The composer did not leave it to a director’s intuition to convey the emotional complexities that run through the opera; he engraved them in the score. In Act III, the tired old god Wotan considers the gulf between his self-destructive anger and Brünnhilde’s romantic fantasies. “In the ruins of my own world, I would end my infinite sadness,” he sings, as horns blast apocalyptically and violins and violas tumble through a clangorous diminished seventh, the chord of maximum ambivalence. Then, as his thoughts flit to his child’s sweet ecstasies, his softened voice slips into a serene A-flat major chorale. In passages like this, which Lepage passes over, Levine steps in as protector of subtlety, linking these contrasting passages in one broad breath.
Wagner, who formed an operatic world with himself as its sovereign, also defied fierce regimes and was punished for it. Like Wotan, he understood something about the dangerous volatility of power. So, surely, does Levine, and there is something simultaneously poignant and thrilling in watching the wounded potentate conduct the tale of the weakened god.