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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's the End of the Ring as we Know It

(...and I feel fine)

A song parody by Paul J. Pelkonen
(based on "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I feel fine)") by R.E.M., original lyrics by Michael Stipe, plot by Richard Wagner)

That's great it starts when the rope breaks, Norns quake and Erda sleeps on unafraid. Brunnhilde horse-dealin', Siegfried he's free-wheelin', going on to mighty deeds, think he's got a few leads, going down the river Rhine, with horse, (of course) sail against the current on a mighty boat, false note, going to the Gibichung, Gibichung hall! Brother, sister kissing in the castle with Hagen breathing down their neck. He's got a wicked plan with a notion in the potion that'll wipe his brain. Siegfried shows up takes a drink from the cup, slipped a mickey not lime rickey, uh oh blood flow brüderschaft to the raft Hagen serves his own needs find out what in Act Three, thinkin' bout the Nibelung, Nibelung ring. You sons of freedom sail on gladly switch bitch not a hitch in the night Gunther gives a fright!

It's the end of the world as we know it,
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of Act One as we know it, and I feel fine

Wake up Hagen sleepy head, Siggy's back, not dead, Hoi-ho! Cow horn Gunther boat re-turn, sacrifice to the gods, beer drinking, hell-raising, Got the bride eyes are wide don't get on her bad side, marriage problems escalate, world will annihilate, fingers on a spear point, he said, she said, plan a murder what's the motive Uh-oh this means no fear, cavalier, next day with the spear, stab him in the, stab him in the, stab him in the back! Murder by the river death scene takes forever is he dead yet?

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of Act Two as we know it and I feel fine.

Brunnhilde by the Rhine build a fire, pyre time.
Hagen commits regicide, Dead man's hand? Nein!, Time for immolation scene, Wotan auf wieder-zeen Burn the castle flood the river, Valhalla boom!
Immolate, annihilate, regenerate. Late? Late!

It's the end of the world as we know it.
(Time for Gö-tter-däm-merung)
It's the end of the world as we know it.
(Let's watch Gö-tter-däm-merung)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(Everybody Gö-tter-däm-merung)
and I feel fine...fine...

The Last Ring: Part III: Götterdämmerung

Richard Wagner: it's all his fault!

On Saturday night, Götterdämmerung proved to be more of a mixed bag. At first, Jon Frederic West sounded harsher and more metallic than in Siegfried. He coped well with the two most difficult moments in this impossible role--the "baritone" scene when he poses as Gunther and the murderous sixthteenth-note octave drop in Act II. However, he summoned his resources and sang beautifully in the death scene. A good Siegfried makes listeners regret his death. Otherwise, you root for Hagen to kill him.

Speaking of Hagen, John Tomlinson had an off night. Unsteady pitch marred Hagen's Watch, and his Act II "Hoi-ho!" was drowned out by the thundering Met orchestra. Iain Peterson was an undistinguished, shallow Gunther. The Met chorus was its usual spectacular self, making a truly intimidating noise and banging their spear-butts on the stage with gusto in Act II.

Happily, any vocal shortcomings were annihilated (couldn't resist) by the gorgeous performance of Linda Watson, who was a thoroughly satisfying Brünnhilde. This is a tough role as well, with the big duet scenes with Siegfried and Waltraute, the scene where she is attacked by "Gunther", and the second act where she becomes a fully human woman, the Wagner equivalent of a betrayed Verdi heroine. Her Immolation scene was riveting, teetering between sexual ecstasy and fanatic devotion to her deceased Siegfried. Top-notch.

James Levine conducted with his customary skill, although one sensed that he was racing through certain passages in order to get to the more lyric ones. The brass, however, suffered from "fish" notes in the horns and the occasional sour note on the trumpet. However, the band rebounded with an excellent Funeral Music and a thrilling Immolation scene.

The Last Ring, Part II: Siegfried

Jon Frederic West as Siegfried.
Photo © 2009 by Beatriz Schiller

Thursday night's performance of Siegfried (the last ever at the Met in this current production) continued what has been a strong Ring Cycle. This Siegfried was anchored by superb orchestral playing, the unforgettable Wanderer of James Morris, and the burly, pouting lad of the title role, sung ably by American heldentenor Jon Frederic West.

West sang well in this most punishing of roles. His voice has a firm metallic bite, and he excels in the soft passages where lyricism is required to probe the psyche of Wagner's titular knucklehead. He evolves from pouting brat to manly hero, throwing himself into the part with abandon. While West is not the next incarnation of Max Lorenz or Lauritz Melchior, he is an able Siegfried.

He was surrounded by an excellent cast, led by Morris' resonant Wanderer. Although the bass-baritone did not seem as comfortable vocally as he did in Walküre, sounding harsh and pinched in the riddle scene and in his confrontation with Erda, this was still a memorable performance, and possibly the great singer's last bow with spear and eye-patch at the Met.

Linda Watson reprised her lyrical Brünnhilde, with gorgeous tone and sweet notes in the very long duet. Robert Brubaker's Mime was an able foil for West, eliciting genuine laughs from the audience. And Richard Paul Fink's Alberich continued to be a highlight of this cycle.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Last Ring, Part I: Das Rheingold and Die Walküre

James Morris as Wotan.

The Metropolitan Opera opened its final performance of its famous Otto Schenk/Gunther Schneider-Siemsen Ring cycle on Monday night with a definitive Das Rheingold. Too often, the Met Rheingold has felt like a perfunctory exercise in stagecraft. But from the mysterious opening notes of the Prelude to the majestic final "Entrance into Valhalla", this was a Rheingold that stood on its own merits. James Levine conducted with drawn-out tempos that exposed fresh textures in the score.

The cast was excellent. Most notable was the marvelous, nasty Alberich of Richard Paul Fink, complete with an old-style bone-chilling laugh after he stole the gold. James Morris, in what may have been his last Wotan at the Met, gave a resonant, finely acted performance. Face it folks, this is role that this capable American bass-baritone could sing with patches over both eyes. Two once-and-future Wotans--Rene Pape (Fasolt) and John Tomlinson (Fafner)--made a magnificent pair of giants. Kim Begley was a high-energy Loge, bounding about the stage and singing with a pleasing, lyrical character tenor--somehting that does not always happen with this part.

James Levine set a very slow tempo that brought fresh orchestral textures to the ear. His orchestra played like gods, from the lush carpet of strings to the firm, ringing brass. Even the odd sound effects (the anvils, the thunder-strike) that can make or break a Rheingold worked on Monday night.

The major hitch on Tuesday came when the stage manager announced that Placido Domingo was not feeling well, and asked our indulgence. Halfway through the first act of Walküre, the singer stepped off stage right, had a coughing fit and was quickly replaced by tenor Gary Lehman, who was in costume and ready to take over. This was the only hitch in a thrilling performance that stood as companion piece to the Rheingold of the previous evening.

Linda Watson was a thrilling Brunnhilde, with soaring high "Hojotoho's" and an emotionally sensitive portrayal of Wotan's favorite daughter. James Morris was in top form, injecting real pathos as he sang Wotan's Farewell, more so because this Ring may be his own farewell to Valhalla. As Sieglinde, Adrienne Pieczonka was free of mannerism and affect. Despite the first-act hitch, she had good chemistry in the second with Gary Lehman. Yvonne Naef was a stern, compelling Fricka. Finally, Rene Pape was a marvelous, slimy Hunding--his two fine performances this week make one regret his two onstage deaths.

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