Although it drew an almost universal chorus of disapproval from the first note of Das Rheingold which never let up until the world burned across its planks almost a year and a half and 15 hours later in Gotterdammerung, in the end the "Machine" proved its worth to the Met's new Ring cycle. This may not have been true for those seated in the house, who complained about creaks, squeaks and malfunctions, but if you saw it from the seat of a movie theater like I did during the HD broadcasts, what started out as an extravagantly expensive contraption became an icon by the time it was all over. I say that because alongside some gripping performances, it's the imagery of this Ring that rests firmly in the mind and was elemental to its most appealing moments. That's not to take anything away from the singers or the orchestra (whether conducted by Fabio Luisi or James Levine), but there are three things from this cycle that people will be talking about years from now: Eric Owens' amazing Alberich in Rheingold; Jay Hunter Morris' Siegfried; and the Machine, which was used to greatest effect in Gotterdammerung. At least that's how it came across in the theater (and I can't stress this enough), where the camera angles were dazzling and the sound was perfectly mixed, creating an experience wholly unlike that of those who heard and saw it in the house.
The Prologue featuring the Norns (Heidi Melton, Elizabeth Bishop, Maria Radner) weaving their rope of destiny was the only part of the production visually lacking. True, three women weaving a rope doesn't obviously lend itself as inspiration for a scene rife with dramatic tension, but many have found a way to do it. Luisi didn't pull the tension and dread from the score, and though each of the singers were fine (Melton especially), the scene was little more than perfunctory explication of the back story.
The first scene of Act 1 began with the only serious miscue as far as blocking- something which has plagued the other operas but seemed much better in Gotterdammerung- by having Brunnhilde and Siegfried make their entrances approaching one another from opposite ends of the stage. This is their "morning after" moment, so it doesn't make sense- where did Siegfried wander off to that he is now returning from? This underlines the one serious flaw in Lepage's production; he really doesn't have much insight into these characters and what to do with them. Luckily, this time around he's saved by the cast, who are fully invested in giving dramatic portrayals. However, one has to wonder what subsequent casting in future cycles will yield.
But for now, the issue remains in the background since there's so much visual splendor going on- and well, there's the music of course.
Deborah Voigt seemed to struggle with Brunnhilde more than in the earlier segments- perhaps because she was ill earlier in the week, but weak vocal moments aside I remain impressed by how fully she inhabits the role. Jay Hunter Morris' Siegfried was as visually and vocally exciting as he was the last time out. The lightness of his voice, probably more evident in the house, isn't an issue in the broadcasts and if there was ever an opera singer born to be on the big screen he's the one. When he waved to the Rheinmaidens the entire audience I was with guffawed in delight. Overall however, his impression was less powerful than in Siegfried and again I'll assign this to Lepage not knowing what to do with the character nor with a singer who seems like the most perfect fit for the role currently living. There was way too much silliness with striking poses with Notung. Waltraud Meier was excellent in the one superfluous scene of the opera, as were the all three Rheinmeaidens- Erin Morely, Jennifer Cano and especially Tamara Mumford, whose bewitching gaze seemed to reveal a palpable desire to have Morris all to herself, which was pretty amusing.
As the sibling pawns Gunther and Gutrune, Wendy Bryn Harmer and Iain Paterson faced the one of thee bigger challenge in making two almost faceless characters come to life without any direction and to their credit both succeeded, with Paterson especially making the most of it.
Although onstage for roughly only eight minutes, Eric Owens' Alberich was once again a perfect interpretation of the role vocally and dramatically.
Hans-Peter Konig's Hagen was a different story. His voice is fantastic- that's obvious, but his portrayal struck me as all wrong. Hagen should ooze menace visually and vocally from the moment we first see him and Konig has none. Add to this his towering physical presence over the other performers, and the heart of what makes Gotterdammerung so dramatically involving goes wholly missing. He's a huge bear of a man who is absolutely non-threatening. Strange, since he managed to give the opposite effect so easily as Hunding in Die Walkure. The moment when he summons the Gibichungs, which should be one of the most musically thrilling in the entire cycle, went flat, though the Met chorus sounded sensational.
Luisi led the orchestra in a rushed manner through the first two acts, and though he slowed it down a bit in the third, overall he didn't make the most of the score's lushness.
All of this hardly mattered in the end though, as the Machine created one gorgeous mise en scène after another. The Lepage Ring isn't insightful and it's certainly not bold (see Freyer for that) in its obstinately traditional approach, but it is quite beautiful to watch.