Monday, April 27, 2009

Get Siegfried

So...just a few words about Saturday's Gotterdammerung matinee before I have to get back to whatever it is that I get paid for these days:

Wow. Hearing Gotterdammerung live (this was my first) is radically different than listening to it in the privacy of your own home. The detail of the soundworld created by the constant interplay of leitmotifs is just completely overwhelming. Parts of Gotterdammerung that I previously sort of glossed over, i.e. the orchestration under the big Act II crowd bits, revealed themselves as marvelously intricate and entertaining. I found myself totally fixated on the trombones--the Met orchestra ones are AMAZING right??? The splendor of the orchestra in general was really on display. I mean, it seems like EVERYONE has a brutal exposed line at some point in Gotterdammerung...maybe not each person in the strings, but definitely every wind player and that has to be like 75 PEOPLE AT LEAST. But the whole thing was a perfect seamless web, like a 200 piece chamber group (that horn who kept f'ing up Walkure two weeks ago either got his shiz together or was off for the day).

I didn't really have time to think about the big picture reading in relation to other Gotterdammerungs in my head, because Jimmy was giving me exactly what I was craving: a reading of just mind blowingly exquisite detail. Levine kept the balance pretty good throughout, though there were a few of the moments with no singing to contend with where he just let the orcehstra do a real ff and that shit was really REALLY loud. Maybe the loudest sound I've ever heard out of the met pit. It was pretty awesome.

As for the singers. As you've probably heard already, Dalayman's Brunnhilde kicked a great deal of ass. The group takeaway (a certain Mr D'Annato will probably go into better detail on this if he writes it up UPDATE: And he has) was that this was a lot more fitting than the Isolde some other people saw and were using as a basis for skepticism about this run. But Gotterdammerung is clearly in a sweet spot for her. If the lower registers don't cut through quite enough, once she gets above a certain line, the voice just explodes with a super secure, loud, and exciting top. Everything was in place for the immolation and she didn't show a hint of strain. It was also a very convincing performance acting n' stuff wise. Her raging about in Act II, topped off with a scintillating oath on the speer, reminded me of the great Gwyneth Jones version of that scene on the '76 Chereau Bayreuth tape.

Franz was fine in Acts I and II. The dawn duet was very confident, though the barky edge is always lurking. Anyhow you can can hear it and all, and I prefer not to look a Siegfried in the mouth. But by the time he got to the woodbird recounting/death scene, which is all one really cares about for him after the dawn duet several hours prior, he was suddenly running on fumes. The final "I'm comin' home baby" section, punch #1 in the emotional one two punch of the third Act, was more or less ineffective on account of him not really singing it at all. Clearly, that is a way difficult thing to do, not helped by lying down and all, but this just didn't work and the final result was poorer for it. Borderline Siegfrieds of the world: maybe one time you should try to mark the speer oath and save it for the death scene. People would knock you during the second intermission but they would leave with a much better impression. Maybe it doesn't work like that, but just sayin', if you have the choice.

Other singing notes: Tomlinson's Hagen was way enjoyable and great acting wise, though the higher areas have sounded richer elsewhere. Points for a super creepy rendition of one of my favorite Gotterdammerung moments: his "here i sit guarding the hall" bit near the end of Act I. Point deduction for a pretty meh "i thought I killed that guy why is he still moving around" noise in Act III. That's like the second best non-singing noise in the ring after Sieglinde's ecstatic "he pulled out the schwert" squeal back in Walkure. Yvonne Naef did a pretty good Waltraute though I didn't really engage with it since that scene is so freaking boring. Jeez. Flag that for the editing pile along with the neverending gimmick about Siegfried hearing Mime's murderous thoughts in Siegfried Act II. The rest of the Gibich family aqcuitted themselves admirably.

Finally, let me just say that the spectacular spectacular at the end of the Schenk Gotterdammerung truly does not disappoint. I mean, I've seen the old video, but they do some of it in close up and you really have no idea what a totally boffo piece of stagecraft it is, and in the opera house no less. Miss Saigon eat yer heart out. LePage's video installation or whatever has its work cut out for it.


Boy, there sure are a lot of plot holes in Gotterdammerung aren't there? And one gets 6 hours to ponder them. Now, its possible the translations don't get the real gritty plot details, but I'm skeptical. Just two quibbles I was chewing on, feel free to correct/disagree in comments:

1. People need to get clear on what the Ring actually does. It's sort of OK in the other operas where it is not being passed around so much, but as a plot device it just gets way out of hand in Gdams. Waltraute seems to think if Brunnhilde throws it back in the Rhine Valhalla will be saved. She eventually does just that, but Valhalla still burns up. Does Waltraute just have bad information or something? Brunnhilde seems to think the Ring has superhero powers or something, as she tries to defend herself from faux-Gunther with it. But that clearly does not work as he just plucks it off her finger.

The bigger issue is the conflict between scenario 1: the ring is all powerful and the person who gets it will rule the world, and scenario 2: anyone who gets the ring gets killed. I mean, how long do you have to keep it until world domination and the likely immunity benefits of that status kick in?

Or maybe the ring just doesn't do anything? Maybe it only has the value people give it and people (and gods) are such assholes that the idea that it is valuable leads to everyone offing everyone else? Maybe its sort of like...spacecash? Clever Wagner...

2. So, is it just Siegfried's fuck-up that he pockets the Ring he takes off Brunnhilde's finger when he's faux-Gunther, instead of giving it to real Gunther when he hands over Brunnhilde? But if so, why does he eventually settle on the real story, that he originally won it from a dragon? Does he think to himself "that's odd, how did Gunther's wife get that ring I won?" but try to gloss over it while Brunnhilde is calling him out in public? I mean, him being sort of a careless wife-stealer would go with the territory, but it is kind of a weak pretext for the whole thing coming apart. Are we supposed to believe that Gutrune's whammy eliminated everything between when the woodbird first mentioned Brunnhilde and when he got off his boat at the Gibichung house? But THEN has some additional short term memory consequences? Weaksauce.

PS, I would sort of love to survey the Siegfrieds of the world and find out how big the discrepancies are in their explanations of what is going through the charachters' head at this point.


Anonymous said...

I will only address point 1:

I believe the Ring is all-powerful for Alberich up until the point he curses it. Then the all-powerful nature gets admixed with the curse. (Which makes me wonder, would the ring still be under the curse if Alberich got it back?)

Pre-curse, Loge tells Fricka that any woman with the ring will keep her husband faithful. Well, Brunnhilde has the ring, and her husband succumbs to a magic potion, pretends he's another man, and marries the other man's sister.

Wotan learns, after Erda's warning about the ring (Das Rheingold, Sc.4) and after seeing Fafner kill Fasolt, that the Ring is powerful AND cursed. He wants it out of Fafner's hands (hence the Siegmund project) and most certainly wants it out of Alberich's hands. In Act II of Die Walkure, after the Siegmund project fails, he longs for an end. ("Finding an Ending" by Kitcher and Schacht is a superb take on Wotan's search for an end.) He realizes that Loge's hope that the Ring be returned to the Rhinemaidens is the only proper end for the ring.

For Brunnhilde, the ring is more of a wedding ring and not necessarily meant for power, domination, etc.

I've been going this week. Domingo kicked ASS last night. He was so impetuous as Siegmund in Act I, rushing a bit at times, keeping Jimmy on his toes. It was an electrifying Act I. Dalayman as Brunnhilde was superb. The Ho-jo-to-ho's were laser-like, and the rest of the role, which is almost a mezzo-soprano role, was sung superbly.


ronalds545 said...

How old are you, Alex? The reason I'm asking is that you do yourself a disservice by writing like a 12-year-old.

Alex said...

JfMurray: Ah right, the curse...looks what happens when one leaves Rhinegold out of one's cycle. It's sort of an information problem: everyone (besides Wotan with his unique problem of TMI) is drawn to the ring (Siegfried/Bhild) but they don't really get it, hence the tragedy. Er something. Must check out that book...

So glad to hear Dalayman rocked the Walkure Brunnhilde!!! We were speculating whether it would work as well without so many fireworks to show off her stratosphere...

Alex said...

ronalds545: Jeez, look what I get for being a little trigger happy with the capitalization.

I will try to ensure that my penis-pun entitled operablog lives up to your standards of maturity in the future.

Dan Johnson said...

Did you delete that post about Gwen Stefani and the Village People drinking Campari?

Alex said...

Uh...yeah...I woke up and sort of felt my tipsy late nite music video trolling wasn't really defensible blog fodder. Hope you'll excuse the editorial malfeasance.

Just FYI, her name is Lady GaGa:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the greater plot problem in Götterdämmerung, which I've never seen anyone address, is what's running through Siegfried's head when he takes the ring from Brünnhilde at the end of Act 1. In the oath scene he swears that he got it from Fafner-- but if that's what he believes, then why doesn't he scratch his head in Act 1 and say, "Hey, wait a minute, what'ts she doing with my ring?" Or else, in Act 2, "Hey, wait a minute... she's right, she DID have my ring!" But I guess that would have made for a premature happy ending.

Anonymous said...

I'm late hopping on this thread, but found it because after seeing G. concert performance at the WNO last Sunday I was compelled to come home and google "Gotterdammerung plot holes." I mean, seriously? Look, I can and do excuse the incomprehensibly weak plots of most operas because, c'mon, that's not what matters anyway. But this is Wagner we're talking about, 27 years, gesamtkunstwerk, etc. It's hard to believe he would let the types of careless logical inconsistencies you all mention slide. The comment mentioned by anonymous just above me is especially galling.

I would be VERY interested if anyone finds/knows of an essay or book that actually works through these issues.

Also, Alex, I really appreciate the humor and relaxed attitude you bring to talking about opera, so please ignore people like ronald - there is plenty of stiff opera reading material for stodgy people already.

Anonymous said...

Re: plot holes, this is one explanation to most of the issues, but I do not know if it is actually supported by the libretto.