So, I'm sure the Met's Gotterdammerung video is very old news to most, but I've been trying to check out the different Ring DVD sets and its on the brain. Also I was like 10 when it came out, so its new to me.
The first viewing during this kick was the Met Rheingold, which I found decidedly underwhelming. While getting to know the opera was a joy, the production does its very best to smother that with stodgy and uninteresting staging, tempos of death from the pit (despite a lovely sound, to be sure), and acting in certain quarters (read James Morris) that comes off like a deity on powerful sedatives. If this is what a traditional staging feels like, I'll take my Wotan in a wifebeater, thank you very much. Since Das Rheingold can't rest on mind-blowing music like the other parts of the Ring, it stands to reason that a production if anything has to have tighter and more focused storytelling.
Thankfully, a lot of this seems to improve in the Gotterdammerung (I haven't see the Walkure or Siegfried yet), which on the whole is a good show. First things first: 20 years later, it's amusing to note that the cultural touchstones of this production's aesthetic have less to do with 'timelessness' than another spectacle filling houses a little further down Broadway at the time. I speak, of course, of "Cats." So before giving this too much credit as "how Wagner woulda done it" let's note that the sparkly cloaks and elaborate headgear are borne of their historical moment (the 80s megamusical) as much as anything.
Moving on...I thought Hildegard Behrens' Brunnhilde was wonderful--afterwards one feels the full journey of the character has really been expressed, from the bliss of the first act, to abject despair in the second, to the wisdom and sacrifice discovered in the third. Vocally, the dawn duet is brilliant, but she gets a little rough in the Act II accusation and revenge sequence. Perhaps she's just doing us a favor and resting up for the end though, where she gives an immolation scene that pulls no punches.
Siegfried Jerusalem I am less enamored of. He sounds fine at the beginning I suppose, but its not so much captivating as boisterous, and after the wear and tear starts to show halfway through Act II he never really recovers, including one especially brutal miss during his tod, which is only really forgiveable if we take major spear trauma into account. Also, I find myself wanting a bit more shading than his happy go-lucky Siegfried delivers. It certainly works in some ways, but its hard to shake the dying puppy feeling during his death, which, while sad, seems a bit small for the moment.
Save for Christa Ludwig's Waltraute, I found the rest of the cast simply dominated by Matti Salminen's Hagen. His voice and stage presence (not to mention the xtreme closeups on his huge melon) exert a sort of gravitational pull on the proceedings that suggests something far richer than the "Hagen is a total asshole" reading. The full weight of what Wagner seems to have wanted for this character comes into startling focus. Hagen after all, can't just be the person who screws Brunnhilde over and makes her jump in the fire. He has to present a whole world for rejection, an inescapable logic of human affairs that Brunnhilde awakens to and chooses to abandon. And Salminen seems to really get this in all its grandeur and dread.
I like Levine's conducting a lot more here than Rheingold, although of course, he has a lot more to work with. His reading of the funeral march is especially searing. However, something left me a tad reserved about his immolation scene. You want the orchestra to just go for it as its never gone for it before, and I'm just not sure if that happened.
As to the spectactular spectacular that's happening onstage at this point, I can imagine it is quite a thing to behold. For anyone who's seen it, do they remove the masking from the top of the Met proscenium for it? You can't quite tell on the DVD but if so that is very very cool.
Still, I'm not sure if its really so different than the tire launching Grizabella up to cat heaven down the block. Impressive yes, but not really an earth shattering piece of stagecraft.
Oh, and I don't know where they get the white orb of redemption from or whatever it is projected on the scrim at the end, but it is weak and uncalled for. In short, its another good argument for the Julie Taymor Ring idea I think Alex Ross threw out in his review of her Magic Flute last year. Now that would be some world-ending to remember.