[Met Performance] CID:286070
Die Walküre {448} Metropolitan Opera House: 09/30/1986.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
September 30, 1986


DIE WALKÜRE {448}

Brünnhilde..............Hildegard Behrens
Siegmund................Peter Hofmann
Sieglinde...............Jeannine Altmeyer
Wotan...................Simon Estes
Fricka..................Brigitte Fassbaender
Hunding.................Aage Haugland
Gerhilde................Loretta Di Franco
Grimgerde...............Wendy Hillhouse
Helmwige................Marita Napier
Ortlinde................Martha Thigpen
Rossweisse..............Jacalyn Bower
Schwertleite............Pamela Smith
Siegrune................Sheila Smith
Waltraute...............Joyce Castle

Conductor...............James Levine

Review of Martin Mayer in Opera (UK)

The difficulty with a fundamentally realistic staging of Wagner's "Ring" is the unreality of the story-line, and on the evidence of "Die Walküre" at the Metropolitan on September 30, it is a difficulty Otto Schenk and Günther Schneider-Siemssen are not likely to overcome. The jury will be out at least until next year, when "Das Rheingold" and "Siegfried" join the repertory, and perhaps until the cycle is completed in 1988-9. Meanwhile, we have a mostly effective Act I (you don't have to worry about the fact that they're twins in the staging), and a well-thought-out dialogue of father and daughter at the end. Otherwise, to my taste, it just doesn't work. Fricka is a longwinded character out of daytime television, with stagey gestures that would be unacceptable even there, and Brünnhilde in the "Todesverkündigung" is neither near enough for direct communication with Siegmund nor far enough away for godly pronouncement. And at the Annunciation moment, Schenk has given her a gesture essentially out of Botticelli, so awkward in context that I was a moment realising that so fine an operatic actress had self-denyingly attempted it.

None of this would matter so much if we were being washed in effulgent song all night long, but with this cast the opera needs quite a lot of help. There are only two real strengths, the Hunding of Aage Haugland (who not only sings well but topples terrifyingly when Wotan waves him dead), and the Sieglinde of Jeannine Altmeyer, whose voice is beautiful, large, easily produced, and entirely at the service of the music. Though she is American, this is her first appearance at the Met since 1972, when she did a short course of First Ladies, Frasquitas and the like. Shame on the casting department. Attempting Brünnhilde on September 4, incidentally, Altmeyer ran out of voice at the end of Act 2, and the curtain had to be held until Hildegard Behrens, as her cover, could be summoned from her Manhattan home. The Met takes legitimate pride in that unique resourcefulness.

For the rest, we had Simon Estes struggling manfully and not without success (but not, really, successfully) to project his well-thought but only mid-size Wotan through a giant house, and Behrens seeking to make intensity do the work of power as Brünnhilde. Brigitte Fassbaender seems to have lost that slightly throaty quality that gave her voice a unique feel without acquiring a timbre of much interest, and a staging that gives Fricka nothing much to do but bury her head in her arm does not contribute to her authority. Peter Hofmann I have left for last. A colleague at the performance opined that, given what we all knew about his vocal estate, he seemed to be doing rather well. But the vocal estate is a voice that gives musical pleasure only in about three-quarters of an octave, and even those mid-range notes spread when under pressure. About the most I can say for him is that he got through the "Winterstürme" successfully, nursed along by James Levine in the pit.

All the Maestro's most lyrical instincts are stimulated by" Die Walküre." It was the first time he had ever prepared a performance of this opera from scratch (he conducted the Met's previous version on tour a couple of years ago). Like Karajan, he raised the Met pit higher than it usually goes, and sought a rather soft, almost chamber feeling from the orchestra. He did not always get it (the brass especially was strained), but, at what seem to me the great moments (the last half-hour of Act 1 and then the last half-hour of the opera), he and the orchestra created an elegance of musical statement that was in my ears all the next morning - and, indeed, is still there the better part of a week later. 1 certainly do look forward to hearing Levine's "Walküre" as part of a whole, especially if the Met can find itself a Siegmund.



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