Sunday, April 12, 2009

BU Follows the Ride of the Valkyries

Everyone found it kind of strange that the NCAA Frozen Four--the ice hockey championships--was played here in DC this past weekend. For one thing, no college around here plays hockey--but this year the success of the NHL Caps has almost made up for the vacuum. The local press, though, has no conception of covering this major event. On Friday, after two big semifinals, in which Miami of Ohio put a stop to the amazing run of Bemidji State, and Boston University topped Vermont, all there was in the Washington Post was a feature story on the B.U. star. Today, finally, B.U. got the attention it deserves as champion by winning in an wild and exciting sudden-death overtime after being down 3-1.

Eileen and I watched it from a hotel room in Stamford, where we were visiting her mom, newly installed in a new senior living spot, and, once again, college hockey lived up to its potential as a truly exciting sport. Bemidji State was the team from nowhere (well, somewhere in Minnesota), and aside from my regret that their entry to the Frozen Four was by beating Cornell in the regional finals, they were the Cinderella club. Of course, those who follow this sport might add that in past years, the likes of Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, and a few other non-household words in college sports have won the championships.

B.U. has been fantastically successful over quite a few years--during my undergrad days and shortly thereafter, we at Cornell had a good spell of appearances--unprecedented and definitely unequaled--under our now-legendary coach Ned Harkness (who died last fall in his mid-80s). The Big Red was in the final four times between '67 and '72 and won twice, in '67, my senior year, and '70. When I had the chance to chat with Ned at my last Cornell reunion and mentioned to him that the vaunted rivalry with B.U. had returned in the form of what may become a traditional meeting at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Saturday, all he would say was, "When I was coach, we went 9-0 against them."

Making the drive to Connecticut more palatable Saturday was the chance to hear the Met's production of the second Wagner Ring opera, Die Walkure, on radio. This has always been everyone's favorite opera of the four-opera Ring series--I realize that for you who are skeptical of opera in general and vitriolic about Wagner in particular, that may not carry much weight--but the Met showed that its casting these days runs right down the line in terms of quality. Even the veteran bass James Morris singing Wotan, the king of the gods, was memorable, if not at the level he attained when this production debuted two decades ago, with him in the same role.

The Washington National Opera, still a second-tier company even under Placido Domingo's general managership, had the distinction of lending the Met its Brunnhilde, Irene Theorin, a Swedish soprano who will still make her official U.S. debut here later this spring in Wagner's next Ring opera, Siegfried. I thought she sang well, as did Waltraud Meyer, playing Sieglinde, half of the set of twins who discover this fact just as they also become lovers. (Don't worry--Wagner makes sure that the family goddess, Fricka, wife of Wotan, makes him punish all concerned for the incest.) Ms. Meyer, whom I saw sing Santuzza, the soprano lead in Cav, a few weeks ago, has an almost unprecedented ability to shift from Italian verismo to Wagnerian challenges. It was also nice to hear the Washington Opera spokeswoman declare that everyone has to be willing to help another company replace a Brunnhilde who suddenly is unable to perform; I'm sure there are a million favors the Met can conjure up to repay Washington for its generosity.

The most sheer fun part of Die Walkure is the third act, in anticipation of the start of which the chimes ending the intermission's Opera Quiz used to toll "Da-Dum-De-Da-Dum-Dum". The act opens with the always-stirring Ride of the Valkyries (think of Robert Duvall and those helicopters in Apocalypse Now) and proceeds through Brunnhilde's Ho-Jo-To-Ho to the ravishingly beautiful Wotan's Farewell and Fire Music that end the opera.

The Saturday afternoon Met broadcasts, which intro'd opera to the likes of me and many, many others around the U.S. and Canada, and now elsewhere too, are a treasure. The host is now Margaret Junkwite, who lends an authoritative air to the proceedings and also presides over a souped-up program between acts that features snap interviews with leading singers and designers and Met operatives. Those of us who grew up with Milton Cross and Peter Allen, who retained the old-time dignity of live radio but who would introduce some dry lecturers during each first intermission, at first resented the new wave but now have come to enjoy Ms. Junkwite. Her companion in the booth is a bit of a Met flack--everything is always glorious--but it is marvelous that the whole show goes on every season from December until early May, some years.

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