To many in the audience who came to see the last cycle, the Met could not have assembled a better cast: the time’s most convincing Brünnhilde in Hildegard Behrens, most authoritative Wotan in James Morris and most natural Siegfried in Siegfried Jerusalem. Add to these, a stirring Sieglinde in then rising star Deborah Voigt, a solid Gary Lakes as Siegmund, a sympathetic but indomitable Fricka in Hanna Schwarz, a mesmerizing Mime in Graham Clark, a fragile Freia in Hei-Kyung Hong, and the inimitable Matti Salminen and Ekkehard Wlaschiha in their unique villainous roles.
One or the other could be forgiven for not being in top form every single night – who among us does not have occasional off days or nights and these, are after all,superhuman roles – they more than made up for it with superb performances on their good nights. James Morris showed up for Die Walkure’s last performance feeling ill, unsure whether he could last through the night. The audience, palpably anxious, was relieved and delighted when he did – the Farewell Scene with Hildegard Behrens was as vocally and dramatically moving as ever. Behrens’ unexpected absence in the last performance of Siegfried due to illness sent everyone worrying about Götterdämmerung. “I’ll take Behrens anytime,” was a common remark; an avid fan was so upset he announced his readiness to give away his Götterdämmerung ticket if Behrens were a no-show again that evening. Happily, Behrens showed up and gave the evening’s most moving performance.
Of course one must not leave out the other leading member of the cast, the orchestra – as responsible for the imagery and the unfolding of the drama as the singers and the sets on stage. James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s brilliant reading skillfully transported the audience from the Rhinemaidens’ frolic to the Norn’s grim foreboding, from Sieglende’s ecstasy to Wotan’s despair, from the delightfully idyllic to the darkly cataclysmic – and, having seamlessly synchronized aural imagery with the visual, served up a banquet for the senses and a feast for the soul.
THE SIDE SHOWS
As typical of festivals, there were side shows, casual and official, that kept the audience entertained and informed between performances of the operas. The observer could not but be impressed by the instant bonding among music lovers, and Wagnerites most especially; it did not matter where one came from: Düsseldorf, Manila, Sydney, San Diego, Toronto, Queens, southern New Jersey or suburban Connecticut , or that one held fast to his or her strong musical opinions (this was after all, as most opera events are, a gathering of rather opinionated people) – one felt a kinship with every other audience member that only music, that most universal of arts, could have wrought.
Outside on the plaza, a rather civil haggling for tickets went on between the “haves and have-nots” which provided an interesting study in both audience behavior and the microeconomics of music appreciation. Word went around that the really “desperate” shelled up to $400 for an orchestra ticket to Götterdämmerung! Many who held up home-made placards that read “Need x tickets toGötterdämmerung!” must, but for their signs, have gone home empty- handed, for the demand was indeed far greater than the supply.
But these casual observations aside, there were interesting side shows – lectures, panel discussions, tours and exhibits put together by the Metropolitan Opera Guild – that complemented the Festival’s operatic offerings. What follows is a short commentary on some of these events.
Ongoing for the month- long duration of the festival was the interesting exhibit of Wagnerian memorabilia. Aptly called “Wagner and his Mastersingers”, the exhibition showcased pages of Ring music and notes in the composer’s own handwriting, and rare photographs, prints and programmes autographed by foremost Wagnerian interpreters from the distant and recent past.
The lectures and discussions were quite educational. The lecture by Princeton professor Carolyn Abbate on the music and mythology of the Ring Cycle was quite insightful, especially on the matter of leitmotifs, as was the lecture that explored the art of Wagnerian singing given by author and radio commentator George Jellinek. The Ring at the Met tour conducted by Met Archives Director Robert Tuggle took attendees back to the Golden Ages of past Ring Cycles. A major highlight was the lively morning session, moderated by stage director Francesca Zambello, with two of the past’s most noted Wagnerians – Regina Resnik, the Sieglinde of her day, who graciously stood in for the ailing Leonie Rysanek, and the Wotan of his day, Thomas Stewart. They regaled the audience with memories of their Met and Bayreuth days- of the Wagner brothers Wieland and Wolfgang, of the artistic merits of past Ring productions, of their fellow Wagnerian singers – and shared special insights that led to their unique interpretations of various Wagnerian roles.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Like all good things, this Ring Festival drew to a close with a tinge of sadness – this magnificent celebration was ending much too soon. At the same time there was anticipated excitement at the thought that there would be other Ring Cycles to plan for in the not too distant future – Berlin’s in the fall, Adelaide’s (Australia), Flagstaff’s(Arizona) and Seattle’s in 1998, and of course – the Met’s in 2000 and thereafter. – © GC/FanFaire