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RING's final moments most satisfying of all
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RING's final moments most satisfying of all

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Siegfried and Gotterdämmerung
August 12-14
McCaw Hall


Even with all the things that went wrong, Seattle Opera's reiteration of Wagner's RING continued in these final operas to thrill its audiences like nothing else in the opera world. General Director Speight Jenkins made a bold and welcome gesture after the second time an orchestral interlude had to be suddenly stopped: he stepped in front of the curtain and announced, 'None of you could be more upset by what just happened than I am. There appear to be gremlins in the house tonight.' A computer virus had twice caused a delay in placement of the huge sets. (It was quickly fixed, with no more problems.)

More upsetting, but understandable, was the earlier announcement before Siegfried that the biggest international star, Stig Andersen, had been ill with a virus and fever, but had recovered enough to sing. The recovery however was incomplete; every note above the staff was either nonexistent or a disaster, and everything else was seriously underpowered. A sad forging scene in which Mime vocally surpassed Siegfried at every turn was not what people traveled across the globe to hear! Two nights later in Götterdämmerung, Andersen had indeed recovered sufficiently to give us a credible and at times very effective Siegfried, although he did not even attempt the two high Cs (which he also omits on the marvelous DVDs of the Copenhagen RING).

That said, one is left with almost entirely golden words to describe the glories of this production and cast. Even Janice Baird, continuing so weak and unpleasant in the more lyrical and mid-voiced sections of her role as Brünnhilde, rose to the occasion in a marvelous second act of Götterdämmerung with gleaming tops and stage direction that made her swearing on Hagen's spear a great moment. (She lunged forward with the spear with each oath, also dramatically cutting her hand on its point and showing everyone the blood that underscored the truth of her claims.) While the vengeance trio of Act II of Götterdämmerung was almost equally effective, her all-important immolation scene was a disappointment.

While focusing in this review on the singers not mentioned in last week's review of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, I must nonetheless mention the astounding Waltraute of Stephanie Blythe (who also sang the second Norn). She made her scene with Brünnhilde unforgettable, despite Baird's over-acting (pretending to undergo multiple emotional crises during Waltraute's narration, when in fact she is supposed to not understand what Waltraute says because of her blinding love for Siegfried).

Dennis Peterson, making his SO debut, sang a refreshingly full-voiced Mime, never falling to the whining caricature so often employed in this role. He sang lyrically, while always conveying a convincing character.

Swedish soprano Maria Streijffert, making her U.S. debut, did not wipe out memories of the amazing Ewa Podles four years ago, but her Erda was beautiful and quite effective. Daniel Sumegi, recently Daland in SO's Fliegende Holländer, gave us a menacing Hagen and Fafner, with his powerful bass voice. At its loudest, the voice was grainy and rough, which was appropriate in these roles but left this reviewer wondering if he was doing damage to his instrument. Special mention must be made of the magnificent dragon (Fafner) in this production. I never expect to see a more convincingly huge and strangely beautiful dragon on any operatic stage.

The three Rheinmaidens could not have been better. In Rheingold they have to sing while suspended 20 feet above the stage floor, and while emulating swimming with big fins on their feet. In Götterdämmerung they look terribly wet while cavorting in a pond and toying with the man himself. They were charming, beautiful, and vocally resplendent while always making a perfect blend with each other and the orchestra. (Their main melody is a terrible ear-worm that plagues me yet!) Canadian Michèle Losier, the higher of the two mezzos and formerly our superb Diana in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, was always ideally heard against the lower mezzo of Jennifer Hines and the high soprano of Julianne Gearhart, who also sang the Forest Bird. Some opera companies, including the Solti recording (Joan Sutherland), cast a heavier voice for this Bird; but Gearhart was an ideal, chirpy, light soprano, singing effortlessly this high, delightful music.

With all the excellence of this cast, and the consistently impressive work by Maestro Robert Spano and the members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, yet the most thrilling element of all was the ever eye-pleasing sets of Thomas Lynch, perfectly lit by Peter Kaczorowski. In fact, the most satisfying moment of the whole 17 hours was for me the final tableau, showing the gorgeous opening set of Das Rheingold, now transformed into a scene of rejuvenating nature. The balance of the world has been restored by Brünnhilde's sacrifice, and the rotted "nurse log" where Fasolt died sprouts vigorous young trees, with mushrooms shooting up through the blood-stained earth. Presented as the orchestra sings Sieglinde's ecstatic melody upon learning of her new role as a mother, this tableau could not more perfectly capture the essential message of this "green" RING.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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