[Met Performance] CID:328100
Ring Cycle  Uncut. Metropolitan Opera House: 04/26/1997.
Metropolitan Opera House
April 26, 1997
Der Ring des Nibelungen: Cycle  Uncut
First Norn..............Birgitta Svendén
Second Norn.............Michelle DeYoung
Third Norn..............Frances Ginzer
Stage Director..........Paul Mills
Set designer............Günther Schneider-Siemssen
Costume designer........Rolf Langenfass
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Review of Shirley Fleming in the New York Post
'Götterdämmerung' has a nice 'Ring' to it
For subscribers to the first of the Met's three "Ring" cycles, the long Rhine journey came to a close on Saturday with the spectacular collapse of Valhalla and the rapturous leap of Brünnhilde onto Siegfried's flaming funeral pyre.
It has been a momentous sojourn among Wagner's wayward gods, entirely in the conductorial hands of James Levine. His orchestra has produced marvels of glowing sound night after night, and the sheer stamina of conductor and players is a cause for admiration. 'They outdid themselves in Saturday's "Götterdämmerung" - almost six
hours from curtain to curtain.
The level of singing has, on the whole, been exceptional. James Morris' Wotan is a pillar of the series, and though he does not appear in "Götterdämmerung" (languishing unseen, awaiting destruction), one senses the formidable, hovering presence he established in the three earlier operas.
Staying power is, of course, one of the key ingredients in building a "Ring," and the Met's cast has come off well. Wolfgang Schmidt returned as Siegfried, capturing the boyish bounce of the naive hero, singing with focus and thrust if not always ingratiating tone. He confronted two formidable antagonists in the Gunther of Alan Held, resonant and clear, and particularly in the Hagen of Matti Sahminen, a mountain of a man whose resources of sound at the cavernous bottom of the range seem limitless.
Hanna Schwarz, who had made a strong impression earlier as Fricka, was equally persuasive as Waltraute and created a riveting narration of her account to Brünnhilde of Wotan's sorry state. Her smooth mezzo is nicely colored and falls easy on the ear.
The big question on Saturday was: Would Hildegard Behrens be able to sustain the exhausting rigors of Brünnhilde's hugely demanding role, requiring outbursts of fury and a continuing intensity unmatched anywhere else in opera. The short answer is, she made it -still displaying the vibrato of earlier performances but steadier in vocal production and indomitable in temperament. One capitulated.
Review of Justin Davidson in Newsday
The World Ends To Vivid Singing
Wagner's four-part operatic miniseries, "Der Ring des Nibelungen," came to its inexorable
and gaudy Armageddon at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday - the hero Siegfried is slain, Brünnhilde flings herself onto his funeral pyre, the earth splits, the heavens spark and even the immortals perish. It is almost disheartening to think that the world will end twice more at the Met before the opera season does.
Thanks to superconductor James Levine and to a lot of high-voltage singing, the first three quarters of this "Ring" were galvanic, but there were some frazzled, low-tension patches in "Götterdämmerung" on Saturday when the showmanship peeked through the show. There are always, in Wagner, vast stretches of time in which nobody moves at all, and it is up to the music to keep the fantasy from fraying, to prevent gods and monsters from looking like spear-carrying revelers waiting for a bus. In "Götterdämmerung" that is often Brünnhilde's job, and Hildegard Behrens was not consistently up to it.
At her best, the 60-year-old Behrens bestrode the stage like a general and commanded the action to converge centripetally on her. Brünnhilde has given up being a warrior to be a wife in this opera, and Behrens' tannic, wine-dark, low register captured all the rage of a virile woman who feels cheated by the exchange. Her Walküre-hollers were still solid, too, and in her final, howling scene over the dead Siegfried's body she literally brought down the house with the force of her grief - the cracking timber and buckling masonry of the Gibichung palace seemed like the appropriate response.
But there were times, too, when Behrens' singing went blurry, her voice became coarse, her gestures were stock and her interpretation seemed unengaged. And at those moments the pace would have gone glacial, but for Levine's miraculous, thawing powers at the podium.
This opera's other magnetic pole is not the doltish hero Siegfried (whom Wolfgang Schmidt sang as affably and flexibly here as he did in the previous, eponymous episode), but the ultra-evil Hagen, and there, too, the performance slipped out of focus. Matti Salminen had the right, sepulchral resonance to his basso and the look of a mirthless thug, but his singing and his movements both seemed lunkish rather than truly mean, and his intonation was often approximate. In Hagen's heart-to-poisoned-heart with his dead father in a dream, it was Alberich, the paternal ghost sung by Ekkehard Wlaschiha, who seemed more palpably there.
That vision of Wlaschiha was typical of Saturday's performance, in which some of Wagner's miniature tableaux were the most vivid. The three Rhine-maidens - Joyce Guyer, Jane Bunnell, and Wendy White - gamboled on the banks of the Rhine, their voices a refreshing splash of silver in such a cast-iron cast. Hanna Schwarz brought the tang of steel and leather to her role as the Walküre Waltraute, Brünnhilde's former comrade-in-arms, but Alan Held was a milquetoast as the would-be hero Gunther and Marie Plette was equally pallid as his sister Gutrune. It would take more vocal virtues than that to save the world from retribution.