Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Janice Baird (Brünnhilde). © Rozarii Lynch photo
06 Sep 2009

Seattle humanizes Wagner’s Ring

In 2001, when Seattle Opera completed its current production of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, it seemed the company had taken a step backward. In appearance the new Ring — the third full SO staging since Glynn Ross set out to make the city the American counterpart to Germany’s Bayreuth — was traditional.

Seattle humanizes Wagner’s Ring

Above: Janice Baird (Brünnhilde) © Rozarii Lynch photo

 

When in his stage directions Wagner said “tree,” scenic designer Thomas Lynch gave him one — or, in the case of Act One of Die Walküre — an entire forest of entangled trunks and branches. And director Stephen Wadsworth seemed content to tell the story as straightforwardly as possible. This was clearly not a concept Ring rooted in the writings of Marx or Freud and it made no attempt to come to terms with Germany’s tormented past — and Wagner’s involvement in it.

09-Rheingold-rl-231.gifGreer Grimsley (Wotan) and Stephanie Blythe (Fricka). © Rozarii Lynch photo

On the heels of the second SO Ring, completed in 1986 and on stage for the next decade, it disappointed many. For in that earlier production Swiss director François Rochaix and designer Robert Israel offered a post-modern “take” on the cycle, focused visually on the machinery with which Wagner had sought to make the Ring live.

However, with the revival of the Wadsworth Ring this summer, the production has grown and matured, and this largely because the director, a seasoned veteran of the spoken theater, has remained with it and taken advantage of its return to the stage of the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall to reveal his own deeper insights into what is no doubt the greatest single operatic achievement of all time.

Wadsworth — to reduce so remarkable an achievement to a single word — has humanized the Ring, continuing and perfecting the process that began with the first post-war Bayreuth Ring directed by Wieland Wagner in 1952. At that time the composer’s grandson “sanitized” the mammoth work, stripping it of the swords, spears and winged helmets that had helped — with willing participation of his family — to make Wagner the court composer of National Socialism. Wieland Wagner acted out of necessity, knowing that only a non-political Ring would be acceptable to a world still up to its ankles in the ruins of World War Two. And now Wadsworth capitalizes on the experiences of the half century since that revolutionary Ring to bring to the surface in it the universal humanity of a story, in which the participants are only outwardly super-human gods and giants. The result is a Ring in which the audience is totally absorbed by the intimacy of the story as Wadsworth leads them through it.

09-Rheingold-rl-184.gifFront: Greer Grimsley (Wotan) and Dennis Petersen (Mime); Back: Kobie van Rensburg (Loge) and Richard Paul Fink (Alberich); and the Nibelungs. © Rozarii Lynch photo

Happily, Seattle Opera, celebrating a quarter century under the erudite leadership of Speight Jenkins, has provided the director with everything needed to make the staging as moving as it is monumental. Seattle’s choice of Janice Baird as the season’s Brünnhilde had been the most heavily hyped opera news of the summer. Billed by Opera News as the new Wagnerian “it girl,” the American soprano had the audience understandably eager to hear what she could do. And the war cry with which Baird made her entrance in Act Two of Walküre on August 10 was indeed impressive. In sheer force, however, she was no match for Jane Eaglen, Brünnhilde in Seattle from 2000 through 2005, nor — for those old enough to remember her — for Linda Kelm, Seattle’s major singer in the role in the ‘80s. When, however, Baird dug into the drama in her first exchange with Wotan her total command of the role and its dramatic power were overwhelming.

She is an intelligent singer who knows this work thoroughly from European productions and she responded magnificently to Wadsworth’s direction. That, for example, she came down from her rock to tell Siegmund that he would die was a fine touch. Kneeling with her half-brother at the side of the sleeping Sieglinde, their duet became almost a trio. It was, of course, as the woman betrayed that Baird revealed the full extent of her powers in Götterdämmerung. She sang the concluding immolation with a searing sense of transcendent tragedy. And that she is a beautiful person of regal bearing made her an ideal figure for Wadsworth’s approach to the Ring.

She had an equal both in vocal and acting ability in Greer Grimsley as the Wotan of the summer. Tall and handsome, Grimsley delivered a finely nuanced portrayal of the errant god.

One of the most glorious moments of the cycle, however, was Stephanie Blythe’s warning monologue to Brünnhilde in “Götterdämmerung.” Now a major Wagernian, the American mezzo elevated this to the dramatic level of Wotan’s farewell and of Brünnhilde’s final immolation. And as the Fricka of the summer Blythe played a woman still hesitant to admit the waning of a once-great passion.

09-Walkure-cb-177.gifStuart Skelton (Siegmund), Margaret Jane Wray (Sieglinde), and Janice Baird (Brünnhilde). © Chris Bennion photo

Sieglinde has long been a signature role for Margaret Jane Wray, whose voice has darkened beautifully in recent years. She also sang the Third Norn in Götterdämmerung.

Over half the cast of the ’09 Ring was new to the Seattle staging, to which Australia’s Stewart Skelton and Denmark’s Stig Andersen made stellar contributions. Skelton displayed the most refined command of German diction in the cast, while Andersen was an enviably youthful Siegfried who matured markedly through the two Ring operas in which he appears.

Richard Paul Fink remains the world’s ruling Alberich, while Dennis Petersen played a remarkably masculine Mime, eschewing the elements of parody that cause many to see this figure as an expression of Wagner’s anti-Semitism.

South Africa’s Kobie von Rensburg was a witty and wily Loge, while Andrea Silvestrelli and Daniel Sumegi were well-matched giants Fasolt and Fafner.

In Walküre Silvestrelli was an especially loathsome Hunding, while Sumegi as Hagen offered a profound essay in the darkness of the human heart.

Conductor Robert Spano is now a well-seasoned Wagnerian, who understands the necessity of letting the composer have his way, allowing the music to unfold by its own inner — and organic — rules. The enlarged orchestra — drawn largely from the Seattle Symphony — played stunningly.

09-Siegfried-cb-161.gifRichard Paul Fink (Alberich) and Dennis Petersen (Mime). © Chris Bennion photo

Among the many magic moments were the brief but breathless pause that Spano and Grimsley inserted between the crucially visionary “das Ende” and the repeat of the words, sung here not with Hans Hotter’s long-traditional Sprechstimme, but rather with melancholy lyricism. And Spano’s elucidation of the shadings of sexual development that color the Awakening Scene at the end of Siegfried made the work of other conductors with this incredibly complex section of the drama seem at best Biology 101.

About some things Wagner allowed Wadsworth no choice. The eight Walküre whooped it up as they are wont to do, but no glorification of heroic death. And against Siegfried’s re-forging of the sword Nothung even Wadsworth was helpless. (Someone once suggested replacing this bit of banality with help from Gershwin: “I got plenty of Nothung, and Nothung’s plenty for me!”) And the excess of huggie-kissie throughout the cycle fell into the category of human, all-too human.

09-Gott-rl--250.gif: Gordon Hawkins (Gunther), Janice Baird (Brünnhilde), Stig Andersen (Siegfried), and Marie Plette (Gutrune), with supernumeraries and members of the Seattle Opera chorus. © Rozarii Lynch photo

The designs and costumes by Lynch and Martin Pakledinaz seems to have grown richer in color and beauty — due perhaps to increasingly sophisticated lighting by Peter Kaczorowski. This is clearly the current forerunner among American Rings, and one looks forward to its return for a final run in 2013.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):