stead. Sometimes certain things are left to the imagination and not everything needs to be literalized. We never saw him at the end of “Die Walküre.” But the massive toy horse that appears at two points in this opera (Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and the Immolation Scene) and adds next to nothing. Maybe you can get away with it during the joyous Rhine journey, but he looks completely out of place during the intense and transcendent Immolation Scene. The horse drew a few chuckles during this climactic moment.

On the whole, it was truly a spectacular afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera with the merits of Wagner’s glorious score on full display.

David Salazar | April 2019

Washington Post

The Met’s ‘Ring’ succeeds in spite of — and in no way supported by — a $16 million set

A good opera singer can be effective even without a production. One of the best performances of Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” (Twilight of the Gods) I ever saw was a concert performance the Washington National Opera put on in 2009 after the company ran out of money for a more conventional staging: The singers were so powerful that I remember it vividly. The Metropolitan Opera is proving this thesis in a different way, at considerably more expense: by offering the complete “Ring” cycle — “Götterdämmerung” plus three other operas — with strong performances despite, and in no way supported by, the $16 million set.

The “Ring” is a story of hubris and stubbornness. Onstage, it offers its own mythological cosmos, almost from creation to the end of the world, centering on the god Wotan, who breaks treaties, tries to weasel out of consequences and learns the hard way that, like any creator, he is bound by the rules of the world he has made and can’t force the people he has created to do whatever he wants.

The Met’s “Ring” production, which started its rollout in 2010, is also a tale of a leader trying to force an issue at tremendous cost. Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, was bound and determined that Robert Lepage, the Canadian director, was going to create the greatest and most remarkable “Ring” production ever. By now, I’ve written a number of times about Lepage’s giant unit set, with its high-tech capabilities and lumbering, squeaking attempts to upstage all the singers while it pivots and rolls and does its thing. But while Gelb forced the project through, he couldn’t force the “Machine” to be an effective way of presenting the opera, and he couldn’t force people to like it.

Still, “Ring” lovers who have shelled out for tickets — there are two more cycles in May — have plenty to get excited about. The centerpiece of this revival is the Brünnhilde of American soprano Christine Goerke. After “Die Walküre,” the second opera in the cycle, I praised her nuanced singing and acting. And she continued through the past two operas, “Siegfried” (seen April 13) and “Götterdämmerung” (seen April 27) singing strongly but never engaging in mere stentorian hammering, bringing every word fully to life and giving so much of herself that she almost ran out of steam in the final seconds of “Götterdämmerung” — had the opera lasted one more minute, she might have had nothing left in the tank.

She also enlivened those around her. This cycle had two Siegfrieds, Stefan Vinke and Andreas Schager, both making company debuts (Vinke in “Siegfried,” Schager in “Götterdämmerung”) and who will each sing one more cycle in May. Vinke began “Siegfried” a little fuzzy and constrained, but he found focus and sounded like a different and quite wonderful singer as soon as ­Brünnhilde woke up in Act III. Similarly, Philippe Jordan, who conducted the opening of Act III with a clinical detachment, found warmth and feeling and a visceral connection to Brünnhilde’s awakening music, and he finished the act with a bang. Jordan remained something of a cipher to me: very accurate and at times very beautiful, sometimes capable of power, sometimes seeming just to be following directions. But the Met orchestra sounded warm and alive, if a little uncharacteristically coltish at times, eager but a little sloppy.

The rest of the casting was equally strong. Michael Volle, a full-voiced bass-baritone, took the role of the god Wotan in his late-life guise as the Wanderer in “Siegfried,” an upgrade from Greer Grimsley in the first two operas. As for the Nibelungs — the race of evil dwarves who steal the gold from the Rhine, forge it into a ring, lose it to Wotan and spend the rest of the cycle trying to get it back — they were powerfully represented by Tomasz Konieczny, a strong Alberich; Gerhard Siegel as Mime, who raises the orphaned infant Siegfried to adulthood and whose voice threatened to overpower Vinke’s in the first act of “Siegfried”; and Eric Owens in strikingly fine form as Hagen, Alberich’s son, in “Götterdämmerung.” Owens has a special affinity for this “Ring”; his turn as Alberich in “Das Rheingold” in 2010 gave his career a huge boost, and I haven’t heard him do anything in the years since that I liked as much as his Hagen here, strong and evil and sure. (It made me newly eager to hear his Wotan in the Chicago “Ring,” which will run complete in 2020 — also with Goerke as Brünnhilde.)

There was a freshness and naturalness to many of the singers’ detailed characterizations — the appealing goofiness of Schager’s Siegfried, who had a kind of locker-room banter with the chorus of Gibichungs and who used his sword as a mirror while he picked his teeth; or the lyrical beauty of Edith Haller’s Gutrune as she seductively welcomes Siegfried to the Gibichung Hall, not to mention her chilling scream of anguish when she learns of his death, in her outstanding Met debut.

It wasn’t clear, though, that these interpretations had anything to do with Lepage’s vision of the piece — or, indeed, that he had any vision at all. The whole focus of this production is the Machine, which has become something that moves in the background, its clankings quieter than in 2010 but still evident, and strikes tableaux while the singers act in front of it. It spews out rope for the Norns to spin (Ronnita Miller, Elizabeth Bishop and Wendy Bryn Harmer made a powerful trio of soothsayers); it shows flickering flames around ­Brünnhilde’s rock; it becomes a boat transporting Siegfried and the horse Grane (a life-size statue) down the Rhine. It doesn’t, however, bring any special insight to the work — indeed, after “Das Rheingold,” each subsequent opera seemed to have less inspiration and more apathy, as if, in the wake of a critical drubbing, Lepage had simply ceased to care.

The end of “Götterdämmerung” is supposed to depict the end of the world, but Lepage, with all those millions of dollars of technology, could do nothing better than topple some chintzy statues. (I was told their heads blew off, but the Machine blocked the view from my prime orchestra seat.) This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper.

And yet the “Ring” continues to exert an inexorable pull — despite bad productions, despite its creator’s anti-Semitism, despite the fact that it represents a huge investment in a field with a dwindling footprint in contemporary society. The “Ring” is one of those works of art that accompany you through life and that continually reveal new bits of themselves with each viewing. At bottom, it’s about telling stories, the creation of myth and how we try to make the stories of our own lives come out right.

Wotan is trying to create one story — the perfect hero, the predestined lover, the redemption of the world — and the Nibelungs are trying to create another. Whose story wins? Audiences side with Wotan, yet it’s the Nibelungs who are enshrined in the title. The “Ring” is not only about myth, but about its interpretations, and coming to terms with the story you end up with. Goerke, in the last scene, sang poignantly about having finally reached understanding. What a shame that this expensive production couldn’t find any story of its own to back her up.

Anne Midgette | April 28, 2019

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 599 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Robert Lepage (2012)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.