Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ring, second half

If cycle one of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ring didn't really start until midway into Valkyrie, it was for a while debatable whether it would actually ever finish. Despite some game performances by a mostly overtaxed cast (under pressure, Siegfried Leonid Zakhozhaev was swamped and Brünnhilde Olga Sergeeva pitch-wild, though both were otherwise fairly appealing), Friday's performance of Siegfried never really went anywhere. Tanovitsky's Wanderer was fairly symptomatic, reverting to the low-impact vocalism and aimless gesturing he used in Rheingold.

Matters weren't helped by the very worst set of the production. Gergiev's Ring basically turns cheesy unspecificity into a virtue, and it's the agonizing clumsiness of the Act 3 Siegfried set -- featuring a central statue surrounded by giant wriggling sperm -- that made it bomb. (The decision to costume the Valkyries as skunk-haired goths throughout made its worst impact here.)

But Götterdämmerung belongs to the orchestra, and the Ring's second half finally got its star turn the next day. From the opening measures through Siegfried's deal with the Gibichungs, Valery Gergiev finally took command. Exulting, as if on first discovery, in the expanded sonic palette Wagner offers in this last installment, he led the orchestra in as electric and dramatically charged a performance as I have heard from him. Though the rest of the night never again reached that height of focus, it was a most satisfying evening of music.

The cast did better all around too, from Sergeeva -- a bit steadier at climaxes, and with plenty of strength at the end -- to Evgeny Nikitin (Pogner in the latest Met Meistersingers) as a memorable Gunther to the new Siegfried, Victor Lutsuk, whose voice had a real power and virility (but not much subtlety). And the production, though, as Maury complained, blank at the end, showed well with a very archaic/tribal look for the Gibuchungs.

Afterthoughts later.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.