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14.8.05

Summer Opera: The Ring in Seattle

Mary Phillips (Wellgunde), Lisa Saffer (Woglinde), Laura Tucker (Flosshilde) (above), Gabor Andrasy (Hagen) and Jane Eaglen (Brünnhilde)(below), photo by Gary Smith, 2001Well, we knew it was going to be a huge event, but here it is underway and we are so sad not to be experiencing it ourselves. Yes, it's the Seattle Opera's revival of its latest production of Wagner's Ring Cycle, which began on August 7 and continues until August 28. The local reviews have been rolling in, and I've pulled some salient excerpts. I imagine that we will have a few other reviews in the national press once the first cycle of all four operas is concluded. As I learned from Anne-Carolyn Bird, Seattlest (in the same nefarious blog empire as our own DCist) has a blogger writing about her experience of the Seattle Ring (posts on Rheingold, Walküre, and Siegfried). Have any other bloggers been yet? I know that Lisa Hirsch has a ticket to Cycle 3, and Nick Scholl at Trrill has a candid review of Siegfried. Anyone else? Of course, we SHOULD be able to watch the whole thing on PBS at some point this fall, but that pathetic network is too busy squandering its soon-to-disappear public money on Sarah Brightman.

Das Rheingold:

Melinda Bargreen, Audience expectations rewarded in "Ring" opera (Seattle Times, August 9):
Sold out since last November, this long-awaited "Ring" is the first one in the new Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. The production looks amazingly immediate in the new house with its bigger stage and greater feeling of intimacy. The improved acoustics, especially from the orchestra pit, mean that everything is heard more clearly — and this is a show worth hearing as clearly as possible. Many of the principal singers in the 2001 version of the "Ring" are back for "Das Rheingold," nearly all of them even stronger than they were four years ago. But the newcomers also were terrific, because Jenkins hired otherwise leading-role singers for even the smallest roles here.
R. M. Campbell, 'Ring' cycle opens with beauty and majesty (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9):
Using the latest advances in stagecraft, as well as a high degree of imagination, a commitment to naturalism, superb singers and a good orchestra and conductor, this "Rheingold" was as engrossing dramatically and visually as it was musically. The 2 1/2 hours of the opera, with no intermission, sped by: from the splendid "swimming" Rhinemaidens, who fly as well as sing, to the handsome rainbow bridge, on which people appear to climb. The thunder, as it rolled through the house, the chorus of anvils, the wail of Alberich's slaves, seemed not just theatrical events but real and vital. Sensuous beauty was coupled with majesty.
Die Walküre:

Melinda Bargreen, High-octane Wagnerian excitement for Seattle Opera's "Walküre" (Seattle Times, August 10):
This "Walküre" is fortunate in its cast of Valkyries (Holly Hall, Caroline Thomas, Stacey Rishoi, Luretta Bybee, Marie Plette, Sarah Heltzel, Fredrika Brillembourg and Jennifer Hines), an uproarious bunch whose singing and acting are both stellar. The scene in which they take their farewell from the exiled Brünnhilde is surprisingly affecting; Brünnhilde may not have been the only one in the house who was wiping away tears. Thomas Lynch's forest set, handsomer than ever in its first outing in McCaw Hall, was introduced by the production's new curtain, lighted entirely anew for each "Ring" opera. Sunday's version was all watery blues, suggesting the show's opening in the river Rhine; Monday's was in glittering green, heralding the forest. Peter Kaczorowski's lighting made the most of the show's many visual opportunities.
R. M. Campbell, Seattle Opera's riveting 'Die Walkure' is profoundly satisfying (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 10):
Seattle Opera has three superb women in key roles, all holdovers from the 2000-01 production: Stephanie Blythe, Margaret Jane Wray and Jane Eaglen. Blythe has a[n] imperious presence as Fricka, holding the audience in a kind of fixed state. The voice has such amplitude and is so mesmerizing it would seem it could move heaven and earth. Little wonder Wotan collapses before it. Wray sang very well in the past, but the soprano seems even grander, more beautiful now. And still fresh. What a moving performance. Eaglen has made a substantial career as Brunnhilde, singing it on just about all the major stages of the world. One can easily hear the reasons, but there is still the choppy line and now a sound that disturbingly fades in and out. Blythe and Wray, as her feminine colleagues, are tough competition.
Siegfried:

Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Opera strikes gold with brilliant third "Ring" (Seattle Times, August 12):
The brilliantly staged fight scene between Siegfried and the drooling, winged dragon was the dramatic highlight of the show, with Siegfried initially attacking the tail of the dragon — while the business end of the beast crept up on him from the opposite direction, tusks and all. Loud roars of approval greeted each act when conductor Robert Spano entered the orchestra pit, where he continues to work magic with the players in imaginative, vibrant, well-paced performances. Once again, the Brünnhilde of Jane Eaglen was a consistent pleasure to hear. She poured out phrase after phrase of resplendent tone and incredible amplitude, making the role sound easy; she scored some of her most telling points, however, in pianissimo (as in her moving "Ewig war ich"). Her acting has simplicity and honesty.
R. M. Campbell, Elements come together for a splendid 'Siegfried' (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 12):
The capacity house for the first cycle of these four operas has been rather quick to recognize Spano's gifts in conducting Wagner, with applause for him increasing every night since Sunday. But because Wagner gave the orchestra arguably the greatest music in the five-hour "Siegfried," this was Spano's defining moment. And he took full advantage of what the composer intended. Aided by the generous and warm acoustics of two-year-old McCaw Hall, the orchestra has rarely sounded so resplendent. It had fullness, denied in the old Opera House, and splendid clarity. "Siegfried" gives the orchestra much to do: a myriad of wonderful colors and individual details, which Spano captured. There was admirable vigor, always a handsome sound. Breadth too. Plenty of fire when needed, with tumult perfectly balanced with lyricism and floating evocations of nature. Spano possessed complete control over the musical proceedings, leading the singers and orchestra to plumb the depths of Wagner's score.
Götterdämmerung:

R. M. Campbell, Seattle Opera outdoes itself with this year's production of 'Ring' (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 15):
Several conductors have been in the pit for Seattle Opera's "Ring," some more successful than others. I liked Hermann Michael's reading in the second "Ring" production, in the late 1980s and 1990s, and found Manuel Rosenthal's take, in 1986, fascinating, especially for its sense of color. However, none compares in depth and sweep with Robert Spano, doing his first "Ring" in Seattle. After he conducted an illuminating "Billy Budd" four years ago at Seattle Opera, general director Speight Jenkins conceived the notion of his doing the "Ring," in 2005. At the outset, Spano was not interested, but Jenkins persisted, and finally Spano agreed, putting his considerable intelligence and musical instincts to work.

For the past week, one has heard the clarity and brilliance of his vision. There were extraordinary moments throughout the cycle, finely judged pacing, splendid balance and a wealth of details. What had been heard in "Das Rheingold," "Die Walkure" and "Siegfried" was heard again in "Gotterdammerung." It would seem there was nothing Spano had not considered: The music flowed evenly and powerfully, and, on occasion, spontaneously. At his disposal were 100 musicians, mostly drawn from the Seattle Symphony, including the usual strings but also four harps, an equal number of trumpets and trombones, six tubas and eight French horns. Wagner wanted the lightly colored textures of woodwinds, but the weight that only some 20 brass instruments can provide. There was fine playing throughout: The strings had resonance and sweetness; the woodwinds, distinctness; and brass, a mellifluous and dramatic sound. Bravo, one more time, to French horn principal Mark Robbins for his decisive horn calls in "Siegfried" and "Gotterdammerung."
Spano is scheduled, with his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, to make the recording of Golijov's Ainadamar, too: is there anything he can't do? With some reservations about Jane Eaglen and a few other quibbles aside, it sounds like Seattle has made a huge success.

UPDATE:
Even if you never read the comments on any of our posts, you must do so for this post. Opinions and statements made in the comments do not necessarily reflect the views of Ionarts. Thanks, Nick! Also, Nick has backstage photos.

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