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08 May, 2009

The Ring at the Met April/May 2009

The Ring operas Metropolitan Opera, New York. Starting on Monday 26th April 2009 Brief notes.

Das Rheingold was a triumph in almost every respect. The cast was led by German bass baritone Albert Dohmen as Wotan. His voice is accurate and warm with a strong high range as well as a reasonable low extension. He did not tire in the three operas whose drama Wotan the Wanderer fashions by his arrogance and miscalculations.

This may be the last time Domingo as Siegmund could or should do this ‘handsome teenager’ role in Walkure. But people may have said that 4 years ago when he did the same role in the same house, and he is still incredible. No reservations, not even the slightest vocally even though his old age naturally shows up the closer one sits. Unfortunately, he became ill during the Walkure of the following week and had to be replaced by Gary Lehman before the Wintersturm aria.

Rene Pape did the rather unrewarding role of Hunding while Adrianne Pieczonka was his beautiful and effective Sieglinde.

Katarina Dalayman is a glorious Brunnhilde. For absolutely no apparent reason she was loudly booed by a single man in the upper part of the theater and everyone (including the singer) seemed shocked. She had sung superbly. Her voice has a controlled hard steely edge just on occasions when she really wants to use it, such as some sopranos may have in a completely uncontrolled manner. So she has gifts, like a trill (and she’s got that too!), which just put her in her own league above the ordinary. An excellent Linda Watson did the Siegfried Brunnhilde for some reason - perhaps Ms Dalayman was too thin.

Christian Franz as Siegfried was excellent and did not appear to tire up to his untimely but rather necessary death. The ‘woofle’ heard from him on the broadcast the week before was almost completely absent in the theater on Saturday to my ear.

The cast of the whole Ring is balanced and nobody let the side down. Equally, no single singer particularly dominated either vocally or by taking the dramatic lime-light. Orchestra, soloists, chorus were all in top form. Maestro James Levine received multiple rapturous receptions at each act and final curtain.

This production of the Ring by Otto Schenk is now a museum piece. Like the liner QEII, it is 19th century technology and simply cannot be continued indefinitely. It has scrims, pulleys, models, back-lighting, anvils and every trick of the stage … but is now dated and in some cases tatty and nearing obsolescence. The scrim front paired curtains still failed to operate properly but it hardly mattered. There were a few clunks and squeaks between scenes (but for all I know these may have been present 20 years ago). To my best knowledge this production follows most closely to what Wagner ordered in his very detailed staging instructions. This includes underwater simulations, people disappearing on stage, transmutations, dragons being killed, smelting, rope binding, cooking, etc, etc. I was told by a Wagner expert that only Vienna in living memory has done comparable Rhine operas.

I have been fortunate enough to see this in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2009 but this is the end of the line, sad to tell. A preview of the new proposed Met Ring on Tuesday 5th May was cancelled for some reason, hence little more is known about it.

I think that the Met is probably the only opera company to make money out of Wagner. The huge capacity opera house with excellent acoustics are factors. In their lead up, the company does two or three weekday performances of the two more popular operas, Rheingold and Walkure. The ‘first cycle’ is broadcast series of Saturday matinees over 5 weeks. These are broadcast live internationally (except Australia, of course). The company then does two complete cycles of Mon, Tues, Thurs and Sat of Rheingold, Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. Tickets were available for every performance of this particular cycle. Top seats were $400 but there were many seats available for prices down to $65 with standing room half that only available on the week of the operas. This is a sign of the times which are affecting New York as much or more. Restaurants, shops and businesses that have been going for generations are closing down. Hickey Freeman, Balducci, City Opera, OONY, Carnegie Hall have all been affected with ‘bail-out’ specials offered by many who are still trading.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..