Opera fans living in New York might realize I am referring to the Metropolitan Opera’s season opening Das Rheingold, in September 2010 and Die Walküre, which, as I write this, is opening tonight. Friends of mine now delight in reminding me of the years I steadfastly refused to accompany them to an evening of Wagner. (Instrumental excerpts would have been tolerable, but not an entire Wagnerian opera.) A final attempt by one, (“But, it’s Die Meistersinger – a Wagner comedy!) resulted in me advising him that I would rather be home ill with the vapors for five hours. My anti-Wagner stance was considered a cultural character flaw. I was even regarded with derision and labeled a “philistine”!
Even as recently as March, 2009, I struggled through the Wagnerian excerpts at the Met’s 125th Anniversary Gala. “That’s it”, I told the friend who came with me, “If Placido Domingo can’t make me appreciate Wagner’s operas, it’s just not going to happen!” Within weeks of the concert, hearing tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of The Prize Song from Die Meistersinger started to change my perspective. Later that year, after Kaufmann’s highly-acclaimed role debut in Lohengrin, the YouTube excerpts showing Kaufmann and soprano Anja Harteros appeared to me as romantic as any of the French and Italian works I’ve always loved. Thanks to a friend in London, I had a copy of the DVD before it was released in North America. Repeated viewing quickly made subtitles unnecessary for certain scenes, such as Kaufmann and Harteros’s gorgeous love duet in Act III; Das süsse Lied verhallt. Their expressive acting and glorious singing even makes the unfortunate set design less glaring.
Not being able to obtain a ticket to be inside for the first Rheingold, I secured two seats for the screening outdoors, in front of the Met. The drizzle kept my friend at home, but I was ready for the weather and so was the crowd; in a festive mood, despite the dreary skies. The Rheingold overture is dazzling. I can understand why it has been featured in movie scores, for if there was music to accompany the beginning of the world, it must have sounded quite similar to this. And, this was another evening of powerhouse performers, as there was the pleasure of Terfel and mezzo Stephanie Blythe, either of whom could sing me the phone book and I would be entranced.