[NOTE: This entry has been updated (1) as of 8:31 AM Eastern on 6-Apr. See below.]
What is one to do if one is General Manager of one of the world's major opera companies and discovers that a first-rate singer who's been booked years in advance for leading roles in not one but three major new productions spanning over three seasons has the absolute wrong voice for the roles? The question is entirely rhetorical on our part as we have no answer, but it's a question Peter Gelb must be asking (or, rather, should be asking) himself in the matter of Bryn Terfel and his recurring roles as Wotan in the Met's new production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. We listened this afternoon to the Met's live broadcast of Das Rheingold and more than ever we're convinced that Mr. Terfel should never have been engaged to sing the role of Wotan in this first Ring music-drama much less the Wotan of Die Walküre and of Siegfried. Mr. Terfel has a fine bass-baritone voice and uses it skillfully, but its timbre lacks the "weight", "color", and gravitas required for these roles, a lack made painfully manifest when playing against an Alberich sung by a bass-baritone (Eric Owens) the timbre of whose voice has all the qualities Mr. Terfel's lacks. Were Das Rheingold some Italian-opera melodrama it might not make that much a difference, but in a genuine music-drama such as Das Rheingold it's all but lethal dramatically and will be even more so in Die Walküre and Siegfried. Beyond that insurmountable problem, the performance this afternoon went quite well despite a clam here and there in the brass. Eric Owens as Alberich has, this time around, somehow managed to get an at least fair if far from ideal semblance of a nasty edge to his voice, a quality of voice required for this role, and he made an excellent job of it this afternoon notwithstanding some slight vocal trouble at his Scene 4 exit. Excellent as well if not ideal were the Loge of Arnold Bezuyen, the Fricka of Stephanie Blythe, and the Erda of Patricia Bardon. The break-out surprise for us was the conducting of Fabio Luisi who, regardless a slightly draggy Scenes 1 and 2, did himself and Das Rheingold proud. We were especially impressed by his handling of Alberich's exit after pronouncing his Nibelung's curse. It was taken at precisely the correct tempo; something not done even by a "Wagner Gene" possessor such as Solti. All in all, a pleasant if not entirely satisfying way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Update (8:31 AM Eastern on 6-Apr): A startling thought just struck us. Is it possible that Bryn Terfel has such perfect technical control over his instrument that he purposely altered its sound in portraying the Rheingold Wotan to give dramatic (as in drama) point to Wotan's over-the-top ambitious, grasping, relatively callow younger years in Das Rheingold to act as dramatic contrast to the mature, commanding Wotan of both Die Walküre and Siegfried? We remember being thoroughly floored several years ago to learn that the sinuous, oily, superbly portrayed Loge of the Solti Ring was sung by a tenor (Set Svanholm) who was famous for his singing of Heldentenor roles(!) but who had such perfect technical control over his instrument that he altered the sound of his voice almost entirely for his role as Loge in the Solti Rheingold. Well, we shall have our answer fairly quickly as the Met's new Walküre has its premiere in just a little over two weeks time (22 April). Stay tuned.