Last autumn, Robert Lepage inaugurated his would-be revolutionary Ring at the Met with a (per)version of Das Rheingold that courted theatrical disaster. On Friday, he added a Walküre that turned out to be just a mighty irk. Call that progress. Or call it Lepage aux folles.
The central 90,000-pound toy remains the same. Spending what may be $40m manipulating 24 twisting-bobbing-rotating-rising-falling aluminium/fibreglass planks, and reinforcing the stage with steel girders, the director has masterminded a cumbersome apparatus to compromise mythological logic. The machine also creates obstacle courses for the singers.
Although Lepage musters some compelling images, they impress on his terms, not Wagner’s. The same log-cabin quasi-structure represents the hut in Act One and the mountainous crest in Act Two. Irrelevant shadow-puppets illustrate Siegmund’s narrative. A gigantic orb – an eye? – pops up during Wotan’s monologue. The Valkyries ride silly see-saws before sliding down tilted planks. At the climactic finale, the real Brünnhilde goes away, replaced by a body-double hanging upside-down on a panel of kitsch flames. Call it a sight gag.
The principals? Sometimes they strike poses. Sometimes they act, act, act. Sometimes they do nothing.
Fricka is a statue on a mobile throne adorned with sculpted rams. Brünnhilde merely strolls the stage during the otherworldly annunciation-of-death episode. Wotan dispatches Hunding, here more Falstaff than menace, with a hysterical shriek. The noble god also gooses Brünnhilde with his spear at the peak of her battle cry. All Valhalla residents model silver armour that blinds when spotlit.
Thank goodness for James Levine in the pit, and vice versa. He sustains broad tempi, dynamic grandeur and generally mellow sentiment. He also does his considerable best to accommodate a cast that, with two exceptions, lacks heroic force.
The exceptions: Stephanie Blythe, who makes a lush mezzo-soprano meal of Fricka; and Hans-Peter König, whose Hunding recalls how big black basses used to sound. Though gruff and tough, Bryn Terfel gets through Wotan’s marathon without tiring and manages some nice nuances. Jonas Kaufmann, attempting his first Siegmund, cannot emulate the great Heldentenors of the past but sings with rare sensitivity and compact force. Making her debut as Sieglinde, Eva-Maria Westbroek suffered an indisposition and was gamely replaced after one act by Margaret Jane Wray.
For many, the central attraction had to be Deborah Voigt, a celebrated Sieglinde graduating to the Hochdramatisch realm of Brünnhilde. She looked terrific in her old-fashioned warrior-maiden costume, recovered bravely after a tumble while trying to clamber the treacherous set, and sang a lusty “Ho-jo-to-ho”. One cannot claim that she commands the resonant middle-register needed for the Todesverkündigung, or that she sounded fresh at the end of the long evening. But in a day when bona-fide Brünnhildes hardly grow on rocks, she offered an honourable ersatz.