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

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne

Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which was new in 2012, returned to Glyndebourne on 3 July 2016 revived by Ian Rutherford.

Cosi fan tutte at the Aix Festival

Said and done the audience roared its enjoyment of the performance, reserving even greater enthusiasm to greet stage director Christophe Honoré with applauding boos and whistles that bespoke enormous pleasure, complicity and befuddlement.

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):