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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Opera Review: A New Machine, Part II

A Second Look at the Met's Die Walküre
The assembled Valkyries in Act III of Die Walküre at the Met.
At the top of the set: Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde with Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera
Monday night's performance of Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera showed considerable improvement from the opening night. The cast continued to settle into their roles, and the performance went off without any technical glitches from "the Machine", the multi-million dollar mechanical set that is repeatedly reconfigured into appropriate backgrounds for the action of the opera.

This performance also afforded a chance to hear Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde. Ms. Westbroek was ill at the premiere, and did not sing in Act II and III. Restored to health, she displayed a powerful, rounded soprano that turns round and full in her lower register and rises to an impressive height at the top.

She is also a good physical onstage match for Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund, and their love scene, conducted with fervor by James Levine, brought the first act to a thrilling close. However, she sounded pinched in the third, and "O heiliges wunder" did not bloom fully as it should. Mr. Kaufmann repeated his excellent portrayal from the opener. With singing like this, one regrets that his character dies at the end of Act II.

Deborah Voigt plays Brunnhilde as a spunky, enthusiastic teenager in her opening scene. The character underwent a harsh schooling in the long monologue by her father Wotan (Bryn Terfel.) Ms. Voigt displayed flawless "Hojotohos", maintaining lyric line through those difficult leaps. The Annunciation of Death was beautifully sung, though taken at a glacial pace by Mr. Levine. She also seemed to find more depth in her interpretation in the third act, displaying a deep emotional connection with Mr. Terfel.

Bryn Terfel sounded more comfortable as Wotan, singing with greater power and warmth. His first scene with Stephanie Blythe's searing Fricka went superbly well, with both singers more comfortable with the precarious set. Mr. Terfel used his strength as a lieder singer to maintain narrative drive through Wotan's monologue, aided by a bulbous, ocular movie screen that rises from the depths– like the god's missing, glaring eye.

He was even better in the third act, raging at the Valkyries and then singing a moving, proper Farewell to Brunnhilde. The annoying mannerisms (like the strangled cry of "Geh!" at the end of Act II) were gone, replaced by a greater warmth of tone and fluidity of line throughout the opera. As Hunding, Hans Peter König remains a scary Santa Claus, singing with a rich, impressive bass that menaces even when his bearing does not terrify.

This production has been plagued by onstage problems, particularly with actors mounting and dismounting the moving planks of the machine set. No slips happened on Monday, although the planks did thud distractingly as they flapped up and down to depict Brunnhilde's flying horse. In the combat scene at the end of Act II,  Siegmund's sword, Nothung, failed to break. Ms. Voigt scooped it up and hid the unbroken weapon (behind her leg) as she escorted Sieglinde offstage.

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