Die Walkure at the Met, January 2008

The first performance of Die Walkure in early January was the venue for the return of Lorin Maazel to the Metropolitan Opera pit. For a work so strongly associated with James Levine, it likely took some courage on Mr. Maazel’s part to step in – although he’s not a person to shrink from challenges. His performance with the excellent Met orchestra was muscular and propulsive –lacking some of the sensuality and lyricism of Levine’s interpretation but well-organized and dramatic. The singing of the first act was excellent, with Adrianne Pieczonka a fine Sieglinde, Clifton Forbis a musical and earnest Siegmund, and the young Mikhail Petrenko strong as Hunding (if a bit Slavic in his German pronunciation). Piezconska may not erase memories of the greatest Sieglindes of recent times (Rysanek, Meier, Nilsson, Voigt) but she sang very well and infused the part with intensity through all three acts. Forbis has a handsome voice with a good ring – he sang well in both acts without forcing – clearly one of the better Siegmunds of recent time.

The absolute star of the show was Stephanie Blythe as Fricka – hardly a sympathique role! Her substantial size makes her quite a presence on stage – and she handles that very well. Her voice and performance were nuanced, with brilliant singing and spectacular sensitivity to the words and their meaning. Only Waltraud Meier in this role comes even close to the remarkable performance that Blythe provided. James Morris remains a powerful Wotan, although his voice lacks at times the roundness and projection of 15-20 years ago. He can still bring depth of feeling and beautiful sound to the third act farewell. Lisa Gasteen as Brunnhilde offered a serviceable performance – good singing in a number of places (the third act final scenes with Wotan) but hardly a memorable performance.

The Met’s production of Walkure remains solid and traditional. Offering few innovations or novel interpretations, it provides a vehicle for good singers and the excellent Met orchestra. The quite lovely ending with the coming of the Magic Fire still pales in comparison with the end of Gotterdammerung in this production, with its multiple large pieces of Styrofoam dropping in the destruction of the world.