Götterdämmerung -- Metropolitan Opera, 5/2/09
Dalayman, Franz, Tomlinson, Naef, Paterson, Wray, Fox / Levine
So it wasn't the production after all -- not Otto Schenk's fault that his Ring kept appearing with lumbering singers only haphazardly acting their roles. That it needed the right cast and preparation should have been no surprise: only the simple and the simplified are proof against that, and Schenk fortunately didn't try to squeeze the entire Ring into one homogenizing idea. Now, at the production's close, more are openly acknowledging the gorgeous sets (Siegfried's are the best, but there are other high points) and triumphant old-fashioned stagecraft (most notably, of course, at the end of this opera) that well framed this revival's musical and dramatic success.
But it was the cast that provided the spark, in a way not often seen here or anywhere. Katarina Dalayman most of all: however she may have sounded for the broadcast matinee, she was excellent this Saturday, with pure force at the top and a pleasant vibrato-bearing warmth through a middle and bottom that carried well through the orchestra. (It is, to my ears, a very good Brünnhilde instrument, though not overpowering a la Flagstad.) But more than that, she sang and acted this Brünnhilde like she meant every word -- perhaps from having sung some concert performances of Twilight (now another one this week in Manchester, England), she seems much more assured in the character than in the Walküre installment's.
Dalayman was well-paired with tenor Christian Franz. Vocally, he was decent: never unpleasant in the taxing first acts, and with enough left this time to use his characteristic nice soft singing in the great death scene (though the high parts of repeating the Forest Bird's calls were pretty understandably not going to happen and were just fudged). But he remains a most convincing Siegfried, not just in general youthfulness and vigor (though he shows those), but in his attention to the more delicate side of this man-child's character. The appeal of his soft singing opens the possibility up for Franz, and he takes good advantage. His Siegfried is neither brute nor villain, even when (under a potion's enchantment) he goes along with the plot to win Brünnhilde for Gunther. In fact he has moments of almost-recollection that are quite touching, as his voice and manner soften midway through both plotting and execution with a sense of: "Shouldn't I be remembering something about this?" He means well, and even the implacable-Gunther act that so terrifies Brünnhilde at the end of Act I is clearly to him a basically-harmless put-on.
So Siegfried, this time, is not at all a villain, but John Tomlinson's Hagen so ably is. Unlike Hunding, which he perfectly rumbled last month, Hagen really requires a more consistent and forceful top than Tomlinson now has. But like Hunding, Hagen allows Tomlinson to use the imposing solidity of his presence and vocal persona to memorable effect. The supporting cast was, as has been the case throughout these Ring revivals, very strong. Yvonne Naef was a very good Waltraute, though not quite up to the level of Felicity Palmer in her 2000 house debut. (Naef was a bit handicapped by the fact that the Waltraute scene was one of the few parts where I thought Levine's conducting actually dragged.) Iain Paterson and Margaret Jane Wray did well if not memorably as the Gibich pawns, while Tom Fox was again sharp as Alberich. Lisette Oropesa, Kate Lindsey, and Tamara Mumford once more made a luxury group of Rhinemaidens.
But it was the principals who made this show, and Katarina Dalayman in particular. Opposite a Siegfried who, like her, had a live voice and could actually act, she brought a remarkable electric charge to all of Brünnhilde's scenes -- including, crucially, the Act II confrontation. She led Franz, Tomlinson, and the others (including the Met chorus, finally given a big scene) in bringing this bit off so well that one could forget that the whole scene is utter humbug -- the bizarre result of Wagner's use of the "Götterdämmerung"/cycle-ending frame so that all the Norse/medieval German material of this piece is reduced to an object lesson for Brünnhilde ("What, you won't give up the Ring because it's the sign of your love? Wait, you'll see in a minute..."). And by the end, Dalayman had enough voice to herself attempt (with some success) some deliberately soft singing in the Immolation.
So it was Dalayman, despite a lone thug who booed her strongly at the end (and what on earth was wrong with this person?), who get the biggest cast ovation. I'm very much looking forward to her returning (with a bit more experience under her belt) for the next Met Ring, as well as Franz if the voice holds up. Of course James Levine got the biggest cheers: his orchestra played terrifically, the brass fortunately getting all their flubs out before a shattering rendition of Siegfried's funeral music. Schenk did not come out for a bow (tomorrow, perhaps?), though he would, if audience chatter was any indication, have gotten a huge reception. Kudos.