Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ring, first half

In some important sense the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ring's first cycle this summer at the Met didn't start until partway into Act 2 of Die Walküre: Fricka's entrance, to be exact. Larissa Diadkova's mesmerizing performance of her argument -- the first real star turn of the cycle -- seemed to energize not only the rest of the cast but Gergiev himself. The remainder of Walküre demanded the more-than-polite attention it got: a real triumph.

The production, for better and worse, doesn't demand much attention. Based on some rearrangeable long archaic "stone" statues (sometimes decor, sometimes plot landmarks -- Hunding's tree, Brünnhilde's rock -- and positioned every way including overhead), matching light-up rock-like things, and groovy '70s lighting, the physical design is neither difficult to transport, grimly everyday-looking, nor based on any obvious and irritating conceit. On the other hand, the lack of a strong directorial hand (the production is credited to Gergiev and set designer George Tsypin) has its drawbacks: for one thing, the singers look pretty much on their own, going about stage business in various and not-entirely-congruent styles. In fact the most remarkable thing about Diadkova's Walküre bit might have been that it inspired the first convincing and focused stretch of physical reaction from Wotan (the young Alexei Tanovitsky), which actually lasted halfway into his dialog with Brünnhilde.

Tanovitsky, though his voice could use more heft, actually did well from this point, far better than most feared after the low-energy low-impact Wotan of the previous night. More betrayed by vocal lightness was Oleg Balashov (Siegmund), who despite a generally pleasant sound failed to register at climaxes ("Wälse!" was essentially inaudible). The women, led by the aforementioned Diadkova, did well -- Mlada Khudoley (Sieglinde), new to me, seems a bit unpolished but had plenty of force on top, and her willingness to emote might be seen to better effect with actual direction. More on the singers, perhaps, when the cycle concludes.

Gergiev's orchestra is so far quite responsive, thundering, wailing, and raging at his command. As one might expect, they don't sing with the same sweetness as Levine's Met Orchestra (or even Gergiev's Met Orchestra), but despite some stray horn-pitch issues it's an interesting change.

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I have much to say on the piece itself, but next week.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.