Wednesday, February 01, 2012
I am lucky to have such fabulous friends that they give away tickets to the opera.
To 6-hour operas, to be exact. So I dropped everything I was doing to see the new Met's production of Gotterdammerung, by Richard Wagner. This, as far as I could gather from the program, is the last of the operas in the Ring cycle, which lasts about 17 hours total. Apparently the guy had not yet heard of "cut to the chase".
To be honest, I could care less about German mythology*. There is always some magic potion to blame for all the chaos. It's not a character flaw; not someone made a tragic mistake but somebody drank the wrong brew without knowing. Siegfried, who is in love with Brunnhilde, takes a magic potion and falls out of love with her and in love with another woman. Disaster ensues.
I was curious to understand why Wagner is an endurance contest for both audiences and singers alike. I believe I have the answer now.
The new production by Robert Lepage has been very controversial, because it is very modern. It's hard to describe, but the stage is dwarfed by a huge contraption of wooden planks that move as the scenes change. Projections of water, fire, a forest, are screened on the planks. Apparently, at the beginning the machinery was clunky, causing great grief to the humans on stage, but now they seem to have worked out the kinks. I liked it, once I got used to it. But after 6 hours, the novelty wears off. And I'm thinking, if you have people sitting for 6 hours, you may want to change things a bit. Keep 'em entertained.
I think the problem is that the singers have little to do but stand and sing. I was sitting way up there in Valhalla, so it was hard to see the acting. Still, it seems that all the energies were dedicated to figure out the staging of the machine, but not that of the singers, who are extremely static, screaming to the winds. Then again, if you have to sing for 6 hours straight, you may not want to be running around the stage.
I welcome less literal productions of operas, because Opera, a bizarre mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, can always do with less of the ridiculous. To wit, there is a plot point in this story, where Siegfried runs around with a schmatteh over his head. It's supposed to have magic powers, but it still looks like a schmatteh.
So now that technology allows for great magic onstage, instead of cardboard forests and cellophane flames, new productions should be fun. But, at least in this instance, something about the grandeur of the stage machinery stifles the colorful imagination of the story. The German mythology has very powerful images, like dragons, flying horses, water nymphs, women with shields, etc. A lot of that is left to the imagination through the singing, provided that you read the useful but pedestrian sounding supertitles. If instead of being dark and brooding and too intellectual, this whole spectacle would be more dreamlike, as is the quality of myth, I would have been more transfixed. But it felt a bit cumbersome, while this enormous work needs some agility.
The Met orchestra, splendidly conducted by Fabio Luisi, sounded great, the singers as far as I could tell, were pretty awesome, particularly Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde. That woman can sing. And sing. And sing. And the guy who played the meanie was amazing too. Major bravos for him. Siegfried sang beautifully but the singer needs to get lessons in deportment. He moved like a slob from Jersey.
I won't pretend that I did not doze off a couple of times. I was awake for all the good parts, including an awesome fight between two sisters (Deborah Voigt and Waltraud Meier), the part of the chorus, which is gorgeous, the beautiful music when Siegfried finally bites the dust, among others. At the end, Brunnhilde sings like for 15 minutes with little interruption. It is truly an amazing feat of vocal power.
But there were these incongrous plaster statues (the Gods) that looked totally kitschy, and at the end their heads blow off (or rather pathetically pop out like popcorn) in the most incredible display of self-annihilation by a director I have ever seen. For 6 hours we finally bought the planks and the projections and the drab costumes and the stern minimalism and endured 6 hours of Wagner to reach the apotheosic conclusion and Lepage closes with the cheesiest effect, thereby undermining everything we saw and breaking the spell, in what I can only assume he mistakenly thinks is an ironic comment about the fragility of the gods. It was so ridiculous people were laughing, and not in a good way.
It was slow, exciting, ridiculous, magnificent, crazy and very, very long.
I'm glad I saw it.
*I resent that major Jew hater Wagner and his obsession with Teutonic myth. He can stick the braids and the horns and the breastplates up his ass. The music is great though.