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17.5.16

One Brünnhilde to Rule Them All


Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde) and Alan Held (Wotan) in Die Walküre (photo by Scott Suchman for WNO)

The second cycle in Washington National Opera's first complete production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen ended in flames on Sunday night, reviewed by Robert R. Reilly. A quirk of fate meant that Cycle II was the first complete performance by Catherine Foster in the crucial role of Brünnhilde. The British soprano had injured her foot during rehearsals, leading to a completely unexpected but delectable substitution in the role by Christine Goerke in Die Walküre in Cycle I. Foster has sung the role many times, more than once at the Bayreuth Festival, but this was her debut in the role in an American production, as described in a preview article by Adam Wasserman in Opera News (By Way of Bayreuth, April 2016).

Goerke's presence infused Cycle I with a burst of energy, and although Foster was still hesitant physically when she took the stage in the last two operas, she was extremely strong of voice. In Cycle II Foster continued to gain confidence in her movements, although she did not jump on any tables in Die Walküre (as pictured above at the dress rehearsal). Vocally she reached her peak at the conclusion of the Cycle II Siegfried, the ecstatic duet scene with the man who breaks through the ring of fire to awaken her. That climax was almost matched by the bloodthirsty vengeance with which she attacked the end of Act II in Götterdämmerung, followed by a mysterious slackening of vocal strength in the final act, not to say total collapse by any means, but lacking the oomph one was hoping for from her final moments on the stage this season.


Other Reviews:

Cycle I: Das Rheingold | Die Walküre | Siegfried | Götterdämmerung

Cycle II: Robert R. Reilly, Second Opinion: WNO Re-Cycle of 'The Ring of the Nibelung' (Ionarts, May 16)
Foster shared some of her thoughts about the role with that Opera News interviewer, and some of it came across in her performances the last two weeks, that "Wagner wrote for three different vocal types." Die Walküre, she said, "was intended as a speaking-singing type of thing," likening it to "chit-chat and discussion." Goerke, perhaps because she was brought in to sing only Die Walküre, went for broke in a way that Foster did not. Siegfried, written after the break to compose Tristan is, by contrast, "as lyrical as you could possibly get. You have to get the light colors to convey the lyricism." The part also lies much higher, the part of her tessitura where Foster really excels, with her chest range sometimes going slightly pale.

With WNO's third performance of Die Walküre, we will have our third Brünnhilde. As originally planned, Nina Stemme takes over the role in Cycle III, which opens this evening at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Based on the reviews of her 2011 cycle in San Francisco, the third Brünnhilde could be the best.

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