Intermezzo: Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera: An ironic production?

Unless this is an ironic production of the final opera in the Ring cycle, I find it stunning that such an opera can be directed at the most prestigious opera house in America in the twentyfirst century.
It begins, however, with a spectacular scene evocative of the most metaphysical kind. The three Norns, dressed in hooded black robes, weave the overdimensional thread of fate that fall from black bars rotating slowly above the stage. Traditional dress combines with the possibilities of modern technology (and money) to create a peripatetic netherland, appropriate for a goddess’s daughters on earth.

Unfortunately, the opera continues, shifts from abstract to not just realistic, but actual hyperkitschy, cliché-laden representation without any of the romantic intensity that defines Wagner’s music and other productions of the Ring. It’s as if the spiritual, monkesque tone of the Norns carries over to the following three acts, trapping the protagonists in their mood. Brünnhilde’s voice lacks the godliness of e.g. her predecessors in Chéreau’s staging. She also does not evince any characteristics of a goddess (pride, authority, import, etc.). Rather, as the playbill says, in quoting Deborah Voigt who sings her part, “Brünnhilde develops from a rather carefree, high-spirited teenager...” This interpretation and its permission to be integrated into the opera shows a complete misunderstanding of child development in the nineteenth century (when it was written) and the ancient past (when the story takes place), which saw significantly greater maturity. Likewise, it completely ignores cultural differences between Germans/Europeans and American children today. (Director Lepage agrees with Voigt, saying “They are discovering love, their bodies, their identities, their goals.”). In Germany, this talk about “discovering their bodies,” which is so common in the middle class in New York and Vermont is absurd in German (You would be laughed at if you said “Körper entdecken” in most German circles). Finally, SHE IS A GODDESS/VALKYRIE, i.e. they are not normal individuals.

Personally, this is also the logic behind Siegfried, who jousts about with his sword when someone talks about his manliness, looks ridiculous in general with is long curly blond hair and cheap knight’s dress and plastic cookie-cutter sword. The innocent wild child from the forest without consciousness suddenly is transformed into a pubescent boy discovering his body. No longer do we experience the leitmotif on the limits of unconscious innocence through Siegfried, but the essence of rejecting wealth in favor of love is effaced by superficial, unemotional encounters between Brünnhilde and Siegfried that recall more two friends than ideal love and its (accidental) betrayal. Brünnhilde is a cool, composed, rational, reasonable, enlightened suburban American woman, not a passionate, furious, emotional, godly extremist who does everything in excess.
If making a mockery of Wagner’s two main characters isn’t enough, the set often becomes downright embarrassing from a romantic, Wagnerian perspective. Rather than evoke classical romantic themes of incompleteness, eternity or mystery in nature, the existential character of being, the set belittles the endowment of nature with poetry by furnishing kitschy projections of water flowing over rocks or green trees for scenes that take place by water or in the forest. The potential here remains tremendous, and the idea of integrating cinematic features into the opera is worth exploring, but the ruthless kitsch of these woods and water scenes ruin the duality of realist and abstract sets that would otherwise be very appropriate for the polarization in our neobaroque age. The realistic element cannot be kitsch however!

While interpretation other than irony in this approach to the opera seems misplaced, the comments made by the director and lead singer suggest a sententious understanding of their work. If teens were their desire, wouldn’t they have been better off transposing the work into twentyfirst century America?

--- UPDATE ON JAN 30 ---

The New York Times review is pretty funny in that it also politely disses basically the entire production:
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