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Tuesday 17 May 2011

Thoughts on the Met Broadcast Walkure

Die Walkure
Metropolitan Opera Broadcast

Not a proper review and nothing profound to note; these are just some general thoughts and views on this broadcast more for my future reference than anything.

Really enjoyed this evening! First things first, the new Met production of the Ring is totally pointless, utterly inoffensive, completely literal, poorly staged, unthoughtprovoking and rather soulless. It's almost not worth discussing. Despite all the technological flummery, it's deeply traditional, not that this is bad in itself, but there's not much beauty and quite alot that is actively horrible to watch, at least at close range. The direction of this broadcast was consistently ill executed with irritating camera angles, constantly panning or tracking shots and loads of extreme close ups (when will opera film/DVD director learn that we almost never want these?).

So this evening was mostly enjoyable for the acting and its musical quality. The extremely starry cast promised big, and basically delivered too. The big question mark was whether Voigt would be able to manage the role, after some reports and rumours that her career was over due to some dubious Minnies she sang around Christmas time. She acquitted herself rather well I thought, and certainly warmed up vocally through the night, though to me it's not really a beautiful sound anymore. The German was pretty questionable too, which surprised me as I'd never noticed before. Maybe her Brunhilde was a bit cute, but she is meant to be childlike in the Walkure, and her joyous playing around with Bryn Terfel's Wotan in the opening scene was great I thought. Eva-Maria Westbrook is another soprano whose voice I don't find beautiful anymore, the vibrato being rather unattractive and there's a basic lack of colour and variation in the sound - the sound itself begins to bore. Additionally I didn't think her acting was great here. Thing is, she's better in the theatre than up close (either on video or on CD) which is probably why she's been recorded so little in the past, so it doesn't seem fair to judge her too harshly. She does a weird thing when she sings loadly too - the mouth always veers to the right, which is distracting and I'm assured is not good technique.

But lets get onto the good bits! Jonas Kaufmann is a frigging god. It's just a gorgeous voice, gorgeously used, simple as that. His Todesverkündigung was magical. I don't like the staring into space thing he does sometimes when he's meant to be addressing characters, but really, he's the greatest tenor in the world at the moment. There really is no question about this. I just want to see everything he does now. (The voice sounds bigger on record than it is in reality though. He's certainly not a heldentenor, and I would question whether he's really a true dramatic tenor either. He seems to be growing into this repertoire however, so we'll see how it develops). Stephanie Blythe played Fricka. The voice is absolutely magnificent, radiantly beautiful, hugely powerful, effortlessly in tune, satisfyingly dark at the bottom and with a glitteringly intense top. And she sings so intelligently too - so many colours, so much interest, such great shaping of the text. I love it.

Bryn Terfel is a very good Wotan, but the voice is definitely sounding damaged these days. He's clearly thought about the role a lot and nothing seems by wrote, again great sensitivity to the text, and well acted, though at the same time I'm not sure he conveys the majesterial grandeur that the king of the gods surely requires, and as a result the torment of his downfall does not quite strike with full force that it should. However, this more human approach means the climactic scenes with his children - Seigmund's death and the farewell with Brunhilde - are extremely moving, the acting and music making of the last half hour of the opera unusually poignant and human (Deborah Voigt equally excellent here).

The orchestral support from the Met band with Levine was just magnificent.

Let's just get something straight here: it's completely moronic to clap during these broadcasts. Right? I'm right aren't I. Yet so many people do it. It actually pains me. Also moronic are the interviews - Joyce Didonato a comically inept and completely charmless host - such shallow questions, and irritatingly screeching faux star struckness (the hilarious Stephanie Blythe taking the thing in great humour and clearly taking the piss). She interviewed the guy in charge of the stage technology ("the machine" had failed causing the show to start 40 minutes late), and finished by saying "thanks for getting it up tonight". And not that these things usually bother me overly, but her hair, makeup and above all her dress were just horrendous - truly mystefying - who made those decisions? And then the equally embarrassing, but more forgivable Placido Domingo as cohost who bumped into Voigt and "lost his glasses in her". And then the behind the scenes crew clearly seen frantically directing the gormless singers. It's all so unslick, but worse it just destroys any suspension of disbelief and any sense of the mysery of the stage. They really need to stop this crap. Why not have prerecorded clips? And why not talk to directors/designers/Wagner experts? Or just have the pre recorded documentary features?


  1. Another reviewer who, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be aware of Eva-Maria's health issues at the moment, the fact that because of this she won't sing for a few months, and who judges her as if simply nothing was wrong. Except for her voice, obviously... I thought she performed admirably in these conditions. Chapeau. The only one I found to be boring was Kaufmann, especially in the first act. Monotonous singing.

  2. I was aware that she was sick in the first performance of this run, but nothing was mentioned before today's performance. I think if an experienced and talented singer is getting on stage, especially if she knows that she has been sick and also that it will be broadcast to a world wide audience of many thousands, we can trust that they she knows what she is doing.

    She was much better at acting in Anna Nicole earlier this season, and though I thought she sang admirably there (what little there was for to sing), I already had suspicions that I didn't much care for the vibrato. I respect her greatly, and there's no doubt she can sing, and as I say, I think she's much better in the theatre than up close. She's incredibly down to earth, practical and undivaish in person and in her attitude to her work, which is another thing I admire.

  3. She wasn't just sick in the first performance. She has something going on, health issues as her management stated, that prevents her from singing for the next months. She canceled everything. They'll find out soon probably what it is exactly, but it clearly affects her singing and breathing technique. It was obvious for everyone who knows her Sieglindes that she wasn't singing like she normally does. You could even see it in her acting. The MET probably thought that even like this she would make a better Sieglinde than Margaret Jane Wray. I think it was a courageous effort from Eva and, given the circumstances, she did better than I would have thought. I would just like to add this medical background info to put things a bit more into perspective. She deserves to be judged fairly, I think. I wouldn't object when people say she can't sing when she's being completely healthy, I guess.

  4. Ok thanks very much for the clarification. Let's hope she gets better soon.

  5. I think the general consensus that EMW was not at her best at the Met is correct but I also think your view that she is better in person is also on point. She was better in previous live experiences than on any of her recordings. I heard the beginning of Opening Night, went to two live performances in between and heard (over the interwebs) the last performance. She was clearly much better in the live performances (both vocally and dramatically) and much more so than the other performers (a bit more on that bellow). It may also have been the case that she just had particularly bad days (unfortunately for her) during the broadcast and that whatever ailment compromised her vocal performance impacted her acting as well.

    Otherwise I think the May 14 show was the best of the run and just about everyone had grown into/gotten more comfortable with their roles (always allowing for the vagaries of the microphones). Voigt was the most improved but Terfel managed his resources better than before. Its true that he is, regrettably, past his vocal prime but it is still and impressive voice and and in some ways an important interpretation.

    I agree completely with your views re: The Production, and that it was "inoffensive" (to the extent that one was not "offended" by the other defects which you so mercilessly if quite accurately listed.

  6. Hi Humphrey!

    Thanks for the message - I'm so glad you agree with me! Interesting to hear comments from someone who saw the run develop and settle in. I sometimes wish I could see the last as well as the first performance to see how things change and whether they get better - I'm sure that with something as complex and difficult as Wagner, the difference would be quite noticable. Oh to be a millionaire!