Opera Review                              by Classical Voice
 

A green, picturesque, splendid Ring returns to the Emerald City

By
Joel Grant
Special correspondent to Classical Voice
September 7, 2009


Der Ring des Nibelungen (Cycle II)

A Festival of Four Music Dramas:
Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung
Music and Libretto by RICHARD WAGNER
Sung in German with English titles


Brünnhilde   Janice Baird
Wotan/Wanderer   Greer Grimsley
Siegfried   Stig Anderson
Alberich   Richard Paul Fink
Sieglinde/Third Norn   Margaret Jane Wray
Siegmund   Stuart Skelton
Fafner/Hagen   Daniel Sumegi
Fricka/Second Norn/Waltraute (Götterdämmerung)   Stephanie Blythe
First Norn/Waltraute (Walküre)   Luretta Bybee
Erda/Rossweisse   Maria Streijffert
Loge   Kobie van Rensgurg
Fasolt/Hunding   Andrea Silvestrelli
Woglinde/Forest Bird   Julianne Gearhart
Flosshilde/Schwerleite   Jennifer Hines
Froh Jason Collins
Donner/Gunther   Gordon Hawkins
Mime   Dennis Petersen
Freia/Ortlinde/Gutrune   Marie Plette
Helmwige   Sally Wolf
Gerhilde   Mariam Murphy
Siegrune   Sarah Heltzel

Robert Spano, conductor
Stage Director, stage director
Thomas Lynch, set designer
Martin Pakledinaz, costume designer
Peter Kaczorowski, lighting designer
Joyce Degenfelder, hair & makeup designer
Seattle Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Performances on August 17, 18, 20, 22, 2009
at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle


All photos courtesy of The Seattle Opera

Jennifer Hines (Flosshilde), Michèle Losier (Wellgunde), and Julianne Gearhart (Woglinde), with Richard Paul Fink (Alberich).
 

Greer Grimsley as Wotan

T

he much-anticipated third quadrennial production of Seattle’s famous “green” Ring Cycle has been worth the wait.  This is a world-class production from the first mystical Vorspiel chord to the fiery final descent of the gods.  Much has been written about this production, first staged in 2001. It can best be described as an updated traditional staging. 

The forest set is as realistic as current technology allows.  There are no baffling costumes or sets.  We are not given to believe that the action took place in downtown Peoria in 1979.  What you see is, allowing for more than a century’s technical improvements, recognizably Wagnerian, including an emphasis upon the care with which we must treat nature in all its forms.

Pains have been taken to coordinate every word sung, every note played, and every movement, human and mechanical.  Everyone involved in this production is passionate about realizing their vision of an epic that is, in spite of its fantastical aspects (gods and giants and Rhinemaidens), fundamentally human.

Das Rheingold

The tone of this Cycle was set when the curtain went up in Act I of Das Rheingold.  The audience murmured approval of the amazing set.  The Rhine Sisters were “swimming” in harness above the stage, and the combination of set, curtains and lighting supported the illusion that we were looking into the depths of the Rhine river.

The Rhinemaidens cavorted athletically (having trained for countless hours in the harnesses) and sang beautifully. 

As a deep counterpoint, Richard Paul Fink’s Alberich, one of the highlights of the Ring Cycle, progressed from being curious, to being lovesick, wounded, and ultimately angry and vengeful. 

Gordon Hawkins (Donner), Andrea Silvestrelli (Fasolt), Greer Grimsley (Wotan), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Jason Collins (Froh), and Marie Plette (Freia)

The rest of Rheingold flew by quickly.  Everyone in the cast was outstanding, with special praise to Greer Grimsley’s Wotan and Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka.  Kobie van Rensburg’s Loge was biting.  He was able to walk the line between showing the honesty of his feelings for the plight of the Rhinemaidens and the dishonesty (or craft) of his approach to Alberich.  The rest of the gods – Freia, Donner, Froh – were all superb in these relatively small roles.  Gordon Hawkins, as Donner, sang Donner’s Song beautifully.

Dennis Petersen’s Mime was appropriately cringing and well sung.  The entire scene in Nibelheim was perfect, with the capture of toad-sized Alberich staged with a dollop of humor.  Daniel Sumegi’s Fafner and Andrea Silvestrelli’s Fasolt were impressive.  There is something about powerful deep voices that thunder in the hall that cannot be matched for intensity.

By the time the gods walked over the rainbow bridge to Valhalla, the audience was already excited about attending Die Walküre on the next night.

Die Walküre

Die Walküre began with a powerful opening storm as Siegmund stumbled, exhausted, into Hunding’s hut, built around the Ash Tree.  Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund was powerfully acted and sung with ping and vigor.  He and an outstanding Margaret Jane Wray made a convincing doomed couple.   Their extended Spring duet was riveting.  Andrea Silvestrelli, singing Hunding in this music drama, proved his acting chops by being as menacing and angry in this role as he was sympathetic as Fasolt. 

One of the highlights of the evening was the Wotan/Fricka duet, where Fricka methodically destroys Wotan’s pro-Walsung argument and agrees not to protect Siegmund against Hunding.  Stephanie Blythe is a world-class singer and actor.  Her Fricka was played and sung with such beauty and power that this reviewer at least was in thrall. 

Margaret Jane Wray (Sieglinde), Stuart Skelton (Siegmund), and Arthur Woodley (Hunding cover).
 

Stuart Skelton (Siegmund), Janice Baird (Brünnhilde), and Margaret Jane Wray (Sieglinde)

Throughout the Cycle Grimsley’s Wotan (and Wanderer) was inspiring.  Grimsley was Seattle Opera’s 2005 Artist of the Year and may be in the running again for this outstanding performance.

Janice Baird’s War Cry seemed to be slightly underpowered, but in every other respect her Brunnhilde was sung with tone and vigor and acted with power.  One almost wept for her plight as Wotan denounced her and condemned her to magical sleep on the rock.

The famous opening of Act III, The Ride of the Valkyries made the little hairs on the back of my head stand up.  Two of the Valkyries sang from the First Tier, lending an amazing stereo effect to this scene.  The singing was glorious and the Valkyries’ energy was contagious.

Wotan’s Farewell was powerful and moving. 


Stuart Skelton (Siegmund), Margaret Jane Wray (Sieglinde), and Janice Baird (Brünnhilde)


Greer Grimsley (Wotan)


Siegfried

Siegfried begins with Mime, Dennis Petersen, alone onstage.  His performance was another Ring highlight.  His Mime, sung with a burnished ring at the top and solidly throughout his range, was a fascinating, if untrustworthy and put-upon character.

Stig Anderson, unfortunately, was suffering from illness and this may have affected his performance.  His top was less than robust.  He was nevertheless a splendid Siegfried, very lyrical and always engaged in his character, and he sang a pleasing Forging Song.

One interesting note is the humorous turn crafted by Stephen Wadsworth when Siegfried confronts the dragon.  The staging involved a cave, stage right, with an opening in front and an opening in back, hidden from the audience.  Fafner’s tail juts from the front of the cave and Siegfried, unaware this is only the tail, taunts Fafner as the head of the dragon appears behind him.  It was a great staging, and Siegfried’s subsequent dispatch of Mime was quite effective.

Brunnhilde’s awakening scene was handled with touching grace and believable naiveté (two characters quite ignorant of love) by both Anderson and Baird.  One of Speight Jenkins and Stephen Wadsworth’s goals in this Ring is to humanize the characters, and this scene was a shining example.

Stig Anderson as Siegfried


Götterdämmerung

Gotterdamerung may be the greatest of all Wagnerian music dramas.  Without question Seattle Opera’s staging hit the mark at every point.

Gordon Hawkins’ Gunther and Daniel Sumegi’s Hagen were muscular, compelling and convincing.  The scene were Hagen summons his men, the only true chorus in the Cycle was breathtaking.  One wishes that this Gotterdamerung was filmed and made available for viewing at leisure.

Janice Baird sang a moving Immolation Scene, and the fiery end of the Cycle, the gods swirling downward into fiery obliteration was mesmerizing.

All of the technical aspects were designed and executed with the highest level of skill  The lighting, sets, costumes, and makeup for each scene throughout the Cycle supported the theme and the action expertly and efficiently.  For example, how much fire can a stage tolerate on Brunnhilde’s rock?  This production had enough fire to make the point, but not so much that one gasped in fear of a premature immolation.

Throughout, the orchestra’s playing was outstanding.  Conductor Robert Spano tirelessly kept up with the heavy demands of the score and the libretto, ardently coordinating music and action throughout the grueling four-night marathon.  The post-intermission applause and cheers when the maestro stepped onto the podium were heartfelt and well deserved.


Stig Andersen (Siegfried) and Janice Baird (Brünnhilde), with Star (Grane)


Daniel Sumegi (Hagen) with actors and members of the Seattle Opera chorus

Looking at this production as a whole, one must take particular note of Grimsley’s Wotan, Fink’s Alberich and Silvestrelli’s Fasolt and Hunding. 

The vocal triumph, though, was reserved for the glorious Stephanie Blyth.  Ms. Blyth was outstanding as Amneris in August, 2008, in Seattle Opera’s Wadsworth-directed Aida.  She moves from triumph to triumph and we in Seattle hope to see her return on a regular basis.

In the end, there are few Ring Cycles left anywhere in the world that move heaven and earth (and everything in between) to stay true to Wagner’s amazing vision.  Seattle Opera’s Green Ring does that, and does it splendidly. 

This production will return in 2013 and we hope to see you there!

Janice Baird as Brünnhilde

Jennifer Hines (Flosshilde), Julianne Gearhart (Woglinde), and Michèle Losier (Wellgunde)
 

 


 



Joel Grant is a Classical Voice correspondent based in Seattle, Washington.  Joel has been an opera buff since, as a member of the First Congregational Church of Downers Grove, IL, he listened to the voice of his fellow member Sherrill Milnes.  Joel is a software engineer for Boeing Co.


 

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