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19.7.05

Summer Opera: The Ring in Pittsburgh (Part 2)

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Mark Kanny, Opera Theater, Symphony make the most of condensed ‘Ring’ (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 18)
So I'm back from Pittsburgh, where I heard the first two parts of Jonathan Dove's condensed English version of Wagner's Ring cycle, staged by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh (see my review of Rhinegold from Saturday). Dove's editing shaved off an hour from Das Rheingold, but with Die Walküre he faced a much heftier score, which I can tell you from having lugged both of the full scores to Pittsburgh in my suitcase. For The Valkyrie, Dove had a score that takes over four hours to perform. To accomplish a running time of almost exactly three hours, Dove condensed Wagner's three acts—divided into three, five, and three scenes—into two acts of two long scenes each.

Wotan imprisons Brünnhilde in the ring of fire, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, July 16, 2005The only roles that Dove cut from the opera are four of the eight valkyries, which was probably an easy decision to make, since some of the writing for all eight of them together is doubled, four and four. However, there are passages in Wagner's score where each of the eight valkyries has a different part, and most of that has to be cut as a result. We had seen three of the four valkyries in the previous night’s Rhinegold, and they had similar problems of being heard and understood in The Valkyrie. Jessie Raven, returning as Fricka, had a wilder pink costume with elbow-length fucsia gloves and was still vocally strong and appropriately shrewish. While the costuming had emphasized Fricka as a mirror image of Wotan in Rhinegold (they were both bald and dressed in similar colors and styles), in The Valkyrie, Wotan changed completely. The new singer, Charles Robert Austin, is a past winner of the Thomas Stewart and Evelyn Lear Emerging Singers Program, sponsored by the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C., so he may be familiar to Washington readers. He was a better Wotan than the previous night’s singer, and his full head of hair (Fricka remained bald) and leather costume made him seem closest to Brünnhilde, who looked like his female counterpart.

Tenor Daniel Snyder (Siegmund) has also been active in Washington, and he was good in the role, if not vocally up to the task. Local radio host Anna Singer was a surprising find as Sieglinde, an attractive woman with a fine soprano voice. She was overshadowed, however, by the Brünnhilde of Deidra Palmour Gorton, who nailed that incredible first appearance with some acrobatic Hejeteho-ing. The costumes and set for the second opera were much the same, which is to say it had its highs and lows. The stage was cluttered with clumpy sculptural figures, reminiscent of Magdalena Abakanowicz's minimalistic work, showing humankind as headless golems. The orchestra continued to be strong, although the brass problems I noted in Rhinegold (I thought horns, while the Pittsburgh reviewer thought trombones) were much more pronounced in the second opera, at all those crucial Wagnerian moments.

All in all, this was a strong production of this interesting adaptation. Yes, both have their flaws, but as Pittsburgh’s first experience of the Ring cycle, I think it has to be counted as a stunning success. Dove's version is a great way to bring a performance of Wagner's great tetralogy to a smaller city's theater, and I was glad to get to experience it. However, if you have a choice, you should listen to Wagner's score, in German. This is why, I imagine, there is no recording of Dove's version. What would be the point, when there are such good recordings of the full version?

The Pittsburgh Ring will go next to Long Beach Opera this January, where it will do for southern California what it did for Pittsburgh: give opera lovers a chance to see Wagner's cycle staged. We will have to wait until next summer to see how Dove completed his adaptation: Opera Theater of Pittsburgh will present Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods next July. The company will also present a world premiere double-bill by Mathew Rosenblum in April 2006, which would be interesting to see. Considering that the city's other opera company, Pittsburgh Opera, has worthwhile productions of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (October 2005) and Handel's Xerxes (February 2006) on its next season, I will have to think carefully about how many times I can afford to come to Pittsburgh.

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