Met Ring 2000 - After Siegfried

Lord knows who can sing Siegfried convincingly onstage today:  I'd hate to be the one who has to go out "scouting" 4 to 5 years before the curtain goes up on Mime at his anvil. There's no chance of coming back waving a contract with Windgassen's signature on it anymore. I imagine Stig Andersen was heard in a theatre more intimate and Stig-friendly than the wide open spaces of the Met and I imagine also that Stig thought at the time that in a few years he would be a worthy Siegfried.

I gave him a good round of applause for being there and having a bash at it but by my standards it was a polite round and not spontaneous. He was the weakest of the Siegfrieds I have heard, this being my 6th Ring Cycle since 1995, but with the Ring there is no chance of me leaving early or skipping a show due to disappointment in one singer, particularly one who is challenged by an arduous role such as Siegfried, which is no "walk in the park".

Speaking of a walk in the park, the day after Siegfried I didn't take one, but instead joined Parsifal13 and Carol from Chicago in a pleasant three hour cruise around Manhattan Island. Highly reccommended! I don't think the word "opera" was mentioned during the voyage, and it was good to turn one's mind toward other matters: such as making it back to our midtown hotels in the blistering heat with a thunderstorm threatening. It was about 20 blocks and I hear you yelling... "just take a cab!". Easier said than done when the cruise ship docks at precisely the time the "drivers" change shifts. Unfortunately they all forget to turn off their "for Hire" signs atop the cab and we were in an out of several cars which were stopped in traffic. Each time our spirits were bouyed by the thought of a hair-raising dangerous drive back to our air conditioning and deep-pile carpets, only to be told by the cabbie that he wasn't actually for hire, despite the sign on his roof, but was in fact finished for the day. Not a cab was to be had.

So we walked briskly up 8th avenue, stepping lively over people lying in the street or going "potty" behind a parked car, and avoiding lost souls howling at the moon, which wasn't even visible at 4pm.

We arrived back in the cool sanctuary that was our hotel and set about recovering for a later dinner with some friends we hadn't seen for a long time or ever before. in the case of one of them -- Bryce, who writes so well in these pages. A splendid time was had by all thanks to the folks in the kitchen at Shun Lee (again!)

This was followed by drinks back at our hotel and in my case more drinks and then a few for the road and a toast to the members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra...I decided to toast them all individually, by name. I got as far as the P's - Parloff - and cannot remember what happened next.

Saturday was Götterdämmerung Day, and following a leisurely lunch which was graced by one of the performing artistes, we cleared our minds by watching the ducks and people go by in Central Park.

All dressed up, we made our way to the Lincoln Center Plaza once more and joined a group of friends for coffee. Kent again graced our company.

Once inside the theatre I settled down for one of my favorite Wagner scenes. In the gloom my flashlight picked out the shadowy figures of the Norns and like the Rheinmaidens, these were three singing Norns with voices. They were, in order of Norn-ness, Birgitta Svenden, Wendy White and Christine Goerke, the latter wailing into her music like a Norn possessed. I just wished the scene had been longer (and visible to the naked eye) Would somebody lean over once in a while and poke Gil Wechsler with a stick? Check his eyesight and his pulse too while you are at it. Does he have to pay for the power he uses out of his own pocket? I am mailing him a check for $100 with explicit instructions that the money goes on lightbulbs exclusively.

Anyway I did manage to see Jane Eaglen and Stig Andersen celebrate their union and certainly heard her wail into the "Heil's!" just ahead of the stomping band which gave Stig quite a boisterous send-off on his Rhein Journey. The tympani sounded like they were being played inside my head, which is exactly the way I like it.

Act I dawned on the Hall of the Gibichungs, and the TBA that had rested next to the name of Hagen for some time was in fact shorthand for John MacCurdy. I had only ever heard/seen him once before in the Met Lohengrin video where he sang King Henry. That was recorded 14 years ago. He's an elderly man who has had a long career at the Met and while he's not as wobbly as the much younger Eric Halvarson, he has a hollow wooly sound and moves gingerly as befits his years- but no Hagen is he.

He was accompanied by Sir Alan Held as Gunther and that is a good bit of casting right there. The music and character were in good hands. Their lovely sister Gutrune was Sondra Radvanovsky, also heard earlier as Freia. Hagen's "Hier sitz ich zur Wacht" was almost listenable, as MacCurdy had warmed up somewhat and had left his tentativeness behind and didn't have to push his volume too much.

Back on the mountaintop Jane was joined by Felicity Palmer as Waltraute. I reached for a hip flask that wasn't there. Then I reached for my shotgun but both barrels were empty. I let go the rope tied to the 200 lb sandbag that I had rigged over the spot where I was informed Felicity would be standing, but the pulley jammed. Felicity's last note was a shriek. I am unsure of the word she sang but I hope it was the German for "goodbye, er, sorry!"

You know the rest....Brünnhilde has the Ring to defend herself against the marauding Gunther/Siegfried but it does her no good. Whatever happened to those plastic rings we had in the sixties which you filled with a little water and then could gleefully squirt people in the face when they came close to admire? Well, one of those would have helped her more than the Golden Ring. Musically though a terrifically exciting scene and the crowd let up a howl at curtain's close.

Two and a half hours had passed and now it was time to wolf down some food, have a quick drink, and then get back in for more.

"schlafst du Hagen?" gives me the chills. It was played in darkness of course which had me wondering later why Fink, as Alberich, was dressed in the alternate Albie costume- the one which has huge compound eyes like a fly. I saw him wearing it when the bow lights came on much later.

MacCurdy survived the summoning of the vassals as the band turned their amps up to 11 and the splendid men's chorus raised the roof. The appearance of Brünnhilde and Gunther features a beautiful little piece of music I could never tire of, culminating in a full-bodied "Heil!" from the chorus. It blew my socks off into the row in front and strips of leather from my shoes went flying like pieces of shrapnel. I am used to walking home barefoot from a Ring.

There were some recriminations followed by some vengeance swearing and the mood was certainly turning sour for Siegfried. You know the story better than I no doubt.

What I am sure of though, is that Wagner is the master of the act-ending and the pulse quickening chase to the end of Act II, with the ugly raising of Hagen's head from the band casting a long shadow over the joyous celebratory music greeting Siegfried and Gutrune, is brought to a shuddering halt at the curtain's close. 4,000 big "Huzzahs!" split the air and one of them was mine. Wagner is nigh indestructible, provided the majority of the band is wide awake and ready to play. Even when some of the singers are way out of their depth I still get an evening's entertainment. If the band were a sloppy shambles of course I would be calling for the death penalty.

Although most - if not all- of the Time Machines I have ordered from catalogues were frankly a waste of time, I have yet to give up hope that someday I will be able to travel back in time and take a seat in the Festspielhaus for one of the first three cycles ever given of the Ring, when Wagner was in the house to hear it. He apparently wasn't happy with some of his casting choices, more from a dramatic point of view than a vocal one, so perhaps it has always been hard to get the mix right and I have yet to see or hear a Ring where I couldn't wish for more in either voice or theatrical production. However, I cannot imagine staying away from Rings produced live in the theatre simply because along the way I have seen/heard some disappointing singers/actors/directors and so on. Even imperfect Rings are better than none at all.

One of our party took ill and so I took his seat in the orchestra section for the final act of Götterdämmerung.

Once Stig had breathed his last and was carried off, it was Jane's show and 'ere long the Met stage magic of Joe Clark and his team had turned the Gibichhung Hall to rubble, the Rhine overflowed, Valhalla went up in flames and sank into the river, just as the composer ordered.

So it was that my second Met Ring Cycle was over, and I went out quickly ahead of my party to videotape the crowd leaving the theatre and consequently to record the reactions of my friends as they came back to the 21st Century. For purely selfish reasons, having seen this production twice, I would be happier to believe that a new production would be forthcoming in 2003, something with LIGHTING, less "stuff" dressing the stage, less hackneyed melodramatic movement and gesturing and some better singers in key roles....but alas it is not to be: the same production will return and one piece of "news" is that Siegfried will be "sung" by Jon Frederic West (oh! joy!).
Remind me to load my shotgun next time.


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