22 April 2005

Schizo Met

Die Walküre, 19 April 2005

Suffer my slow reaction times these days. But despite being deep in work and the necessary spring wardrobe cleaning, I’m compelled to come out of this hole of holes to display my utter ecstasy Urbi et Orbi. Amidst the crap currently happening at the Met, I exclaim “Habemus Opera!”

1. Sieglinde’s Sieglinde. Katarina Dalayman's instrument is a persuasive embodiment of Sieglinde, a lustrous, dark voice (an ex-mezzo; the Met roster now lists her as a soprano) yawning brightly in the upper register, and then exploding like a cat in heat at the forte top. When this cat in heat shreiks, the elements enter into a higher dimension, and raw sound fills up any dead space in the theater, including the breathing pores on one’s face. As if to emphasize the otherworldliness, the forte top notes are sharped consistently (enter the ghost of Rysanek), and momentarily she breaks from the symmetric grasp of Wagner’s music and becomes your dear mother, loving but dominant, intimate but grand, disappointed but patient. She held back during the more contemplative moments of Act I, as if to pretend that she’s virginal, but I wanted her to crush the sonic balance right from the start. I prefer my Sieglinde to believe that she’s the mother of the Ring, and certainly the star of Die Walküre (oh puhleeze girl, forget Brünnhilde, around whom the narrative pivots, but whose music wilts easily in comparison). Oh dear Katarina, I implore you to release the artificial inhibitions and be the supreme Desperate Housewife that Sieglinde is. Leave the Brangaene life behind; now you belong to the queen’s roster.

2. Sieglinde, who’s your Sieglinde? I’m not comparing boxers to briefs, except to say that Deborah Voigt’s Sieglinde is a separate creation, whose place in my heart is ever secure. The purity in the Voigt is authentic; when it pushes through Act I, levitates above Act II, and pulls away in Act III, the character can maintain a credible and constant nobility. The Dalayman, on the other hand, is vulnerable and insecure, whose DNA is closer to her earth-mother than her god-father. With the terrifying voice, she formulates the question “Will Sieglinde survive?” which she answers ecstatically “F*ck yeah, and thank me later for clearing out your sinuses.” As Voigt moves away from the Sieglinde and approaches the Brünnhilde, I’m literally counting the minutes leading to that first evening when both women are on stage vying for my abandoned heart.

3. Faust. That orgasmic Die Walküre will almost certainly include Placido Domingo as Siegmund, who is going straight to hell after he dies at age 127. No other explanation is more plausible than a bargain with the devil, and I’m telling you, I had to pick my body up from the floor after being struck down with a lavish, sexy, heroic high A on Wälsungen-Blut!, the longest I’ve witnessed him hold it, to finish a magnificent Act I (currently my favorite act of all of Wagner). It seems he’s just about ready to caravan with Giordani and Licitra for a "Three Tenors, Next Generation" tour. He tires a bit in the middle of the first act, but listen, I get tired just ascending to the family circle from the plaza; then he picks up a vessel and drinks devil water and bam! the tenor is back, more frightful than ever. The Wälse! is more than solid; the Notung! sags a bit; but the Wälsungen-Blut! must have been lipsynched from a Melchior recording. There's just no other way to explain. Elsewhere, he is pure Siegmund, 23 years old and thoroughly jock-y.

4. A little Verdi in Wagner. Fricka was unavailable for the evening; Azucena graciously stepped up to fill in. Dear Larissa Diadkova knows how to make an immediate impression with such a short, monochromatic role. The voice pours out like thick burning lava, and shows everyone who’s "Wotan’s daddy." She was insane as Herodias last year, drunk and swollen; as Fricka, none of the campy sliding and sashaying. The mask of dignified anger on Fricka was unmistakably Verdian; the thickened blood in Walhalla melts, and boils with the force of a wife on the side of reason. Fricka’s scene is almost always transitory, but Diadkova isn’t about that, girls.

5. Bottle the lightning. The schizophrenia continues. During the short Die Walküre run earlier this season (in the fall), Valery Gergiev was deaf to Wagner, a goon impersonating an ape. Perhaps the mechanisms of the Met weren’t ready just yet to move onto post-Levine Wagner: the orchestra was simultaneously sluggish and impatient, and the epic narrative never coalesced and made sense. Today, the Maestro has found his comfort level in this repertory, creating an imperfect but thoroughly honest reading of the Wagner. Levine revels in the psychological subtext, centering the opera on Wotan and in Wotan’s music; Gergiev is cheaper and more romantic, and thinks it’s all about the unkosher love between Siegmund and Sieglinde. Therefore, Gergiev plows through Wotan’s narrative in Act II as if it were Moussorgsky, just to get to Brünnhilde’s encounter with the incestuous couple. His Act I pulsed with life, sensual and forbidden; Act III felt shorter. (Indeed, he was about 20 minutes faster than Levine, total evening.) Levine risks putting everyone to sleep during Wotan’s music in Acts II and III, relying heavily on the charisma of the bass to sustain the magic in the stillness of his funereal gesture. However, James Morris is now older, and no one else seems as capable. On the other hand, Gergiev doesn’t require much from his Wotan (and Mikhail Kit delivers the minimal set); instead, his restless orchestra drives the drama forward a la Karajan or Böhm. After his majestic Salomes last year, Tuesday’s Die Walküre is probably his best work at the Met so far.

6. The title role. Olga Sergeeva is a clone of the enigmatic Hildegard Behrens. Enough said. Love her, hate her, at least she manages to give all the notes their rightful value (vs. veterans Eaglen and Schnaut, both acutely suffering in the passaggio department).

7. Weekend forecast. If this weekend’s broadcast manages to replicate the hammer and fire of Tuesday, expect its recording to be bartered and exchanged among generations of shut-in queens to come. I suspect Dalayman’s forte sharps will not carry well across the airwaves (Leonie’s curse), so it’ll be a case of “you gotta be there” sort of thing.

OK, now back into the hole for me.