Having learned how it's really done - at Bayreuth - the day before Siegfried was spent mooching around at a leisurely pace and avoiding crowded places as much as it is possible to do in New York in balmy May weather. I did find time to stop and smell the tulips in Central Park- or what remained of them, as it seems like many of the nearby residents have pruning shears and no scruples about helping themselves.
I went as far as the front steps of the wonderful Museum of Natural History at 77th and Central Park West, but just like my last attempt to scale the steps, back in November for a Tristan Jamboree, I was beaten back by the sight and sound of a herd of wild schoolchildren.
The highlight of my day was a cosy relaxed dinner in Shun Lee, my home away from home and a restaurant that never fails to make me feel warm and fuzzy. A bowl of hot and sour soup is the only way to start a meal there. It is so good I find myself licking the bowl and in fact got my face stuck in it and had to be helped by the Maitre d', Henry. Once I had got the last slivers of tofu from my hair and chin, it was scallion pancakes ahoy! This was probably followed by the crispy Sea Bass, but by this time I was awash in sudsy Tsingtao beer, and even the couple of napkins I accidentally ate while waiting for the Sea Bass to be beheaded went down well.
After dinner, a cab took us uptown to see a movie about some daring American submariners pitting their wits against the odds and some German sailors who were always looking the wrong way it seemed. THE submarine movie- "Das Boot", the five hour epic with German soundtrack, is a hard one to find but I shall keep looking.
Back on the surface, "Siegfried Day", as Thursday would be known, dawned sunny-bright, and after a day of mooching and dawdling I finally found myself back at Lincoln Plaza.
I got in line for some espressos while my accomplice hovered near a table that looked like it might soon be free. When I joined her there I asked her if she recognised the man at that table. Apparently the fact that he had been speaking German for the five minutes I had been in line, and the fact that he had the facial characteristics of Ekkehard Wlaschiha hadn't presented to her the fact that it was THE MAN himself.
I did the right thing and did not bother the man as he relaxed over an espresso and several cigarettes. He would not be singing tonight: the role of Alberich was being sung by the very capable Richard Paul Fink.
In the Plaza I was fortunate to bump into none other than our beloved Opera Jamboree correspondent, Kent, whom I had not seen in many moons.
The lights dimmed at 6pm and the bassoons spoke from the inky depths of the creepy Prélude to Act I.
When the Wagner curtain arose, up and away, we were treated to the sight and ringing tenor sound of Graham Clark as Mime. He's always a scene-stealer and a great audience favorite, and may even know his part backwards. I am sure directors love working with him- he moves well and is quite gymnastic, as anyone who saw his acrobatics in the Chicago Ring in '96 will recall. Directors like to give Mime plenty to do.
I had already heard Siegfried on the Met Broadcast a matter of weeks before and was very disappointed in the Siegfried of Stig Anderson, who has some redundant letters in his name apparently: according to Peter Allen it is pronounced Stee Alexander [sic]. That's by the by of course- I could care less about the name as long as the man can sing Siegfried in the Met.
He's not awful but he is no Siegfried Jerusalem, nor as competent and powerful as George Gray (Flagstaff Ring) nor as robust and ringing as the late Wolfgang Fassler, who stepped in at very short notice in Seattle in '95 and won over the audience with an impassioned pedal to the metal performance. Anderson certainly looks good, moves well, and does all the physical aspects to perfection, but he hasn't much of a tone, can't hit all the notes on high and has no heft to his voice. It might sound a lot better in a much smaller room but I was in the Met and was disappointed.
The dark and overgrown/overdesigned forest in Act II was the stage for some good bouts of singing, particularly the scene between Fink and Morris. Anderson, when required to sing softly, was much easier on the ear and less distracting.
Fafner, the "dragon", is of course just some kind of tentacled mess that would be better heard (the voice of Richard Vernon) and not seen (ever again). The woodbird was sung by Heidi Grant Murphy.
A man behind me began the slow unwrapping of a lozenge during the scene where Siegfried understands Mime's duplicity, and shattered my concentration completely (this is not in the stage directions- I checked when I got back to the hotel). Adding insult to injury, the dopey audience began applauding way too soon before the curtain, obscuring those joyous little burblings from the stellar woodwinds. As the applause continued I rounded on the lozenge unwrapper and gave him a lecture on appropriate behavior during a Wagner performance. A creme brulée and a gallon of white wine helped calm me at intermission.
Act III, of course, is a humdinger (on paper at least). Off to a good start with that punchy prelude and a few claps of thunder (made, incidentally, by a big hide stretched out over a table with a bunch of loosely suspended balls bouncing on it when struck) and some snazzy lightning (strobe) flashes. The tireless James Morris once again delivered the vocal goods in his dialogue with the spectral figure of Erda (in the shapely form of Brigitta Swenden).
Soon we are on Brunnhilde's rock again, thanks to the stage elevators and some dry ice and steam curtains, and the stage is set for Jane Eaglen and Stig to take us (eventually) to the finish line and thereafter, home to bed or home to a hotel bar in our case.
She awoke in fine voice just as Stig's was on the wane. It was a tad one-sided.
It wasn't that we were high from the performance, but moreso the fact that in New York it just doesn't seem appropriate to go to bed at midnight, and so after a stroll in the warm night air, we repaired to a hotel along Central Park South for a couple of stiff drinks and some free peanuts.
The following day would be another off-day and our only plan was for a three hour boat trip around the island of Manhattan.
Götterdämmerung was still on the horizon, but having recently just learned who was singing the role of Hagen, after some months of seeing TBA next to the role, I was a wee bit apprehensive.
To be continued......
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