Light Summer Classics; a Hearty Russian Ring Cycle

And the singing, though perhaps not of historic grandeur, saved the shows I saw. In Die Walküre Larissa Diadkova as Fricka gave a lesson in vocalism, shaping the angry goddess’ muscular lines with both emotional power and immaculate care. And Mlada Khudoley as Sieglinde was a delight, not a big, dramatic soprano like Deborah Voigt but an unexpectedly vibrant, youthful lyric voice. As Hagen in Götterdämmerung, Mikhail Petrenko sang with a malty, lighter-grained basso than typical for the role, but inhabited the character with a silky sense of menace.

As for the staging … well, you’ve probably heard already about the four massive, vaguely Eurasian humanoid figures from the overworked imagination of the designer George Tsypin. This overgrown quartet served as the unit set for the entire cycle, bent into various shapes and decorated with horse-skull heads, seashells, revolving ram’s horns and (during the “Magic Fire Music”) protruding spermatozoa turning in a pool of red light. You may also have heard about the third-rate Vegas floor show that someone—perhaps Mr. Gergiev, the “production supervisor”—conjured up for the “Ride of the Valkyries.” I never thought I’d yearn for the cartoon realism of the Met’s longtime production, but I sure did then.

 

AFTER THE KIROV CARAVAN MOVED on, we were left with more intimate entertainments. One of these was “The Full Monteverdi,” in which six singers of the British a cappella group I Fagiolini teamed up with six actors to perform the composer’s meltingly beautiful Fourth Book of Madrigals (1603) as an “opera” at the Kaplan Penthouse, sitting at and then moving about the cabaret tables at which the audience nibbled on cheese and figs and drank luscious Apulian wine. Since translations of the texts (all about the anguish of love, of course) weren’t given to the audience until afterward—and since Monteverdi, the first great opera composer, had no intention of letting these piercing but plotless songs be staged—we were left to observe six young couples emote, break up, make up and even tussle a bit. (At one point I had to duck—or be clipped by the basso’s swinging right arm.) Dramatically, it was more Cambridge Footlights than West End. But the exquisitely deft singing, coordinated somehow from across a crowded room, left you quiet with awe.

Russell Platt is a composer and an editor at The New Yorker.

Light Summer Classics; a Hearty Russian Ring Cycle