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),
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
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
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
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 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
Stuart Skelton (Siegmund),
Janice Baird (Brünnhilde), and Margaret Jane Wray
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 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.
Anderson as Siegfried
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
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)