by Angela Sutton
Richard Wagner's Ring cycle rolled on Friday night at the Met, continuing the saga with the second installment, Die Walküre. With this opera, Wagner added new emotional layers to the struggle for the Nibelung's ring, in contrast to the expository Das Rheingold. Partly due to this additional range, Friday night's performance was in many ways superior to its predecessor; nonetheless, this production was not without its own flaws.
Once again, the orchestra did a fine job of supporting the action. Maestro Fabio Luisi loosened his reins somewhat, and although big moments (like the famous "Ride of the Valkyries" that opens the third act) still seemed curiously weightless, the dark memories of Rheingold's storm and stress, as well as the bright foreshadowing of Siegfried's triumphs, rang through. The various love themes woven throughout the evening were particularly moving.
As an ensemble, the cast sang in champion form. Stephanie Blythe (Fricka) gave perhaps the best performance of the night, chiding Wotan in the second act in a warm but powerful voice, leading the action in spite of being stuck on a yo-yo throne for the duration of the scene. Stuart Skelton gave a stand-out Siegmund, easily nailing the character's anguish and nobility (who needs Jonas Kaufmann, anyway?). As Wotan, Bryn Terfel gave voice to the tortured god's many moods throughout the evening, showing greater range than he did in Rheingold, without flagging. Much of his acting, however, was limited to hammy posing, complete with spear in hand.
And then there's the production: An unfortunate lighting glitch floated the Windows logo above Brunnhilde's rock in the third act, quickly snapping the mood. Accidents aside, the Machine, once again, showed its two faces. In addition to the aforementioned Frickamobile, the phallic hobby-horse entry of the Valkyries, followed by the flapping fiberglass around Brünnhilde, simply cannot be taken seriously. Also, the tilted ring of fire on Brünnhilde's rock, while visually impressive, required Wotan and Brünnhilde to go offstage at the dramatic denoument, which is a shame.
On the plus side, though there is nothing here to set beside the descent to Nibelheim from Rheingold, the Machine's first-act transformations from a forest to the interior of Hunding's hall, and later to the hall's exterior, were all smooth and sensible.
Next up, the Hero arrives! Part three of the Ring cycle, Siegfried, takes place at the Met on April 21 at 11:00 AM.