Tag Archives: The Met

Goddamn, that’s good.

Live Broadcast from The Met, New York, Saturday 11th February, 2012

And so Wagner’s big Ring cycle comes to a big finish with this hefty, almost six hours long work that is the culmination of the previous three, musically, thematically, plot-wise and every which way. It is a stunning way to spend a quarter of a day.

Jay Hunter Morris returns as Siegfried who, in love with and married to Brünnhilde appears at first to be older and wiser in the ways of the world. Tragically, he is still the innocent abroad, readily duped by Gunther into swearing a blood oath Siegfried would never dream of breaking. He also gulps a potion of forgetfulness, deleting Brünnhilde from his memory and clearing the way for Gunther’s sister Gutrune to get her romantic hooks in him. Jay Hunter Morris is a remarkable performer – the close-ups afforded to the cinema audience reveal a subtlety that runs alongside his swaggering and eye-flashing. When he flirts with the water-maidens, he is the charming young man from the previous opera. Sadly, his life is cut short before he can achieve full manhood.

Gunther (Iain Paterson) appears to be resentful most of the time, while Gutrune (Wendy Bryn Harmer) instils a tenderness in this role. The siblings aren’t that likeable a pair, using deception and treachery to sort out their love lives. Low self-esteem issues, obviously.

Puppet master of Siegfried’s downfall is Hagen, a (literally) towering performance by Hans-Peter Konig, driven by his lust for Siegfried’s ring (stop it!). While we’re suspending our disbelief about just about everything in the story, we must not make too much of the fact that he’s supposed to be half-dwarf. In the end, it’s not the myths and legends, dungeons and dragons setting that is the point. What comes out in this production is the power and wealth of the music. The setting is a prism through which Wagner shines light on universal themes and emotions. The death of Siegfried is a real kick in the heart.

The all-moving, versatile floorboards are yet again put to breathtaking use, accompanied by video projections that suggest location and mood. The water-maidens scamper up rocks and slide down the waterfall; Gunther tries to wash Siegfried’s blood from his hands and turns the river red… There is also an animatronic Grane the Horse, formed only from his battle armour.

Above all, this show belongs to Deborah Voigt’s magnificent Brünnhilde. Not a character you’d like to tangle with on one of her good days, this former Valkyrie really goes through the mill in this instalment. At the start, we see her softer side, when she and hubby Siegfried are happy and in love. By the end, we have witnessed her betrayal, her pain and fury. When she immolates herself on Siegfried’s pyre and in doing so brings about the end of an entire pantheon, we believe it.

The supposedly lengthy running time flew by. If you haven’t been to one of these live or as live cinema broadcasts, I urge you to do so, and if the Met don’t release the whole cycle as a DVD boxed set, I will want to know the reasons why. Sung to me in German by Jay Hunter Morris and Deborah Voigt on the back of their mechanical horse.

Look Who’s Tolkien


Live Broadcast from The Met, Saturday 5th November, 2011


Another opportunity to see a world class production in the comfort of your local cinema and it’s a corker.  Third in Wagner’s four-part Ring cycle, this one tells the story of teen orphan Siegfried.  His coming-of-age tale involves forging a mythical sword, overthrowing his foster father, slaying a dragon and reviving a damsel from enchanted sleep.  Hardly Adrian Mole then.

The demands of the role mean that only a few singers exist in the world today who can tackle this most demanding tenor part.  Charming Texan, Jay Hunter Morris more than copes, and conveys Siegfried’s moody adolescence (Kevin and Perry were never this volatile) and youthful naïveté, despite his hefty physique and more mature appearance.  He strides around, dressed like a Disney Prince – he even has an animated companion in the shape of the friendly bird who guides Siegfried to the sleeping Brunnhilde. This is J R R Tolkien territory, Norse mythology with the emotions cranked to the max.

As oversized, evil dwarf Mime, Gerhard Siegel looks like Dom de Luise with a comb-over and the disgusting personal habits of John McCririck.  He provides most of the humour of the piece – yes, folks, that’s right: there is plenty of humour in this opera.  It is the most accessible of the whole cycle, perhaps of all Wagner.   Bryn Terfel is Wotan, but here he is called the Wanderer (they call him the Wanderer; he roams around, around, around).  He wouldn’t look out of place in the Fields of the Nephilim (remember them?)   Deborah Voigt is a robust and moving Brunnhilde and Eric Owens a sturdy Alberich.

The set is a breath-taking application of technology: huge, moving oblongs on which video scenery is projected and also on which the cast walks, sleeps and fights.  Even watching from the remove of the cinema screen, it is impressive.  While I was pleased that Fafner the dragon was not a video projection, the puppet was more of a snake – perhaps lighting it differently could have made it more menacing.  What you don’t see is always more scary than what you do.

At five and a half hours running time (including two intervals) this may put off the casual viewer, but if there is an encore screening, I will definitely be going to see it again.

Bring on Part Four: Gotterdammerung in February.

Juan Of The Best


Live Broadcast from The Met, Saturday 29th October, 2011-10-30


The astronomical cost of a ticket to live opera is just one of the reasons most people don’t go.  This new initiative of broadcast plays and operas around the world, live or “as live”, is a wonderful opportunity to see some of the greatest works of art and world class performers, for a fraction of the cost, (roughly what you’d shell out for a 3-D movie of dubious quality and a pair of the snazzy specs that come with it).


The Metropolitan Opera in New York are currently staging Mozart’s finest (in my view THE finest opera ever written) and it is a cracking production.  I have seen several stagings of Don Giovanni, some of them symbolic, some of them translated to different eras, but this one, in the costumes of the period on a simple staging of walls, doors and balconies, is one of the greatest.  The splendid singers are all top drawer, and Michael Grandage’s direction places emphasis on characterisation as much as on the action.  The humour of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto survives the translation into subtitles and the drama of Mozart’s magnificent score is unassailable.  That I had shivers throughout the evening was nothing to do with the air-conditioning.


Ramon Vargas brings something rarely seen in a Don Ottavio: impatience and frustration.  There is a lovely moment right at the end, when Donna Anna tells him he must wait one more year before they can be married, and he turns from her with a look of comical exasperation that is just delicious.  This is the beauty of a cinematic presentation – you get close-ups the people in the expensive seats do not. Marina Rebeka’s Donna Anna is both striking and sympathetic while Barbara Frittoli as Giovanni’s abandoned wife displays tenderness and helplessness in the face of her addiction to the man who done her wrong.  Luca Pisaroni’s Leporello always has a twinkle in his eye – his growing unease with his master’s carryings-on is coupled with his undeniable devotion to the man.


As it should be, my heart was won by Don Giovanni himself. Mariusz Kwiecien has something of a young Kurt Russell about him.  Clad in frockcoats and flouncy white shirts, he swaggers around the stage enjoying himself.  As the philandering Don, he can ‘turn on’ the charm.  His voice goes into turbo-charge for his seductive arias.  This is a man who knows what he is doing and is in full control of his talent for womanising.  Life is to be enjoyed and he enjoys it to the max.  When he is dragged into Hell, in a beautifully realised scene with a blue-faced Commendatore, he remains unrepentant.  With him gone, the rest of the characters have to grasp around for their next move: a deferred marriage, the taking of holy orders, the search for a new boss… It is as though Don Giovanni gave their lives purpose.  Without him, there is only anticlimax.