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WNO 'Ring' Cycle I: 'Siegfried'

David Cangelosi (Mime) in Siegfried, Washington National Opera (photo by Scott Suchman for WNO)

When Washington National Opera mounted Francesca Zambello's Ring cycle the first time, Siegfried was as far they got. Musically it was a bit of a disaster, and it was where Zambello's ideas for her American Ring seemed to unravel. Raised by Mime in a beat-up trailer in what looked like a junkyard, this was a white-trash hero who had not only no fear but no class. As I wrote then, "No Siegfried has probably come from so far on the wrong side of the tracks to win the daughter of the richest man in town."

Seen as part of the complete cycle on Wednesday night, even though there were fewer changes to the production, the tone of the staging has changed. What strikes me this time around is that Zambello has cast the four operas in the context of American history, beginning with the first amassing of wealth in the 19th century and continuing to the present day. By Siegfried, we appear to have reached the 1970s, a period in which industrialization and pollution reached the breaking point, in turn sparking the ecological movement. Videos show clear-cut forests and factories belching out fumes, and the dragon form of Fafner is a large excavating, land-clearing sort of machine. The Forest Bird, incarnated here with ideal lightness by Domingo-Cafritz artist Jacqueline Echols, is costumed as a sort of flower child, and Alan Held's Wotan looks like a failed hippie, with greasy hair that could be in a ponytail and a duct tape-mended trench coat.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, After ‘Ring’ rehearsal injury, a soprano finally gets her U.S. debut (Washington Post, May 6)

Terry Ponick, ‘Siegfried’: Catherine Foster returns to WNO’s ‘American Ring’ (Communities Digital News, May 5)

Alex Baker, That '70s Show (Parterre Box, May 9)

Das Rheingold | Die Walküre | Götterdämmerung
Siegfried is perhaps the oddest score in the tetralogy, with the smallest number of characters and an emphasis on intensely focused music. It opens quietly and has long stretches of quiet, the better to be disturbed by the noisy bustle of its restless title character. Tenor Daniel Brenna made a heroic company debut in the role, not always right on the money but tirelessly energetic and often incredibly powerful. The characterization of Siegfried is still brutish and brewski-cracking, but Brenna gave him a humorous edge that was much more winning. Soprano Catherine Foster finally made her first appearance as Brünnhilde, and in generally excellent vocal form. Her continuing trouble with the injury to her foot, which kept her sidelined for the first performance of Die Walküre, made her movement on stage a little awkward, but there were no complaints about the power of her voice to carry those triumphant moments in the score.

David Cangelosi's Mime became even more active, to a fault, with his cute antics growing tiresome long before he did a few actual cartwheels. It makes sense to have a little comic relief in this long, rather serious work, but Zambello went a little too far in this opera. Held's final take on Wotan was still powerful, with just some of the outlying parts at the top and bottom revealing some struggle. Lindsay Ammann was again magnificent as Erda, and Soloman Howard was on solid footing as the Teamster giant running the forest-clearing Dragon. Philippe Auguin and the orchestra continued to excel, not perhaps on the level achieved in Die Walküre but combining plenty of power with subtle transparency.

Daniel Brenna (Siegfried) and the Dragon in Siegfried, Washington National Opera (photo by Scott Suchman for WNO)

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