Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Valhalla's newcomers

Die Walküre -- Metropolitan Opera, 4/28/09
Dalayman, Dohmen, Pieczonka, Domingo, Naef, Pape / Levine

[post on the April 6 performance here]

Last night's Cycle 2 performance of the Valkyrie had, amidst other cast turnover, two house role debuts: Albert Dohmen as Wotan and Katarina Dalayman as this opera's Brünnhilde (she sang the "Götterdämmerung" version of the character on Saturday's matinee broadcast). Both did a surprisingly good job.

Dalayman first: whatever vocal not-quite-thereness one might have detected on Saturday (though Wellsung Alex had a more positive summary), for this version of Brünnhilde she has all the necessary tools. She is strong from top to bottom, able to make an impression in both entrance and "Todesverkündigung" -- and, finally, the long closing dialogue -- without forcing. The basic warmth of the middle is very appealing, and she can blast through the orchestra with trick top notes when required.

So ideal, right? Sort of. She can sing every bit of the role, but seems fairly lost with the physicality, neither still enough for grandeur nor purposefully energetic enough for young-athlete-Brünnhilde. Nor is her character interaction much to speak of... The character of her Brünnhilde never comes clearly into focus, either by acts or phrases.

One must, however, note that this is just Dalayman's third run of Valkyrie ever, with the second being a lone performance last month in Stockholm. Given more time and opportunities to make these three big parts her own, she may yet become their complete exponent.

Albert Dohmen, by contrast, has been singing Wotan for ten years now. And he can, in fact, sing Wotan, even at this big house where he didn't make much impression as Jokanaan in 2004. In sound, after a restrained and tentative early warm-up period, he outdoes James Morris... But Dohmen's performance is best enjoyed on its own. Comparing to Morris has one noticing that there's still a touch of middle-manager in Dohmen's Wotan, a bit of bluster in his rage, etc. Mind you, it's taken decades, but at this point Morris' version has been pared down so that there is no longer anything in it -- not gesture, not emphasis, not sound -- that's not Wotan, nothing in which the spirit of long command and activity does not stir. Dohmen isn't there yet. Furthermore, not only his character but Dohmen himself is unpreposessing, making not much interpretive impression beyond singing and connecting the notes as written.

And yet, with two leads more notable for voice than art, their act -- the final one -- told most strongly of the opera's three. With James Levine's orchestra fervently pronouncing the back-and-forth weave of motifs underneath, just properly singing the vocal lines is enough. Not all, but enough.

*     *     *

Of the returnees, Adrianne Pieczonka was the most happy surprise (though I did like her previous attempt). She cannot compete with Waltraud Meier's tragic heroine (Sieglinde as Elektra!), but her warmer, more womanly Sieglinde is beautiful and at least as valid. Her bio lists performances of the Marschallin, Ariadne, etc., and I'd love to hear her here in these parts.

I think I might have liked Placido Domingo's Siegmund better from Family Circle standing or thereabouts. He's still in pretty good voice, able to attack each note with nice bright tone and hold the two "Wälse" cries, and does better in not running out of gas than in the last Ring (though he does tire by Act I's end). But he looks very, very old and has no appreciable chemistry with Pieczonka. I miss Botha.

Rene Pape and Yvonne Naef, Hunding and Fricka respectively, were (unsurprisingly) excellent. Naef should be hired by the regular Met company, not just for Ring seasons. I think they've already promised the next Troyens revival to Susan Graham, but surely there's room for another cast...

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.