LENOX, MA — When James Levine became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2005, his impact on the orchestra was felt almost immediately with the introduction of operatic repertoire, bringing with him some of the best singers from the Met Opera. Those performances reached their apex at Tanglewood, the BSO's summer home in the Berkshires, where in his debut season Levine performed Act I of Wagner's Die Walküre and Act III of Götterdämmerung on a single program. Levine followed that up in 2009 with a performance of Act III of Wagner's Die Meistersinger that reunited most of the cast from the Met's run earlier that season. In both cases, the 4,500-capacity Shed was filled; for Die Meistersinger, projection screens were installed so that the massive spillover crowd on the lawn could watch.
Remarkably, the orchestra for both of those concerts were the fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, most of whom had never played any opera before, much less Wagner. (See here for a video of Levine leading a Meistersinger rehearsal with them in 2009.) So, imagine my excitement when I learned that the BSO would be performing Act III of Die Walküre this season at Tanglewood, with Met soloists Bryn Terfel, Katarina Dalayman, and Amber Wagner.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I arrived at the Shed last night to find it less than half full. Granted, conductor Lothar Koenigs, music director of the Welsh National Opera, doesn't have anything close to Levine's name recognition. And, the weather forecast had been pretty grim, even though it ended up being a beautiful night. But with the recent dearth of events in the U.S. celebrating the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth, there seems to be a much larger Wagner problem at work.
No matter: Koenigs and the BSO put on a spectacular performance last night, ripping through the 80-minute act with power and finesse. Wagner, a past winner of the Met Opera's National Council Grand Finals, solidified her reputation as one of opera's fastest-growing stars with a brief yet riveting performance as Sieglinde. Dalayman, who split the role of Brünnhilde with Deborah Voigt this past season at the Met, reprised her familiar fiery delivery. And, yes, there were eight Valkyries; see them here.
But it was Terfel who stole the show, towering over the proceedings as the vengeful-yet-tender Wotan, his huge voice booming well beyond the Shed. Many of those I spoke to last night felt that Terfel—who also sang an acclaimed recital in Ozawa Hall on Thursday—surpassed all of the perfrormances he gave at the Met earlier this season. That said, he could stand to learn some subtlety rom James Morris' decidedly less showy version of Wotan.
In all, it was a magical night, with one of the finest performances, opera or otherwise, I've heard in 20 years of Tanglewood visits. Hopefully, the next time—assuming there is a next time—there will be more people there to hear it.
More pics on the photo page.