Sunday, November 6, 2011


It has seemed that the only times I've attended the Met Opera HD live broadcasts in movie houses have been the broadcasts of the Wagner Ring operas. Saturday we went to see Siegfried, for the first time managing to cadge seats at the Mazza Gallery theater in DC--probably got tix because it has become popular enough to take over two separate theaters in the complex on Saturday afternoons.

For the Ring opera, it helps that Rheingold is short and Die Walkure is highly exciting, culminating in a third act that opens with the Ride and proceeds to Wotan's Farewell and Fire Music. The fourth and final opera, Goetterdaemerung (literally translated as "getting darker of the gods") also has some memorable music, with Siegfried's Rhine Journey and his death procession and the marvelous redemption-themed music for Brunnhilde as the cycle comes to its rousing finale (the stage directions call for Valhalla to crumble and the Rhine to overflow its banks--nice easy matters to include in a production). Siegfried, the third of the operas, is the problem one.  It's very long--running yesterday from shortly past noon until after 5 PM--sometimes it even runs longer.  The music does not have the memorable parts mentioned for the other operas.

Yesterday, however, it came brilliantly to life.  The Wagnerian tenor was the cover who rsoe to stardom, Jay Hunter Morris, and he benfitted from playing the first act opposite the veteran Gerhard Siegel as Mime, the evil dwarf.  The two of them made the opera come alive, culminating in the end-of-act Forging Song, when Siegfried remakes his father's famous weapon. In the second act, the new Siegfried had the wonderful Eric Owens making a brief appearance as the most evil of the dwarves, Alberich, and then the encounter with Fafner, the giant turned dragon.  It was satisfying to see him appear as a true dragon rather than the rather abstractly-formed creature he has been designed to appear as in past Met productions.

On to Act III, when Wotan, the central character of the first two operas and much of this one, finally bows out after realizing that he has been unable to fulfill his own goal of preserving the gods and the world as he knows it. I thought I knew the Ring pretty well but I learned from his encounter with Erda the earth goddess that she had consorted with him to produce Brunnhilde. And then Siegfried finally encounters Wotan in the latter's last appearance and shatters Wotan's mighty spear just as it had broken Siegfried's father, Siegmund's sword in the great fight in Die Walkure.

Yes, more plot than you're looking to know. But the music always is the mightiest force on stage and of course, we finally return to the rock where Brunnhilde was left at the end of Walkure and get to hear tenor and soprano engage in the most wonderful love music since maybe Tristan und Isolde.  The Met broadcasts feature interviews with the principal cast members, which added to the experience immeasurably. I even got a kick out of the Forest Bird, represented by a three-dimensional figure and sung by an offstage soprano, which warns Siegfried of all the dangers posed by the dwarves and dragons roaming the set. On Sir Georg Solti's wonderful first complete recording of The Ring, one of the lagniappes was hearing Joan Sutherland sing the Forest Bird, sort of like Pavarotti doing the Italian Tenor in R. Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier.

The most marvelous result of this long afternoon's experience was to recognize the greatness of Siegfried, an opera often overshadowed by the others in the series. Partly this was due to the immediacy you get from the closeups of the theater broadcastand the quick understanding you get from the sub-titles.  Those together make it possible to savor the richness of Wagner's music and wonder as always how he did it (especially given his own miserable personality, as to which, see Deems Taylor's little masterpiece of an essay, The Monster.)

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