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How we learned to like Wagner – and love the Machine

Our Manhattan opera converts, Elizabeth Frayer and Shawn E Milnes,  have seen the world end. Finally, in Götterdämmerung, they realised that the Ring is about Us and It – the fallibility of manufacture against the perfection of mankind. That why the Machine keeps on breaking down, right? And all that glitters is not Gelb.

Read on here.


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  1. Ignacio Martínez-Ybor says:

    I saw the last presentation of the Ring at the Met in the 2011-12 season. There were surprises and disappointments in the casting and conducting: Jonas Kaufmann cancelled so my Siegmund was Stuart Skelton, who proved to be very effective in the role, even if I missed the timbre and subtleties Kaufmann can bring to the role (in my Walküre attending experience, no tenor has come close to Jon Vickers, in all the stages of his career I heard him sing the part); I always expected Deborah Voigt to be an inadequate Brunnhilde, but I never expected her to be so bad or her voice to sound so ugly, insecure, and inappropriate, fortunately, she cancelled the Siegfried Bru. and we got Katerina Dalayman, a most musically and vocally ravishing B.; Stephen Gould handled the Siegfrieds securely and well (many years ago I heard Helge Brillioth sing a beautiful, an almost Mozartean Gott. Siegfried…the B. was either Nilsson or Rita Hunter. The conducting was most uneven. Fabio Luisi seemed not to have a firm or interesting command of Rhinegold; the Walküre was much better technically, and it emphasized the lyrical aspects of the work; Derrick Inouye conducted Siegfried, and he excelled in revealing the many beauties in the score, it was colorful, indeed lush, with great flexibility in the tempos, and the whole of Siegfried’s discovery of the rock and his climb, Br. awakening, all those final 45 minutes or so of the opera were magical, the sort of music making that makes one hold one’s breath. Indeed Dalayman sang her awakening pianissimo…. I have no idea how it is marked in the score…… but she was so well supported by Inouye in that ecstatic moment that I have no problem writing that those moments were the best realized of the whole Ring Cycle. Gotterdammerung was conducted in a boring, routine fashion by John Keenan. At least the orchestra held together but that is the best that can be said of Mr. Keenan’s conducting. He is one to be avoided. Also unfortunately, Gott. marked the return of Deborah Voigt and all her inadequacies. Now, as to THE MACHINE: it worked smoothly from start to finish. But I wish somebody would tell me what did the thing bring to the Ring? Sure it provided flexibility in staging scenes, or receiving projections. But really, there is nothing of substance there, just a heavy piece of stage machinery that quickly looses interest and chains the mis-en-scene to the same rigid device (though it moves) during four operas….. indeed it distracts as some attention is given to the question: well what will The Machine do next? If one thinks about it, there is nothing that ties The Machine to the Ring. I can easily see it used at some future date in a production of, say, Don Carlo, with different movements, maybe, and certainly projection. With this I have seen three different productions of the Ring at the Met: by far my favourite remains the first, the Schneider-Siemssen/Karajan production of the 1960′s originally designed for Salzburg Easter Festival. It hurts to remember that cast since it is a sad reminder of the bleak state of today’s operatic world. If you are tempted by the dvd of The Machine Ring, don’t be: treat yourself to a fine meal somewhere.

  2. Future of stagecraft? Does dear Liz realize the unpublished cost of the monstrosity? (over $30.0 million) Groaning machinery during an opera is not what any listener, especially those that love Wagner want to hear. Opera is different that legitimate stage, sets have always been awe inspiring, this staging goes out with a phht. God help the MET if this is the future as their ticket sales diminish.

  3. Theodore McGuiver says:

    The relative merits and demerits of the Machine have been chewed over ad nauseam, so I’d like to highlight another aspect of the Ring: Why do so many people have a problem with the Norns? It’s not as if it’s the only recap in the work. Let’s focus on the music, which is amongst the most ravishing in all the sixteen hours of wizardry Wagner treats us to. If you want a dull recap, think Wanderer + Mime, Act I, Scene II of Siegfried…

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