[Met Performance] CID:328030
Ring Cycle  Uncut. Metropolitan Opera House: 04/19/1997.
Metropolitan Opera House
April 19, 1997
Der Ring des Nibelungen: Cycle  Uncut
Forest Bird.............Heidi Grant Murphy
Stage Director..........Phebe Berkowitz
Set designer............Günther Schneider-Siemssen
Costume designer........Rolf Langenfass
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Siegfried received three performances this season.
Review of Justin Davidson in Newsday
'Siegfried' Fantastic in Every Sense
The Metropolitan Opera reached the third part and the13th hour of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" on Saturday, and Wagner's operatic juggernaut slouched that much closer to doomsday. The sibling-lovers, Siegmund and Sieglinde are both dead, and their inbred son Siegfried has come of age: The sword has been passed to a new generation of Aryans. Just three more acts (plus a prelude) and Valhalla will fall.
Wagner's genius was to have created a universe in which singing is not merely a convention, but an aspect of natural law: Walkyries ride flying horses, adulterous gods sire superheroes who swig dragon's blood and take advice from birds, dwarves have the gills both to court and cheat river sprites at the bottom of the Rhine - and every one of those creatures sings. The orchestra provides atmosphere in the literal sense - music is the air they breathe. That is why these operas have to be so long: One cannot make a quick tour of an alternate universe.
I am not generally fond of fantasy or situations that drip with symbolism, but having let myself into Wagner's world on Saturday night, I had no desire to reemerge. Director Otto Schenk, set designer Gunther Schneider-Siemssen, and lighting designer Gil Wechsler have been as thorough in recreating Wagner's cosmology as the composer was in imagining it. Their hobbit habitats and fiberglass forests are as vivid as they are familiar, the dragon has a slimy crustacean charm, and the weather atop Wotan's mountain changes spectacularly with the characters' states of mind. The gods brood, and the sky goes black. Brünnhilde is kissed out of her 30-year slumber by Siegfried, and multihued light seems to come from several different suns.
If there was rarely a dull moment on this mythic planet, the credit goes to James Levine, who presided over a performance of such kinetic musicality that the hours barreled by. Levine supported the singers with an orchestral under-girding as solid and incandescent as Brünnhilde's flaming rock, and he had a valorous cast.
Wolfgang Schmidt was the titular hero, and he sang the role magnificently, matching his magic sword Nothung for well-honed, tempered heft and playing him as a good Germanic brawler: swaggering, fearless, and not terribly bright. On occasion, Schmidt played his character's thick headedness for laughs. In that fleeting homoerotic moment when he finds the warrior-goddess Brünnhilde asleep on her rock and lovingly removes her shield, helmet, and breastplate before discovering that she is not a man, Schmidt made much of the way Siegfried's momentary horror is sublimated into instantaneous love.
Hildegard Behrens, who sang Brünnhilde (oddly, wearing a nightgown under her armor), has recovered most of her voice but not all of her focus since being afflicted by a cold in "Die Walküre," and she was the only cast member who allowed her hour onstage to drag.
James Morris could not have been more magisterial as the Wanderer, the god Wotan in human mufti. The expert tenor Graham Clark made a real character, and not just a cartoon hunchback, out of the blacksmith-dwarf Mime, expertly regulating the dosages of kicked-dog skittishness, venality, and sympathy.
Photograph of Graham Clark as Mime by Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera.