Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

You Gott It

May 03, 2009

Christian Franz and Katarina Dalayman
Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera 2009

I escaped from New York on Sunday following the final night of the Metropolitan Opera’s second complete Ring cycle for the season. And while my escape was nothing akin to, say, the Von Trapp family, I nonetheless feel I’ve emerged feeling slightly less transformed than oppressed. But there it was—Götterdämmerung in all its slow, methodical six hour glory. Now I’m not one to complain about slow and deliberate on most occasions, but I have to admit the James Levine approach had begun to wear on me a little by the end. At times I wanted to scream, “please can we just get on with it.” It’s a legitimate, well-reasoned and—at times—beautiful approach to Wagner, but honestly not one that’s to my taste. Most of the cast continued to prove that they could handle this material though stamina continued to be an issue at times. Christian Franz, the Siegfried, came off better here than Thursday with a little bit less on his plate and sounded believable throughout. Katarina Dalayman was back after the night off from Siegfried for more trouble in strife. I thought she sounded pretty damn good in Act II when it was all about the rage. However, she petered out by Act III creating a very lackluster immolation scene. I felt she was inaudible through some of this and was clearly in the position of being led by the orchestra than having it the other way around. She received at least one string of loud boos from somebody upstairs with something to prove. The most heroic figure was John Tomlinson as Hagen. He was menacing and somehow avoided looking too cartoonish amidst this large carnival attraction of a staging. Everyone else was just fine and dandy.

I think Act II may have been the single most successful act of the whole cycle. It seemed to be the one time where everyone was in quite reasonable voice, there was very little silliness for them to have to chew their way through on stage, and for one brief shining moment, there was enough light cast on the stage to see what was happening. Darkness was probably preferable in Act III as the Gibichung’s hall collapsed in the final moments of the opera in that rickety controlled way that things on stage do. Still, it was a Ring cycle and, all in all, Wagner’s masterpiece can’t be ignored in all of this. It is still a rather unique experience and even under these non-ideal circumstances, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it. Even if the world did end with a bit more whimper than bang.

Simon Rattle, Thomas Quasthoff, Magdalena Kozena and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Photo: mine 2009

Transfiguration could be had in New York over the weekend, however, and at decidedly lower rates than Wagner’s Ring cycle. It had to be brought up from Philadelphia, of all places, to Carnegie Hall where the Philadelphia Orchestra made one of their frequent guest appearances with a performance of Berlioz’ La Damnation de Faust. The real kicker here was a cast of guest performers to be envied by anyone – guest conductor Simon Rattle led Thomas Quasthoff, Eric Owens, Gregory Kunde, and Magdalena Kozena. Who needed La Cenerentola over at the Met on Friday night with that line-up? It was an excellent performance especially coming on the heels of the Met’s own excellently staged production of this work just last Fall. The Philadelphians have taken a lot of bruising in the press over the last few years, but you wouldn’t have known it on Friday. How much of this was Rattle’s guidance was unclear, but it was a bright, festive, and often urgent performance. Quasthoff proved as interesting a performer as ever giving a marauding and sly Mephistopheles. With a much smoother line overall, Kunde was a marked improvement over Marcello Giordani, who was the Met’s Faust. He did struggle with some of the high notes, but seemed less strained to my memory. Kozena has been sick this week and performed with a “please excuse me” announcement. Even though her illness was apparent on both the high and low ends, she still sounds better than half the mezzos I can think of in this part. The sheer intensity she mustered even in this state was evident to everyone in the room. It was a great evening of music and quite a nice bit of energy amidst a week of Wagnerian histrionics.

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