|Die Walküre, Part I|
Die Walküre was the first of the Ring operas I ever heard and to this day, 5 years later, remains on its lofty perch as my favorite and most frequently played Ring drama. Act I to me is perhaps the most sublimely written and realised act in the entire opera canon.
I am also particularly fond of stuffing food into my face and even though time was tight, following a blissful excoursion to the Japanese Gardens in Golden Gate Park, I insisted on again dining in Speckman's in the Noe Valley (Church St. if you are hungry). A Wienerschnitzel only slightly smaller than the table was brought forth and was polished off in a blur of silverware, and a half gallon of Warsteiner beer was consumed (time was tight). So tight was the time that I didn't have enough of it to go back home to get my car and make it to the opera comfortably, so I asked one of my party to drive us there. Act I is not something I could endure being shut-out of.
We arrived with ample time to hob-nob before taking our seats.
The prelude is of course very exciting, particularly when NOT taken at a breakneck pace where the counterpoint becomes a case of "hang on and hope to finish on the same beat". Hear the Levine Met video for my ideal pacing.
The act began with the voice of Mark Baker whom many will know from his Met video as Froh (an unsurpassable Rainbow Bridge). He was a strong and steady Siegmund here, who was, however, low on passion that could cross the footlights, but for now I will take the good singing and hope that he grows in the role and can loosen up in his portrayal.
When the Missus of the hut is Deborah Voigt, one tends to sit back and let that stellar voice wash over you. Although she is not Nadine Secunde when it comes to visual acting, she has a glorious soprano to do her bidding and that is more than half the battle won in presenting Wagner on stage.
There was no visible chemistry between the Wolsung twins but I won't dwell on that as my ears were having too good a time to let it bother me unduly.
Reinhard Hagen, now out of his Fasolt costume and unimpeded vocally, entered as Hagen, in fur-collared Cossack garb with a small posse of henchmen: many fewer than the dozen or so in the Bayreuth Chereau and about the same number as used in the Lyric Ring from Chicago in 1996. Whatever the number, it is way more than called for in the score and serves no purpose other than to give work to 4 supernumeraries. Three people (who sing) are needed on stage. Hagen is supposed to be menacing all by himself, a serious Administer of Whup-Ass, armed with a spear. He needs no back-up.
Here, as is often the case when a director makes a bonehead decision, the felony is compounded by having the supers prowl around the stage, crossing it in various choreographic permutations mindful of the instruction to "look menacing", and so they glower and sneer and flinch, ready to pounce. In the meantime of course one should be ignoring them and listening to Siegfried's tale of woe and observing the reactions of Hagen.
Besides Isolde's "Mild und Leise" there is no Wagner song I look forward more to hearing than "Der Manner Sippe" and Deborah was rivetting as it spun forth past her golden tonsils and out into the hall where the audience held its breath, as it did throughout all the performances I attended.
The rear walls of the "hut" opened for "Wintersturme", although the lighting didn't suggest a spring-time night and it was sung politely and correctly without being particularly moving or memorable and then Debbie wailed away on "Du Bist Der Lenz", firing away on all 8 pistons.
The gallop to the finale was breath-taking as the band adeptly played the notes that the great genius had written, and as the black curtain dropped on the incestuous coupling, a mighty roar of approval went forth.
That was worth the price of admisson right there, and I could have gone home quite happily without a further note being played. There was just time in the too-brief 20 minute intermissions to step out onto the balcony, facing the glorious dome of City Hall, for a quick cigarette, followed by a 5 minute bonding chit-chat with friends in the lobby, and then a line-up for a quick piddle before making the trek back upstairs past the people who had spent 20 minutes on line to buy tee shirts and such, again to take our seats just before the lights dimmed for Act II.
The Ring Acts were always on time.
Here in Act II was Jane Eaglen, sat on a bench as the lights went up, girlishly kicking her heels. James Morris joined her, which was no surprise, as the stage manager sent him on to sing Wotan.
What was a surprise was the appearance of a healthy Marjana Lipovsek who was recovering from my mis-spelling of her name in a previous review. She is a welcome Fricka in my manor, having often been exposed to shrill and wobbly ones (Joyce Castle/Hanna Schwarz) so all was well and I settled in to enjoy Act II.
(to be continued)