In 2006, when Washington National Opera opened its American Ring Cycle, few could have imagined that it would end as it did on Saturday night, with a concert performance of Götterdämmerung. After very promising productions of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in 2006 and 2007, financial considerations delayed the staging of Siegfried by one season, to last spring, when it ended up with a troubled casting and special-effects woes. The collapse of the financial and housing market last fall was the final nail in the coffin, forcing the company to give up on the ultimate goal, canceling the plans to mount the entire four-opera cycle this month. Instead of an international operatic event, we had a hastily reconfigured season, until now less than stellar, and two concert performances of Götterdämmerung. By all logical expectations, this doomed Ring should have come to an ignominious end, with nothing but the fact that it finally concluded to show for all the trouble.
Conductor Philippe Auguin
The cast sang from the stage, some using scores on music stands and others singing from memory and doing more acting than not. Replacing the originally cast Siegried, Ian Storey (who withdrew from both Götterdämmerung and Ariadne auf Naxos because of illness), veteran tenor Jon Fredric West stepped in and gave an authoritative, breezy, and stentorian performance. The voice has lost some of its beauty over the years -- he was the Bacchus in WNO's last production of Ariadne auf Naxos, in 1994 -- but not its leathery power, and as when he sang the role in the Met's Ring cycle a few years ago, power came at the price of polish. He was matched in intensity by the explosive Brünnhilde of soprano Iréne Theorin, whose reserved singing in Ariadne (she had to sing the title role in that opera again -- the following afternoon!) paid off, as well as the scheming malevolence of Gidon Saks's loathsome Hagen and the clueless bluster of Alan Held's Gunther. The supporting cast was equally strong, with the exception of the flimsy Gutrune of Bernadette Flaitz, who seemed ill. Standing out for exceptional praise was Elizabeth Bishop, who came back from a nondescript performance in Falstaff last month to sing her heart out as the Second Norn and especially as Waltraute, and the volcanic Third Norn of Carter Scott, in another noteworthy WNO debut.
Anne Midgette, Amid barren backdrop, a brassy 'Ring' (Washington Post, November 9)
T. L. Ponick, WNO's lucky concert 'Ring' (Washington Times, November 9)
Jerry Floyd, Blazing Brünnhilde, Reptilian Hagen (Wagneropera.net, November 9)
In a metaphorical way this conclusion to director Francesca Zambello's American Ring Cycle could not have been more appropriate. In Das Rheingold Zambello cast Wagner's gods as American captains of rapacious capitalism, with Wotan taking out a mortgage on the worst possible terms to build a home ultimately beyond his means. When the speculation and resulting bubble went bust, life imitated art. An opera company's grand project went up in flames, but perhaps by the act of self-immolation, the destruction can not only be turned to some eventual good but was, by its own right, intensely beautiful to behold.
This concert performance of Götterdämmerung will be repeated only once, this coming Sunday (November 9, 2 pm). If I could go to it again, I would.