James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
26 April 1990
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Siegfried Siegfried Jerusalem
Mime Heinz Zednik
Wotan James Morris
Alberich Ekkehard Wlaschiha
Fafner Matti Salminen
Erda Birgitta Svendén
Brünnhilde Hildegard Behrens
Waldvogel Dawn Upshaw
Stage director Otto Schenk (1988)
Set designer Günther Schneider-Siemssen
TV director Brian Large
New York Times

There was little acknowledgement of Good Friday at the Metropolitan Opera. Continuing this spring’s re-enactment of last season’s new ”Ring” productions, the Met played the third of Wagner’s four operas in the cycle, ”Siegfried.”

On one of the holiest of Christian days, it was at first curious to follow onstage the progress of one of paganism’s more boorish bullies. Indeed, Siegfried is not particularly celebrated for his interest in the Golden Rule, nor for his capacity for enlightened forgiveness, let alone tenderness.

Yet, wrapped in Wagner’s powerful music, these recitations of greed, lust and violence take on their own kind of beatification. The woodland rustlings of Act II and Act III’s sexually charged exultations made their customary effect on Friday. The wonder of Wagner is how he can make even the most ardent Christian accept such repugnant subject matter with awe.

One would have expected the Met orchestra under James Levine to have done its best work at the beginning of this five-and-a-half-hour performance. Actually, the reverse occurred – intonation sounding exceedingly weary early on, the orchestra playing exceptionally well toward the end. The wind soloists in the ”Forest Murmurs” had a wonderful elegant clarity, and Brunnhilde’s awakening was surrounded by instrumental support of great power.

Act I was carried by Heinz Zednik, a splendid Mime capable of capturing with great precision the fretful fear and malice with which Wagner entrusts him. Mr. Zednik’s tight, lean tenor is always at the service of his character. He reminded us opera’s true aspiration: that music-making and acting become a single process.

Yet ”Siegfried” fully came to life with the appearance of Hildegard Behrens in Act III. She was a touching Brunnhilde, incorporating in a very different context Mr. Zednik’s earlier virtues. Miss Behrens’s big, gleaming soprano embraced this huge hall as if it were a space of much smaller dimensions. In her presence alone, she also has the powers of projection that convey exuberance and passion and make them seem intimate.

The title role caused the usual problems. Indeed, the Siegfrieds of the current opera world constitute a fraternity of the walking wounded; and in the manner of his colleagues, Siegfried Jerusalem struggled with the part on Friday.

Mr. Jerusalem’s tenor operates comfortably within a narrow range. Pushed outward in either direction or asked to sustain volume, it hardens, frays or, all too often, crumbles. The musical tension of the final scene was not in Mr. Jerusalem’s interpretation, but in listener anxiety over whether he would make it to the end at all.

James Morris has settled into the role of the Wanderer. His warmth and reliability are a comforting addition to this production. Birgitta Svenden made a vivid impression in her brief appearance as Erda, with both the voice and the personality to fix the listener’s attention. Joyce Guyer made an attractive Forest Bird in her offstage soprano. Strong, too, were Ekkehard Wlaschiha as Alberich and Matti Salminen as Fafner.

The Met’s naturalistic ”Ring,” produced by Otto Schenk and designed by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen, weds Wagner’s contemporary vision with the sophistications of modern stage machinery (including a loathsomely green-blooded Fafner). One can argue with some force that such an approach is more curatorial than relevant to the present, but what the Met has tried to do, it has done well.

Bernard Holland | April 16, 1990

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720×480, 2.3 Mbit/s, 3.2 GByte, 5.1 ch, 4:3 (MPEG-4)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.