I've been backed up with work and some other projects, but I don't want to let too much time to pass without mentioning the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast of Die Walkure, which I saw May 14 at the Neshaminy Mall. The cast was top-notch, the orchestra sounded great, and when the ensemble got going, I was rarely aware of the time passing, although, as in all Wagner’s music dramas, an enormous amount of it did. I guess by now everyone knows the performance started 45 minutes late because of a computer glitch with the complex, automated set, which, unfortunately, has become the unwanted focus of much of attention paid to this production. When it works, the results can be dazzling, but when it doesn't, well, singers lose their balance and audiences sit on their hands in the theater.
You can read detailed reviews of the production elsewhere, so I’d like to take a few moments and talk about stage business. As a piece of theater, The Ring of the Nibelung consists of long conversations punctuated by demands for stage effects that are impossible to achieve with any degree of literalness. The rainbow bridge, the Ride of the Valkyries, the Magic Fire, the Dragon and Brunnhilde's immolation often inspire stage directors to great feats of imagination, but no one seems to what to do when the characters are just standing around singing to one another. That problem demands real imagination, and no one seems to have come up with a satisfactory solution. The blocking for much of the Met's Walkure was static, as it probably had to be, and as all blocking for every Wagnerian production, ever, probably has been. Since Wagner’s dialogue is sung much more slowly than people actually talk, the stage movement is much slower than people actually move. (I noticed the same tendency a few years ago in the Met's production of Tristan and Isolde.) In Act III, when Wotan explains to Brunnhilde just why he's going to strip her of her immortality and put her to sleep on a hot rock, Bryn Terfel strutted back and forth aimlessly across the stage. Leading with his stomach, he reminded me of an armor-plated Ralph Kramden. It might not be too noticeable in the Met’s cavernous hall, where performers onstage can look no bigger than mice, but on the big screen, with all the close-ups, every gesture and expression are exaggerated, noticeable, and ultimately, distracting.
And what’s with Brunnhilde’s get up? She looked like a cross between Wonder Woman and a trout.
Fortunately, there was all that great music to hold our attention.