Burning Love: Siegfried at the Met

By Susan Brodie

Flames weren’t meant to rage for the entire final scene of the Met’s new Siegfried, but during the scenic transition from forest to mountain, as Siegfried was about to climb through the inferno to find his well rested Brunnhilde, Robert Lepage’s infamous stage machine halted mid-rotation with a tremendous crash. And there it stayed, girders criss-crossed, serving as a screen for projected flames, like a giant Yule log video. Instead of being revealed asleep in a raised clearing, Deborah Voigt finally had to walk out and lie down on the stage. Jay Hunter Morris mimed cutting off her armor, and the two improvised their blocking.  Standing on a level and sound-reflective stage undoubtedly made it easier to sing — they both sounded better than on opening night, as broadcast over the internet. But it was clear that something was amiss.

Zehrendes Feuer (c) Susan Brodie

Static as it was, the steady image wasn’t entirely infelicitous, as it turns out: the flaming background underlined the erotic underpinnings of the scene, which is about Siegfried’s quest to overcome Brunnhilde’s virginal timidity. And it was a relief not to have a noisy, hulking structure distracting from the intimate dialog. Still, it would have been interesting to see how (or whether) Lepage’s set mirrored Brunnhilde’s transformation from chaste warrior maiden to passionate woman.

Even with the high-tech wizardry, this remains an entirely traditional Ring, all forest primeval and medieval costumes, Much of the audience seemed very relieved and happy about this; I’m less delighted. There’s nothing wrong with a literal staging, but after seeing a few Ring cycles I’m looking for a little more intellectual meat to the experience. Lepage doesn’t even hint at the subtext often encountered today, of man’s despoiling the environment. Granted, the Ring is a rich narrative that doesn’t need reinterpretation. Yet Wagner’s magnum opus is so rich and complex that the repeat attendee–this one, anyway–wants to explore new ways of thinking about and experiencing the score. Personally, I’d prefer an experience of Wagner that doesn’t incorporate the excess noise and occasional moments of terror delivered by the all too hazardous machine.

Bryn Terfel as the Wanderer sounded wonderful, no longer overpowered by Alberich as he was in Das Rheingold (though I can’t wait to hear Eric Owens as Wotan). Gerhard Siegel delivered his well-honed Mime with evil glee and physical nimbleness as well as vocal acuity. Mojka Erdmann was the ideal voice for the forest bird, wonderfully rendered in 3D projection. Met Assistant Conductor Derek Inoue, standing in for Fabio Luisi, led a briskly paced performance that took time to savor the score’s beauties. The orchestra sounded terrific.

If only the staging were as successful. Will the tech staff be able to tame the beast (and I don’t mean Fafner, a disappointing dragon) in time for the HD broadcast on Saturday (the final performance before the complete cycles in the spring)?