Siegfried, the third instalment in Robert Lepage’s big, blurry and hyper-costly Ring, made it to the Met on Thursday. It was, to put it gently, a troubled premiere.
With James Levine ailing, the podium was occupied by Fabio Luisi, heir quasi-apparent to the title of music director. After Lepage’s previous Wagnerian efforts – most notable for a cumbersome scenic device and laisser-faire inaction – one could not be terribly optimistic about a dramatic concept. Although the super-demanding title role was intended for Ben Heppner, he withdrew months ago in favour of his “cover”, Gary Lehman. But Lehman was replaced eight days ago by his understudy, Jay Hunter Morris. The climactic duties of Brünnhilde were assigned for the first time to Deborah Voigt, a much admired soprano recently suffering vocal inequities.
In many ways the worries proved justified. Luisi conducted efficiently, rather impersonally, briskly. The final cadence actually popped 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Lepage once again toyed annoyingly with his basic constructive prop, a set of 24 huge boards that rise, fall and twist in picturesque combinations and permutations.
Abetted by designer Carl Fillion and video artist Pedro Pires, the producer concocted some attractive incidental projections involving insects, snakes and birds, also some distracting not-so-incidental projections involving fire and water. The proceedings frequently contradicted both logic and text. Siegfried stabbed the dragon Fafner – here a silly oversize puppethead – not in the heart but in the neck. The cave was just a flat slat. The protagonist forgot to follow the little birdie en route to Brünnhilde’s rock at the end of Act Two. The Valkyrie maiden, upon wakening, hailed the sun in gloomy moonlight.
Lepage’s most notable, most irrelevant inventions included having Wotan fuss with his empty boots (the godly feet must have been sore from all that wandering) and making the earth-mother, Erda, a glamour-puss wrapped in blinding spangles. In place of character and plot definition, Lepage settled for clumsy clambering on the precarious planks or unmotivated bumbling on the forestage. Focus? What focus?
Morris, who began his career on Broadway 16 years ago in Terrence McNally’s Master Class, may not be an echt heldentenor. Never mind. He looked terrific and, nasal twang notwithstanding, sang with remarkable stamina, expressive force and dynamic sensitivity. Credit him with saving the show. Rising rapturously on the platform that masqueraded as Brünnhilde’s rock, Voigt vacillated between vocal thrust and vocal screech.
Bryn Terfel droned superbly as Wotan. Gerhard Siegel, the canny Mime, replaced traditional cackling and whining with fervour worthy of a Siegfried (a challenge he has undertaken elsewhere). Similarly, Eric Owens bathed the nasty snarls of Alberich in heldenbaritonal opulence that heralded a Wotan. The tones were great, the role contrasts odd. Patricia Bardon sounded wan as not-so-old Erda, Hans-Peter König grumbled darkly as Fafner, and Mojca Erdmann chirped prettily, via microphone, as the voice of the Woodbird.
Götterdämmerung follows in January. Hope may not spring internal.