Resolution for Wagner and Lepage: the Met’s final installment in the Ring Cycle

What: Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, Live HD SimulcastWhen: Feb 11, 2011 Who: Metropolitan Opera Running time: 6 hrs, including two intermissions Where: Metropolitan Opera House, New York Where she saw it: Carousel Center Mall By: Leah Harrison Also read her review of the previous installment, Siegfried

HD Simulcast audiences in North America witnessed the resolution of Robert Lepage’s new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Met last Saturday, and with it, the resolution of built-up tensions regarding the gargantuan set.

Lepage minimized the role of his $16-million dollar steel panels in Götterdämmerung, using them as a stagnant backdrop for much of the 6-hour opera. This final opera stood on its music, and with the rise of Heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris and recovery of Deborah Voigt, the Met put forth a performance worthy of a long list of superlatives.

Aside from tempering his beast, Lepage is to be commended for his stage direction. The complex psychology of every character and relationship  came through beautifully: Siegfried’s maturation, sense of responsibility, and honor was evident; Hagen’s devotion to his evil father is wrought with both resentment and loyalty; Waltraute’s confliction over Brünnhilde’s vow and the fate of the gods is palpable; the nuances of personalities deepened the experience, making it epic, but also familiar.

Of course, the singers deserve praise for their triumphant performances, too. Jay Hunter Morris continues to perform the role of Siegfried with apparent ease. His brilliant voice is perfectly formed for the character: youthful, athletic, powerful. And one of the great things about the simulcast experience is the interview between acts.

Morris is a ready-made ambassador for accessibility in classical music. Here he is, the best Heldentenor in the most pretentious opera at the most prestigious house, but his Texas twang and good-ole-boy mannerisms are on display. 

Voigt was fantastic also, this role a challenging request to balance beauty and power with soul-destroying betrayal. She’s gotten a lot of flack for her Brünnhilde, and to me it seems unfair. She sang the part incredibly well and has great chemistry with Morris. She was heartbreaking and lovely.

Hans-Peter König played Hagen – his sturdy voice like an earthquake. Rarely is something so low also pure. Hagen’s meeting with Alberich, played by Eric Owens, illuminates their relationship as they growl at each other below the staff; you can see that Hagen is evil because Alberich formed him that way, but he is fundamentally tortured by the abuse. His depth of character resonated with me as much as his rumbling voice.

A cherry on the cake, Waltraud Meier returned to the stage to portray Waltraute, Brünnhilde’s walküre sister. Meier’s insistence that Brünnhilde return the ring to the Rhein is downright terrifying, but the two voices complemented each other so much that you could believe they were really sisters.

Fabio Luisi’s contributions in the pit were rather original, or at least refreshing. He doesn’t resort to flooding the music to make it broad, but encourages a sparse fabric that is all the more eloquent. The instrumental interludes, originally meant to accompany set changes, were almost their own characters with breadth and subtleties to become acquainted with. The instrumental section before Siegfried addresses Hagen (after he’s wooed Brünnhilde for Gunther) almost turned me into a puddle on the floor of the movie theater, with all the spilled soda and melted popcorn butter.

All in all, the production was cinematic, with a mixture of beautiful art and character complexity. Acts II and III flew by, making the 6 hours seem reasonable (It feels ridiculous to say this). But even if the time passed quickly, Götterdämmerung wore me out in the best sense. Brünnhilde’s exhausted pleasure and peace are felt literally at the end, but also as a metaphor for the experience of Lepage’s Ring.