Verdi's brilliant final masterpiece Falstaff, in its first new Met production in 50 years – and conducted by Met Music Director James Levine in his first new production since his return to his podium at the Met. When it comes to theatrical flair, captivating costumes, stage antics and imagination, there are not many shows on Broadway to rival the Met s new Falstaff. “Ambrogio Maestri is made for the title role, with the apt physique, nimble acting and superb vocal presence that make him the leading Falstaff of the day. There is no weak link in a finely balanced, comically-attuned cast (the women are especially impressive) and Levine’s conducting is pitch-perfect. The show fizzles from start to finish and is tremendous fun” (Classical Music).
Under the baton of James Levine, Gotterdammerung ("The Twilight of the Gods") has a narrative drive that reminds us that, of all the individual operas in Wagner's Ring cycle, this is the one most about human emotions and the one in which its heroes are pulled into a world where they are most vulnerable to them. Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegfried and Hildegard Behrens as Brunnhilde never, in a sense, stand a chance: they are innocents who allow themselves to be manipulated not merely by the villainous Hagen, but by the ordinary venality of Gunther and his sister Gutrune, who goes along with a dirty little scheme to get what she wants, and is destroyed by it.
The 1990 Metropolitan Opera performance of Die Walküre with James Levine conducting is a solid, four-square performance with few frills and no gimmicks, just extraordinarily fine singing and orchestral playing. There is no point in this where you find yourself asking why the director did something: this is the sort of production which could be criticised as unimaginative but defended as serving Wagner's intentions for this instalment of his Ring cycle. Levine and his orchestra give the music an emotional intensity that never overwhelms its grandeur, though perhaps in Wotan's farewell to Brunnhilde, we feel him more as father than as god.
James Levine makes Siegfried, sometimes the problem child among the four operas of Wagner's Ring cycle, attractive and interesting. He is aware of the darker side of some of the comic scenes–the seemingly benevolent dwarf Mime carries the weight of Wagner's many prejudices–but manages to keep them uneasy rather than positively sinister thanks to the finally judged performance of Heinz Zednik. Siegfried Jerusalem is admirable as Siegfried, full of boyish enthusiasm during the reforging of the sword, and of authority in his confrontations with the dragon and with Wotan. (The dragon itself is, as so often, an unfortunate compromise between realism and stylisation.) James Morris is extraordinary in Wotan's scenes here, his combination of injured pride and relieved joy when Siegfried demonstrates, by shattering his spear, that Wotan has entirely lost control of events is exemplary.
It takes a certain amount of forethought if Das Rheingold is to be more than a series of special effects scenes, though moments like the appearance of the giants through the mist or Alberich's transformations need to be as thrilling as they are here. As always in his Wagner, and perhaps especially in this very traditional 1990 Metropolitan Opera production of the Ring cycle, James Levine keeps to the forefront the underlying humanity of Wagner's gods and monsters. In the first scene, for example, he brings out the thoughtless, callous frivolity of the Rhine maidens as they precipitate the events of the four operas by taunting the gnome Alberich: it helps that they swirl around, green and gold, in a convincing representation of the bottom of the Rhine, but the emotions are the point. Ekkehaard Wlaschiha is a convincingly menacing Alberich partly because Levine brings out his vulnerability as well as his evil temper. James Morris is splendid as the younger less care-worn Wotan and Siegfried Jerusalem as Loge enjoys the sarcasm of his cynical commentary on Wotan's aspirations. The smaller parts have luxury casting: Matti Salminen as Fafner and Christa Ludwig as Fricka, for example.(Roz Kaveney)