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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Opera Review: The Siegmund Exit

In which illness defeats our intrepid correspondent.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Act III of the Met's Die Walküre.
The much-ballyhooed experiment of having Lorin Maazel conduct Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera House proved most interesting at the January 28 performance. This run of the opera marks the conductor's return to the Met podium after a 45-year absence. Maazel seems to prefer lyrical flow and feel over big dramatic moments. His opening storm scene left something to be desired--there was no sense of angst or terror in the music. However, he found his groove with the introduction of the singers.

Clifton Forbis sang a fine Siegmund, with thrilling tenor notes and a sweet, romantic tone for the love-music of the first act. Act II complmented the first, with some notable baritonal notes that most Siegmunds have a problem reaching down for.

 Deborah Voigt's Sieglinde is something of a Met institution and a signature role for this great soprano. She went from timid housewife to ardent lover to terrified fugitive, expertly acted and beautifully sung. Both twins had good chemistry together onstage. Mikhail Petrenko gave a new take on Hunding, resonant and intimidating with fine bass pitch.

Act II introduced Brunnhilde, in the person of Australian soprano Lisa Gasteen. She had the all-too-typical troubles with the opening "Ho-jo-to-ho's", but eventually settled down and sang respectably. Not the greatest Brunnhilde I've ever heard, but the jury is still out.

Wotan was the ever-capable James Morris. His voice has lost some of its shine in the twenty years that he has been singing this part at the Met, but his knowledge and experience pull him through. His muttered "Geh!" at the end of Act II was a bone-chilling highlight. And mention must be made of the riveting Fricka of Michelle DeYoung, who made Wotan's wife a rich, deep character instead of the usual nagging shrew.

The highlight of the evening came in the second act, in the famous "Annunciation of Death" scene. In this moment, which opens with a gorgeous, floating chord in the winds and horns, the sound seemed to levitate slowly out of the pit. It is moments like this that keep Wagnerians coming back for more--in pursuit of the sublime amidst what can too often be ridiculous.

NOTE: Unfortunately, due to the fact that this reviewer is currently battling illness, there is no review of the third act--I did not feel well enough to stay. Like Siegmund, I exited after the second act. But I will be listening this weekend when the performance will be broadcast on WQXR and the Toll Brothers Radio Network, and may share my thoughts then.

Photo © 2008, The Metropolitan Opera
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.