To many in the audience who came to
see the last cycle, the Met could not have assembled a better cast:
today'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 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 after all, these are 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
There were side shows, casual and official, that kept the audience entertained
and informed between performances of the Ring Cycle operas. The
observer could not but be impressed by the instant bonding between 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
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
The lectures and discussions proved to be 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