Conductor Fabio Luisi is the one on whose brow laurels should be placed. On the podium for about five hours (interspersed with two intermissions to refresh himself), he insures that the musical passion Richard Wagner built into his motifs and orchestrations is manifest throughout.
Thanks to his sympathetic perspicacity and to several of the singers, including bass-baritone Eric Owens, who takes charge of Alberich with such booming resonance that he deservedly received the most appreciative curtain-call ovation, Robert Lepage's production is a worthy conclusion to the "Ring Cycle," despite the director's unfortunate tinkering.
The other consistently fine singing came from Erin Morley, Jennifer Johnson Cano and Tamara Mumford as the Rhinemaidens, and Waltraud Meier was as reliable as expected as Waltraute. Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde hit her high notes with thrilling force. But Voigt and several other cast members -- includng Hans Peter Konig as Hagen, Iain Paterson as Gunther, Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune -- too often seemed to be favoring their upper register or their lower register but losing a certain confidence in the middle ground.
With its immolation-scene climax and despite its convoluted, maybe even foolish, allegorical message about greed, the entire Ring Cycle has great impact, but Lepage has put the all-encompassing art work to the test with his basic set. The manipulated metal-grey planks that opera wags have taken to calling "the xylophone" might in theory have struck Lepage as having potential for adventurous stage pictures, but proved to be not only slow-moving and creaky, but also treacherous and oddly confining.
Indeed, Lepage's staging appears to require cast members to remain pushed toward the front, forcing the singers to emote in front of whatever is projected on the planks--often standing in a shallow trench between the shorter ones in front and the longer ones in back. To put it mildly, having Voigt, Morris, and Konig cut off at the calves for much of their chanting is hardly esthetically pleasing and is indisputably drama-draining.
Other curiosities regularly accrue. When Siegfried steers his raft, along with Brunnhilde's horse, Grane, Lepage and set designer Carl Fillion contrive the planks so that the raft seesaws. The effect lends a new meaning to the word "rocking-horse." Worse, the supposedly noble mechanical animal gives the impression of being on its way to the glue factory.
Pursuing his own intellectual and emotional notions, Lepage can be magnificent, but his "Ring Cycle" is more like an act of self-immolation.
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