James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
21 April 1990
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedSiegfried Jerusalem
BrünnhildeHildegard Behrens
GuntherAnthony Raffell
GutruneHanna Lisowska
AlberichEkkehard Wlaschiha
HagenMatti Salminen
WaltrauteChrista Ludwig
WoglindeKaaren Erickson
WellgundeDiane Kesling
FloßhildeMeredith Parsons
1. NornGweneth Bean
2. NornJoyce Castle
3. NornAndrea Gruber
Stage directorOtto Schenk (1988)
Set designerGünther Schneider-Siemssen
TV directorBrian Large
New York Times

Gotterdammerung’ Ends Met ‘Ring’

”Gotterdammerung,” which received its first performance of the Metropolitan Opera season on Saturday afternoon, is the longest, perhaps musically richest, most muddled opera in ”Der Ring des Nibelungen.” Its libretto, which Wagner wrote before the other ”Ring” texts, is the most conventionally operatic, and its use of magic potions adds a disconcerting element of psychological inconsistency: in Wagner’s other operas, magic is clearly a metaphor for human behavior; here, it just makes the world’s greatest hero look like a louse.

The Met’s performance was full of familiar elements: the Otto Schenk-Gunther Schneider-Siemssen production, James Levine’s conducting, several of the cast members. To this taste, while there is nothing wrong with a conservative staging, Mr. Schenk’s effort is marred by inconsistent blocking (the love duet looked clumsy, yet the Act II trio was grippingly done), awkwardly painted sets (the perspectives are consistently off) and ragged execution (out-of-focus cloud projections, light shining through gaps in the ”rocks,” a cyclorama with seams and tears, a partly precollapsed Gibichung castle). Gil Wechsler’s none-too-subtle lighting was unsubtler still Saturday because of a television taping.

Mr. Levine – who received a heartfelt standing ovation from this first ”Ring” audience at the beginning of the third act – led a characteristic performance, marked by fine orchestral playing, considerable but not excessive volume, many lovely moments and some slow tempos that sapped tension rather than reinforcing grandeur. The chorus, prepared by John Keenan, sang very well.

Of the principals, Hildegard Behrens as Brunnhilde was announced as suffering from a cold, and she has an inconsistent, patched-together dramatic soprano anyhow. But she sang well enough, and her dramatic involvement goes a long way toward compensating for her vocal eccentricities. Matti Salminen, although he sometimes stepped over the line into cartoon villainy (which could be easily curbed by a stronger director), nonetheless sang a Hagen to rank with the best of the past.

The Met has undercast Gunther and Gutrune all along, which seems an odd way to portray weak characters; the familiar Anthony Raffell and Hanna Lisowska, who was making her debut, were both adequate but no better. Except for Andrea Gruber’s strongly sung Third Norn (another debut), the Norns and Rhinemaidens and the Waltraute (Christa Ludwig) and Alberich (Ekkehard Wlaschiha) had all done their parts before at the Met.

That left Siegfried Jerusalem, who was singing his first Siegfried in a Met ”Gotterdammerung.” Mr. Jerusalem, too, had been announced as indisposed – a throat infection – but at first that meant merely a slight huskiness when he pushed for volume. He has never had a bright, metallic top, which robs his high notes of excitement. But at least those high notes were there.

By the end of the second act, however, the effort got to him, and from then on, all high notes posed a problem; they were avoided, aimed at and missed, or squawked. One hopes the problem really was a short-term infection, and not the voice-debilitating strain of attempting this dual role over the last couple of years.

For while Mr. Jerusalem is no heroic tenor in the Lauritz Melchior mold, he could be the best Siegfried since Wolfgang Windgassen. His voice may not be huge, but it is big enough. And his soft singing is really lovely: even toward the end on Saturday, the lyrical passages sounded controlled and warm. He sings with unusual sensitivity to the word, the musical phrase and the dramatic situation, and he even acts well and looks good (despite a mild resemblance in his Met wig to Danny Kaye). He gave the kind of performance that kept one supportively on his side even at his most perilous moments.

John Rockwell | April 23, 1990

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720×480, 2.3 Mbit/s, 3.9 GByte, 5.1 ch, 4:3 (MPEG-4)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.