Siegfried MetHD – A Star is Born

The advance program said that Gary Lehman would sing the part of Siegfried and listed Jay Hunter Morris as his cover.  A week before opening night, Lehman was forced to cancel for health reasons, and Morris took over the role with only one dress rehearsal left before opening night.  He is certainly a quick learner.  Saturday, November 5, 2011 was the third and final performance this fall, and Morris didn’t simply sing Siegfried – he was Siegfried.

Gary Lehman; original star sidelined by illness; studio photo

The between-acts interview with him, and a brief clip with him back stage at his one rehearsal were fascinating.  On the one hand it was hard to believe that the same voice box produced the powerful German singing by Siegfried on stage and the delightful Texas drawl of  Morris in the interviews.  On the other hand, the young man being interviewed showed a nave sense of wonder at his success (“Is this really me?  On stage at the Met in one of opera’s most difficult tenor roles?  It’s not that long ago that I was handing out towels at an athletic club in Paris, Texas”).  I could easily believe him to be a reincarnation of Wagner’s famous  17 year old hero.

Jay Hunter Morris was Siegfried

We are going to hear more – much more – of this young man in years to come.  Starting with Gtterdmmerung on February 11.  And I am greatly disappointed that apparently neither Siegfried nor Gtterdmmerung will have an encore performance.  I’d sure like to see it again in a couple of weeks.

As a former engineer I am fascinated by some of the Met’s technical innovations in general and by Producer Robert Lepage’s fabulous 24-plank monster set which dominates the Ring.  During the intermissions the camera was back stage showing some of the changes being made to the set for the act to come.  Despite the technological sophistication of the set, a crew of more than 24 stage hands was needed at various times.

Scene from Act I: Bryn Terfel as Wotan; Gerhard Siegel as Mime, the dwarf

As I said, I was “fascinated” by the technology; I was not always entirely pleased.  Control of the monster has improved noticeably since the first two Ring operas last year, but the noise level still needs working on.  However, Lighting Designer Etienne Boucher’s brilliant use of colored lighting on the planks was very effective.

Gerhard Siegel as Mime holds the broken sword

In support of Jay Hunter Morris’s Siegfried, the rest of the cast ranged from excellent to outstanding.  Gerhard Siegel was a wonderful Mime.  Alberich’s brother is not a nice character, but he is so hapless that one can almost feel sorry for him, and Siegel caught that character to perfection.

Bryn Terfel is a truly outstanding actor.  His portrayal of Wotan as the Wanderer was notably different from my memory of him as the blustery chief god in last season’s Das Rheingold and Die Walkre.  He is so much more mature now.  He has been observing the follies of mankind for almost two decades and has learned to accept them as they are.  All of this change is evident in his expressive face and is perfectly caught by the camera in the numerous close-ups.

Alberich (Eric Owens) & Wotan

Wotan’s detached tolerance is particularly brought out in his encounter with Alberich (Eric Owens) in Act II. Alberich’s part here is minor compared with his major role in Das Rheingold, but he hasn’t changed a bit.  He is just as mean, vicious, and fundamentally evil as he was then – and Owens continues to play him to perfection.  Nor has his resonant bass voice lost a thing since last year (mortal time).

The dragon was woefully inadequate, but as he lay dying the tarnhelm magic wore off and he reverted to the Giant, Fafner.  Dying or not, Hans-Peter Knig still had his great voice.

The Forest Bird

The forest bird (beautifully sung-but-not-seen by Mojca Erdmann and cleverly seen-but-not-heard by a computer-controlled animated model) was a technological marvel, as we found out in the interview with Video Image Artist Pedro Pires.  Despite all the technical virtuosity, I preferred the bird that Stacey Tappan sang for the San Francisco Opera last summer, hopping about with her head cocked, exactly like a robin listening for a worm.

Wotan & Erda (Patricia Bardon)

Patricia Bardon had only one brief scene as Erda.  I liked the fact that she made the earth goddess seem more real than in many productions where she is quite ethereal.

Confrontation between Wotan and Siegfried

As I mentioned before, Bryn Terfel plays a more philosophical Wotan than some that I have seen.  The confrontation between him and Siegfried is not as dramatic, but is eminently satisfactory and consistent with his character as previously developed.  He dutifully tries to bar his grandson from proceeding up the mountain, but when Siegfried breaks his spear the emphasis is all on the emergence of the young man to power, rather than its loss to the old man.  Siegfried goes gaily on his way as Wotan picks up the pieces and sort of fades away.

Which brings us to the final glorious love scene between Siegfried and Brnnhilde (Deborah Voigt).  And I have a question here.  In terms of mortal years, Brnnhilde is a full generation older than Siegfried – she is, in fact, his aunt and was conceived before his parents were.  But if one does not age during a magic sleep, then she and Siegfried are almost exactly the same age.  So how old is she?

I’m afraid that Voigt has been counting them during her sleep.  She did a superlative job of showing a woman waking after a long sleep and going from a “where am I?” bewilderment to a comprehension of who and where she is and the fact that Siegfried must be the predestined  hero who awakened her.  But there was a subtle hint of age in Voigt’s knees the first time she stood up.

She does an adequate job of portraying the difficult emotional struggle in Brnnhilde’s mind as she accepts the fact that she is no longer a powerful god, but the wife/slave of a mortal man.  And she is totally convincing when she finally does accept it and realizes that it is now OK to give in to the love she has for Siegfried.  Her blissful smile just before she flings herself in his arms for the finale of the love duet tells it all.

The sad news is that there is still no word about an encore for either Siegfried or Gtterdmmerung.  Not only would this mean I couldn’t see it again, but all of you who couldn’t go Saturday morning for whatever reason would be unable to see and hear it at all.  Which would be a damn shame.

The Opera Nut

Photos, except as noted: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in on November 22, 2011.

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