NEW YORK (AP) -- Robert Lepage's staging of Wagner's "Die Walkuere" can be considered a twofold success at a minimum in its return to the Metropolitan Opera: There were no malfunctions and no falls.
The top attraction of Saturday's revival was the company debut of Viennese soprano Martina Serafin, who sang an outstanding Sieglinde. The performance also turned into the unscheduled debut of tenor Andrew Sritheran, who replaced allergy-afflicted Simon O'Neill as Siegmund midway through the first act. Sritheran's singing was more problematic.
Lepage's version of the epic tetralogy of Wagner's Ring Cycle, with Carl Fillion's 45-ton, 24-plank set nicknamed "The Machine," has been controversial since it was introduced during the 2010-11 season. At different performances, the rainbow bridge to Valhalla and stairway to Nibelheim each failed to appear, a Windows logo popped up in mid-act, Bruennhilde slipped and slid down the set in her entrance and Wotan dropped his spear to the stage apron.
While there were no major miscues Saturday, central problems remained: During quiet moments, such as flowing music just before the magic fire, the set creaks like a rusted rotisserie and disrupts the mood Wagner intended. It confines the singers to small areas for stretches, forcing static stage pictures.
Serafin, taking over from Eva-Maria Westbroek, sang with heft, beauty of tone and an endearing manner, and she received the loudest ovation during the curtain calls.
Met General Manager Peter Gelb announced before the opening curtain that O'Neill was singing following an allergy attack, but O'Neill sounded understandably strained and clipped. Just before "Ein schwert verhiess mir der vater (My father promised me a sword)," he was replaced Sritheran, who also is from New Zealand.
"I spoke to Simon this morning and he said that he wasn't feeling too good and I should be ready," Sritheran said during an intermission on the live radio broadcast. "And so I warmed up and went through the staging this morning early and skated over here on my skateboard and did my thing."
Stepping in under difficult circumstances, Sritheran sounded underpowered and his top faded by the end of "Winterstuerme." A similar switch took place in the May 5, 2009, performance, when Gary Lehman relieved Placido Domingo during the opening act of the Otto Schenk production.
Mark Delavan replacing Bryn Terfel, was an imposing Wotan filled with lots of anger and a little compassion. His baritone was a bit on the monochromatic side, and he stepped tentatively when he descended the raked planks.
The other three primary singers reprised their roles: soprano Deborah Voigt as Bruennhilde, mezzo Stephanie Blythe as Fricka and bass Hans-Peter Koenig as Hunding. The interpretations of all three have deepened considerably since the production began, especially Blythe's fierce portrayal of Wotan's wife. Voigt's entrance has been moved from the side of the raked stage, where she fell in April 2011, to the center of the back of the set, following Wotan's.
In the pit, Fabio Luisi's conducting has gained some sweep and intensity.
There were three complete cycles last spring and there are three more this spring through May 11 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth, on May 22. Met spokesman Peter Clark said Lepage's staging will return in a future season but the Met isn't ready to say which one.
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