Deborah Voigt and Bryn Terfel in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Die Walküre"
All photos and video courtesy of Metropolitan Opera
In some ways, the Metropolitan Opera's first performance Friday night of the new Robert Lepage production of Richard Wagner's "Die Walküre," valiantly conducted by a pain-constrained James Levine, was exciting for the wrong reasons. Topping the list was a gasp-provoking slide off the steeply raked set suffered by the evening's Brünnhilde, the riveting Deborah Voigt. For a moment, "Die Walküre" threatened to become "Spider-Man the Opera." There was also an unexpected (and, at first, unannounced) substitution, mid-opera, for an indisposed Eva-Maria Westbroek, making her ill-fated Met debut as Sieglinde
But the main cause for concern, throughout the evening, was the painfully obvious pain of the conductor. Let me first acknowledge that the orchestra played magnificently, as it has never failed to do under Levine's baton in all the many years that I've been attending. But at numerous times on Friday, it appeared that this lustrous performance may have owed more to careful preparation in rehearsals to what was emanating from the podium that night. (More on this later.)
Most of the singers ably met the challenges of Wagnerian strength and stamina. Vocally, soprano Voigt didn't quite live up to the great Birgit Nilsson, whose lung power had knocked me out of my chair when I heard her many years ago at the Met in the same role. But our reigning contemporary Brünnhilde came close enough to the historic standard. Dramatically, there was no comparison: Whereas Birgit was a stand-and-deliver singer, executing every role with dignified, steely grandeur, you could never take your eyes off Deborah, even when she was silently listening, because of the emotional intensity of her portrayal.
I found Voigt's interpretation of Brünnhilde, as a playful, willful and ultimately disobedient and disowned daughter, to be so moving and convincing that tears streamed down my face when Wotan regretfully took his leave of her in the last act, saying that she would never see him again.
Before conquering the vocal demands, Voigt was almost vanquished by the set at the moment of her first entrance. But she somehow managed to stay completely in character and with the music, after completely losing her footing while attempting to ascend the set's monstrous, segmented contraption that kept morphing into different shapes and colors throughout the evening.
Instead of greeting Daddy Wotan with a big hug, the impetuous Brünnhilde slid haplessly down the "mountain," landing stage front, flat on her derrière (good bone-density test!). She energetically sprung to her feet, wearing Brünnhilde's plucky grin, and didn't miss a beat as she unleashed the opera's signature "Hojotoho!" from the spot where she landed (waiting for stranded bass-baritone Bryn Terfel to join her on terra firma).
As it happened, the Met had already posted on YouTube a video of this very scene (recorded during rehearsals), so I now know what I was supposed to have seen -- Voigt at the top of the mountain, Terfel (in fine voice throughout the evening) admiring her from below. Look closely in the rather dark lower right corner, and you'll see the leader of the Valkyries ascending to embrace the Norse god. (On Friday night, she never got that far.)
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