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Walvater knows best

There is a mighty appetite among both old Wagnerians and new ones to see a Ring that follows—if not too slavishly—the scenic requests of the libretto. A company hoping to draw a broad audience, especially to a distant or obscure locale (Seattle is distant but no longer obscure)—can work with this sentiment. A company that can sell out three such Ring cycles at top dollar would have been foolish to neglect that appetite.  

Don’t compete for the most outrageous or avant-garde or technologically supersophisticated Ring (is that what we had in New York? The Techno Ring? I’m not sure). You can’t win those contests and hardly anyone will care of you do. Seattle can claim one of the most beautiful recent Ring productions and a fairly traditional staging, though not entirely without diversions and surprises. One surprise, perhaps, is that it was musically of such impressive overall quality. This speaks very well for the organization behind it.

But they’ve had time for trial and error. The Seattle Opera has been giving the Ring for nearly 40 years, in, I believe, 30 different seasons. Attendees come from many countries and all fifty states. There are introductory talks before performances and witty seminars on the days between operas. Some performances are followed by talk-back sessions for the tireless. There’s a range of Ring-related tchotchkes on sale (even after the final curtain!) and an alcove full of props (horned helmets, spears) for anyone wishing to pose for a camera.

Let’s treat the production and the occasional botherations of the staging after giving the singers their due.

Stefan Vinke gave Seattle “Siegfried the adolescent athlete.” He sang this exhausting part with exuberance and credit (fading just a bit when he had to summon Gutrune to the altar in Act II of Götterdämerung), with explosions of triumph and youthful good cheer that shook the rafters of McCaw Hall. He was constantly on the move, climbing part of the mountain scenery, leaping down from another, tossing berries to the Forest Bird and stones at enemies or over his shoulder. He played it sullen with Mime, rambunctious with the girls, patting even the dead Fafnir on the cheek. This Siegfried was eager and ignorant and having a wonderful time, an infectiously enjoyable performance.

This naturalness was the cue for the entire Stephen Wadsworth staging. Dennis Petersen’s strong Mime sang rather than whined his complaints, hugging the great lout with what resembled real affection (belied by Wagner’s words) and exchanged some well-aimed rocks with Richard Paul Fink’s creepy Alberich. Greer Grimsley did not maintain a godly or grandfatherly distance from Siegfried but sat on the ground playfully with him, an attitude in keeping with Wadsworth’s family romance of a staging but rather at odds with the story. Siegfried is naïve, but he’s never seen this armed stranger before—is he really this cozy with him?

Markus Brück’s Gunther was weak but scrupulous—unable to look his “bloodbrother” in the eye when he knows murder is in the air, lacking the courage of his conniving. Daniel Sumegi sang a gravel-voiced Hagen, not inappropriately for the character—how pleasant to hear the Gibichungs outsung, for once, by the Walsung!—but his ominous figure, ramrod straight throughout the long and elaborate action of the final scene, filled us with uneasy awe as the denouement unfolded. Wendy Bryn Harmer’s Gutrune, seemed, like her brother, bewildered by the fine print in Hagen’s plot, but having her commit hara-kiri seems an eccentric way to suggest her discomfort.

Luretta Bybee, Stephanie Blythe and Margaret Jane Wray sang the Norns, the latter two with exceptional grandeur. Jennifer Zetlan, Cecelia Hall and Renee Tatum made a very handsome and fluttery trio of Rhinemaidens. Blythe doubled as Waltraute with her customary power but Zetlan seemed out of sorts as the Forest Bird, the music a bit light for her darkly-colored soprano.

Alwyn Mellor, who has sung the various Brünnhildes in opera houses from Paris and Leipzig to her native English north country, was a new factor in Seattle. She is a handsome woman and an able actress with a sizable and tireless voice if not the oceanic emotional sweep for which Wagnerians grow nostalgic.

It was a curiosity of this Ring, one I have noticed on other occasions in this hall, that many of the voices sounded brilliant on top notes but appeared to lack support in the middle range where Wagner tends to call for most of the meaning and most of the work. There was a gleaming brightness from Mesdames Mellor and Wray and from Mr. Vinke and the promising Froh of Ric Furman that seemed to be separate from the less solidly placed registers below. Is this a curious acoustic of the house, or of my seat (orchestra, row S), or of the taste in voices of the company’s leaders? Or was it a feature of this particular occasion? Only Ms. Blythe seemed able to fill the house with volume at every level of her range, and to appear to do it effortlessly. (We all know it takes effort; appearing effortless is what the stage calls for.)

Asher Fisch is an experienced Wagnerian—he has led eloquent Parsifals at the Met as well as in Seattle—and he works well with singers, following the dramatic arc, guiding with an elastic beat. His sound—and that of the Seattle Opera orchestra—is not sumptuous or majestic; neither is anything rushed or slighted. There were occasional bloops and there were long, glorious passages where the serene strings or the agitated harps or the flutes (often ignored in Wagner apprehension) wrung the heart and left nothing to be desired.

The Wadsworth production (which may or may not be replaced in the company’s new directorate), dwells happily on its Northwest visual motifs and possesses the finest dragon and flying Rhinemaidens of my experience. The ravens are well done, too, and the Forest Bird visible and viable.

But there are one or two fussy eccentricities. There is the scarlet ribbon, first seen unattractively furtive in Sieglinde’s hair, then turning up when Mime tells Siegfried about his mother and, at last, in Alberich’s hands in Hagen’s dream. There is the red bathrobe Sieglinde wears and Siegfried later treasures (it looks ridiculous on him) and gives to Brünnhilde. Surely the Ring was enough to treasure? All this ribboning distracts us from the Ring, and Wagner didn’t give us any music for a ribbon. A house spokesman told me, “They’re visual leitmotifs, in case you thought the Ring didn’t have enough leitmotifs.” But it has, actually; new ones clutter the story, like a Victorian parlor.

Happier was Martin Pakledinaz’s inspiration of making purple the Gibichung color, wedding costumes and all, and Thomas Lynch’s garish, vaguely Viking-Deco knotwork for the Gibichung Hall. This was kept sedately backgrounded by Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting, but when the hall caught fire and flickering red showed through it, the intricacies leaped out at us as if the walls were made of flame. Bravo! (Seattle Rings always have done fire well.)

Back in the “God” scenes of Das Rheingold, we were on a rain forest floor, with an enormous fallen log central to the action, as always (with a Wadsworth staging), thrust close to the footlights. In the concluding image of the cycle, after the palace has fallen and the world has burned and the Rhinemaidens have returned and the gods have been seen in tableau, we found ourselves back in the woods—but the fallen tree has become a “mother log,” and new young saplings are sprouting from it. A perfect recap and image of renewal. I hope it is an omen.

Photo: Elise Bakketun.

38 comments

  • DonCarloFanatic says:

    It was indeed a lovely Ring.

    Where you sat in the house surely made a difference. I heard Sumegi in Zambello’s Ring in San Francisco in 2011 and there his voice seemed significantly larger than anyone else’s. It resonated in a way it did not in Seattle. There, he was impressive but the size of his voice did not leap out at me.

    I have to agree that the red ribbon thing seemed lame. I didn’t think Sieglinde would bother with a ribbon in her hair in that miserable hovel and that miserable marriage, either. But Zambello used a piece of Sieglinde’s dress as a scarf for Siegfried.

    • Feldmarschallin says:

      Well is a Ring supposed to be ‘lovely? I mean isn’t the whole story from beginning to end the opposite of lovely. It is about greed and murder and incest which are certainly all not ‘lovely’ topics. I guess if you want to see helmets and speers and the like and just enjoy the music it can be fine but for me the Ring is anything but lovely.

      • grimoaldo says:

        Yes it is a story with a lot of very nasty elements but one of the major themes in the text and the music is nature, nature=good, humanity must learn to live in harmony with nature. Water, forests, mountains, clouds are all depicted with great beauty in the music and I think it is valid to try to find a visual equivalent to the beauties and grandeur of nature as depicted in the music and text.

      • DonCarloFanatic says:

        During all the debate over Castorf’s Ring, I had the idea that a deliberately pretty Ring would serve to show just how ugly the story is. To my mind, the routine nastiness in regie productions does the opposite; it claims that in a rotten world, Wotan and the rest are merely typical lowlifes. But they’re not. They’re worse. Alberich’s theft is bigger than merely stealing a night’s pay from some hookers. And so on.

        I do stand by the idea that a Ring can be lovely, although in my comment I meant the whole experience, including beautiful sets, appropriate costumes, good singing, and, luckily for me, what I heard as well played music.

        • Todd says:

          DonCarloFantatic: I probably disagree with you in a lot of ways, but one way in which we’re totally on the same page is the idea that a “beautiful” staging can highlight the sheer nastiness of this piece. The absolute disconnect between the prettiness of the sets and the ugliness of the piece (which is to say: not only the ugliness of certain characters but also that of Wagner’s overdetermined portrayal of them as such) is something that really came through. Given the sitcom acting and the lack of conductorly interest from the pit, one could only focus on the libretto--which was a real indictment if there ever were one.

        • Hans Lick says:

          DonCarloF:

          I agree that the ugliness of the story is all the uglier if set against beautiful backgrounds. That is kind of the point of (Puccini’s, not Luc Bondy’s) Tosca, is it not? Frankly, I’m not surprised that Luc Bondy’s Scarpia is getting blow jobs with his staff wandering through and generally behaving atrociously — that set made me want to scream and throw things; murder and mayhem would come in time. In an elegant setting, harsh deeds are the more harsh.

          • alejandro says:

            I think the problem with that Bondy Tosca was that it was just sloppy and dramaturgically lazy. I have no problem with Scarpia getting a BJ in theory . . . BUT . . . wouldn’t that um, kill the drama of his desiring Tosca to the point of vicious brutality? I think a Scarpia with blue balls is probably more capable of the actions in the 2nd Act than one that has just been sated.

            Also, never mind that those prostitutes just seemed tacked on … and I still don’t understand that set. My college directing teacher would have failed Bondy. Why two couches? You’d want as little for Tosca to feel comfortable in in that room.

    • derschatzgabber says:

      The worst use of the red ribbon was in the Hagen -- Alberich scene in Gotterdammerung. Wadsworth’s detailed direction can help singers who are only OK actors give good dramatic performances. But sometimes the level of detail just appears fussy. In Gotterdammerung, Alberich appeared to be giving a show and tell presentation of his favorite Ring Cycle props (including a doppleganger ring, the Sieglinde ribbon, and a break-apart Wotan spear). The non-stop stage business drained that scene of its mystery and menace.

  • Todd says:

    I went to the Rheingold and Walküre in the first cycle and couldn’t take any more. Feldmarschallin is spot on re. beauty: that’s really not what this piece is about! The insistent beautification seems to me just as willful a (mis)reading of the piece as what many “Regie” directors are charged with. For one thing, it totally negates the possibility to create different spaces: if Nibelheim is also a spectacular slice of Mother Nature’s largesse in creating the Pacific Northwest, you’re pretty much out of options for Valhalla.

    The Rheingold I heard--maybe things got better--had some of the worst orchestral playing I’ve heard in years. Major pitch problems in the brass starting just a few bars into the Vorspiel--and continuing on through the end--outrageously incompetent anvil whacking for the descent to Nibelheim, more mistakes than shimmer in Loge’s fire music. The conducting I found competent but sometimes rammed its way through without acknowledging or shaping the leitmotivic material (which can itself be interesting--see Boulez and Rattle--but only if there’s another kind of shaping going on).

    I like Blythe but I think I’m tired of hearing nothing but changing gears. I will say, though, that I shared her frustration with the audience, who found the argument with Wotan in Act II of Walküre just hilarious (really? gods have marital spats too? what a utter delight! let’s provide a laugh track!). Apparently she told Wadsworth how upsetting she found that, but given the fact that he’s created a production that seems only intent on reproducing a fantasy world of the Pacific Northwest, it doesn’t seem surprising that he wasn’t too sympathetic with a critique of the audience who appeared eager to have their own self-image recreated in front of them.

    Jenkins explicitly said in the program book that in hiring Wadsworth he wanted to get a Ring cycle that was less European (his word, by which he meant Wieland Wagner and Chéreau, as if these two weren’t diametrically opposed!!!) so that he could replace some of the traveling Wagner fans with local audiences. At least at the first cycle it would seem that he succeeded in that.

    The new Intendant mentioned at a reception that he most likely would not keep this production. That’s the only good news from what was otherwise a pretty unbearable two days.

    • manou says:

      I hope you exclude the woodwinds from your strictures -- or you might get a frosty response from one of our esteemed posters.

      • Todd says:

        Nope, didn’t notice anything awry in the winds!

        • Hans Lick says:

          Todd:

          I’m sorry you got to the first cycle. I was told by many attendees who’d heard the first or second as well as the third (really? yes, evidently so) that the playing and the singing got much better. I sort of assume that will happen and skip the first round of just about anything that has a run. In this case, I heard the third cycle. Yes, the orchestra had its uneven moments — but moments only. Far more frequent were minutes of shimmering beauty.

          • Todd says:

            Thanks, Hans Lick. I was given the tickets by the house (and this is how I repay them!) so didn’t have a choice which cycle I attended. Clearly the orchestra *could* play the score, even if it didn’t when I was there. And for the record I don’t think this is that uncommon. I’ve been to plenty of performances by the Staatskapelle in Berlin, the Met Orchestra, etc. that, while unmitigated disasters, were also outliers. I’m currently trying to come to grips with the La Scala orchestra and chorus: based on the Claus Guth Lohengrin and the new Verdi Requiem, also with Barenboim, I’m tempted to say that they’re an embarrassment to the nation of Italy. But maybe those two recordings are just from the wrong performances?

          • derschatzgabber says:

            Much as I enjoyed Cycle 1, the prelude to Rheingold made me nervous. Matters did improve over the course of the Cycle 1. But the Rheingold prelude was a big disappointment.

            • papopera says:

              something wrong with the low E b ?

            • derschatzgabber says:

              Nothing wrong with the Eb that I could hear. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t hear it. I was in rear orchestra, just behind the beginning of the first balcony overhang, which may be a bit acoustically challenged. Sitting in about the same location in 2009, the Eb was audible. In his program notes, Maestro Fisch mentioned the ability to use soft dynamics in Seattle. because of McCaw Hall’s good acoustics. Cycle 1 was his first Rheingold with the hall filled with an audience. Perhaps he overestimated how well an instrumental pianissimo would carry in the full hall. And their may have been extra opening night nerves. After the lights dimmed for the Rheingold prelude, there was an interval of at least 5 minutes before the music started.

              At the end of Rheingold, I wasn’t sure I was going to like his conducting. I was more persuaded by Walkure. By Siegfried I was enjoying his conducting. Maybe it took part of the first Cycle to get things running smoothly.

      • reedroom says:

        ;=)

    • pasavant says:

      The inappropriate laughter is all over now. I heard a wonderful performance of Flying Dutchman in Princeton in June at which the audience sounded like the laugh track on the old Mary Tyler Moore show. I wonder if this is because we have a generation brought up on TV. And at the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts wild applause between the movements of a symphony is now de rigueur.

      • DonCarloFanatic says:

        It’s not inappropriate laughter in Walkure. Fricka has just shamed Wotan into doing the right thing (an older generation called it nagging), and most people in the audience understand that in intimate relationships there are moments like this. The laughter comes from recognizing that when Wotan gives in, it’s a transaction each of us has experienced at one time or another. It might not have been with a spouse or partner, but with an insistent parent, or even a child. Blythe may choose to be offended by the laughter, but it is the laughter of recognition, that’s all.

        As for inappropriate applauding, we are cursed with it in opera today. At any break in the music, people applaud wildly whether the singers deserve it or not. Another reason why Wagner is so restful to listen to: no applause in medias res.

        • Porgy Amor says:

          I prefer that the audience withhold its reaction until the end of a scene, and frankly I wish every audience were so instructed. But I can make my peace with people applauding at every break in the music in a Figaro or Traviata if they are at least doing so at points where there is a break. What I cannot stand is the applause when they think the movement is over, and it is not. Here is an example: Go see Don Carlo in a smaller North American house. After Elisabetta delivers the line challenging Carlo to drag his mother to the altar covered in his father’s blood (“challenging” is not really the right word; she’s confronting him with his absurd and hopeless position), Carlo responds, “Ah! maledetto io son!” and runs off stage. The combination of someone leaving the stage and the chords the orchestra plays to punctuate it leads much of the audience to believe the scene is over and they should cheer the powerful drama they just saw. If I’m not at (or watching a video performance from) one of the big houses, I know I will have to listen to Elisabetta’s “Ah! Iddio su noi vegliò!” — the true conclusion — through clapping and shushing. Every time.

      • m. croche says:

        One of the most touching pieces of misplaced applause I can remember hearing occurred a few years ago at a special concert by the NY Phil. It was the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I believe, and to commemorate the occasion they performed Mahler’s 2nd. Free tickets were distributed to those directly affected by 9/11 -- so there were probably a lot of people in the audience either unfamiliar with Mahler’s symphony or unfamiliar with concert etiquette altogether. In the first movement of the Mahler, near the “recapitulation”, there is an enormous general pause, preceded by a very final-sounding c-minor cadence. Sure enough, a sizable portion of the audience fell into the “hole” and started applauding enthusiastically. It was an honest mistake, compounded from inexperience, emotion, and gratitude. Seldom has applause -- however inappropriate -- sounded to me so heartfelt.

  • Cocky Kurwenal says:

    What you say about the voices and the way they only projected at the top was interesting. I have seen Alwyn Mellor just once, several years ago, but it was definitely a feature of her singing that she had, at that point, an incredible piercing top and little else of interest.

    However, I also think it is a feature of a properly balanced, well schooled voice that it should project most easily at the top. Take any famous soprano from days of yore -- Sutherland, Callas, Tebaldi, Freni, Te Kanawa, Scotto, Caballe, Nilsson (plus Behrens and Jones in the Wagner Fach)- all of them had voices that were big and easy at the top, much weaker in the middle, and then chest voice to differing extents at the bottom. It’s just how a voice is supposed to be, and most composers including Wagner I think realised this and wrote accordingly. When Brunnhilde has sustained high tessitura and many blazing top notes to do in Act II of Gotterdammerung, the orchestration is big and heavy. When she has long stretches in the middle voice, like some of the Immolation scene or Act III of Walkure, it is very light.

    I think part of the reason so many dramatic sopranos are not wholly satisfactory these days is because people no longer accept this fact and encourage a heavy middle voice. It can sound fabulous for a while (although it seems to mean the top c sounds like the absolute ceiling, ie very hard work), but it always throws the balance in the end and creates problems at the top. Worse, many people seem to have got used to it, and criticise somebody like Lise Lindstrom for having a weak middle voice, when in fact she is one of a handful, whether by nature or nurture, to sing in a way that doesn’t succumb to this vogue.

  • oedipe says:

    I am not sure I understand what people mean by “traditional”. I would be very curious to see some definitions of the term “traditional” with reference to opera productions. For example, is “loveliness” a defining feature of “traditional”? Are there other defining features? What are the specific requirements in order for you to consider a production “traditional”?

    • armerjacquino says:

      La Cieca has given a good, detailed working definition in the Castorf thread.

      • oedipe says:

        I am interested primarily in what people consider “traditional” from their point(s) of view, not looking for a definitive answer, whether or not that kind of thing exists. More of a survey, if you will.

  • Often admonished says:

    Big advance in operatic criticism -- especially the last 90 seconds

  • Gualtier M says:

    I am going to do a Ginny’s Kastle Kaffee Klatsch-esque bandwith cluttering mile long post with cut and paste. (Since we all miss Ginny during her month long incarceration in her tower by that evil witch La Ciecque…). This is my review of the Seattle Ring from way back in 2005 when I was still a virgin and was getting out of the tower room in the castle now and then:

    Die Walkure:
    Due to airport hell (17 hours, 5 airports, 4
    states, 3 flights, 2 airlines and 1 depressed opera fan) I missed the first opera “Das Rheingold” (note to self, always fly out the day before and always show up 2 hours before your departing flight).

    The Stephen Wadsworth production is just as realistically naturalistic and topographical as the Met Otto Schenk spectacular.
    However this one is much better blocked and has infinitely more interesting personenregie direction for the principals. Jane Eaglen was actually
    mobile, energetic and had a personality onstage. I never realized this but “Die Walkure” is really a domestic kitchen sink intimate family drama. A lot of long tortured one on one confrontations and soul barings -- whole half hours of just two people talking to each other. However with Wadsworth’s direction it really was very interesting and detailed.

    First of all, Greer Grimsley is a successful and well-sung Wotan. He lacks the god-like presence and interpretive depth of James Morris but he can sing the music and sing it well and he has most of the dramatic bases covered. He is a rather slim and not as tall as
    Robert Hale and others but he does have some intensity. He will grow interpretively but this is a very good start. Competent Wotans aren’t numerous and this is very good news.

    Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde was even better than she was at the Met last Fall. Her voice in the middle is of early Flagstad-like sonority and beauty but she can’t carry that glory up above high G or A. The top isn’t bad but it is narrow and pressed and doesn’t have the same quality as that golden middle. Therefore the “O Hehrstes Wunder” outpouring didn’t take off as it should. Her acting was very good but she lacks the abandon that a Lehmann or Rysanek brought to the role. However this is a magnificent voice and a fine artist.
    Stephanie Blythe was the best-sung Fricka I have ever heard. The voice was round and creamy from contralto-ish bottom to firm ringing top and the size was there, not manufactured. Musicianship, text and tone came first before power. She,like Simionato,can sing everything from Rossini to Verdi and beyond and sing it well. Her Fricka knew Wotan too well but loved him anyway. There was always a sense that they were a married couple who had been lovers -- they were very
    physical. Fricka is amazingly two steps ahead of Wotan all throughout that dialogue and it was a riveting scene -- the first half of the second act was played in Hunding’s now deserted hut set from Act I (they moved to an open rocky plain after the Wotan/Brunnhilde
    dialogue before the Walsungs enter).

    Richard Berkeley-Steele was a decent, hard-working occasionally lyrically attractive Siegmund -- a respectable but not stirring performance. He wasn’t really up to power moments like “Walse, Walse” but he managed with canny skill. His voice is basically a
    good lyric tenor and shines when he can float head tones. There is a very fine Peter Grimes and Idomeneo in him, I don’t understand his concentration on Wagner, he could be a better singer in other
    repertory. Stephen Milling was maybe the best Hunding I have ever seen -- he had a kind of peasant cunning and shrewd perception -- not a clod. He has a real Wagnerian basso that isn’t black-toned like Salminen or Moll but has real depth and power.

    Jane Eaglen was acting better than at the Met and is somewhat smaller physically than she was. However, her singing didn’t have the sheen or quality as Wray or Blythe and sounded dull and lustreless at times. She is also having problems with the top and sustained upper middle tones. She got shrill a few times in the second act and sagged flat on two crucial phrases in the third act. She will never have a magical or stirring stage presence but she does have a certain
    hard-working capable competence. I am now ready for Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde and Isolde. [Be careful what you wish for... ] I think that Eaglen isn’t going to go any further as a Wagnerian soprano and it is time to look ahead. Eaglen has no more Met contracts from what I last heard. Actually, Jane was moving around a lot on Monday and she generally was
    convincing in her movements. The problem isn’t that she is so fat -- there are fat women who are arresting and visually impressive -- Jessye Norman and others come to mind. She just looks like a round short
    inexpressive lump onstage. She doesn’t offstage -- she is direct, intelligent, humorous and lively (I saw her at a Met Guild lecture for “Norma” with Zajick). She also looks relatively normal offstage -- just a short round cherub of a woman with a nice personality. But
    onstage she doesn’t project much. Now about 10 years ago she had a voice that promised a lot -- it was ductile, flexible and had size and daynamic range. We had been listening to a lot of screaming and this
    girl seemed to promise some genuine singing in Wagner and Bellini. It was balm to our ears after Gwyneth Jones, late Behrens and Schnaut. The interpretation and dramatic projection would come in time -- she was
    young. Well the voice that used to have a good top with a reliable high C got fatter in the middle (I wondered about the breadth of the voice but it came in time) but the quality, flexibility and range declined. She didn’t get any better as a stage animal with no
    compensatory magic like Behrens or Jones. Even Schnaut has a kind of animal brute force that is arresting.

    Well last night, she was at her home theater in a production created for her in a role she has now done a lot. And she wasn’t fabulous or better -- just the same problems with slightly better stage abilities.
    The voice did go off pitch sagging flat on a high piano phrase in a crucial place twice. The top wasn’t blazing or lovely or soaring. It was pushed out and not easily. The voice was big but it wasn’t interesting. Despite Wadsworth’s work with her she was dull to watch and had little personal charisma. Now she is a hard-working professional and it is a big voice. It isn’t a sound that touches you and no visual magic either. So I just felt confirmed that she isn’t
    the next Nilsson or even Rita Hunter (who really got shafted for her size by Joan Ingpen and who was a better singer at an earlier and older age than Jane). I wanted to like Eaglen and I found her early stuff
    very promising and the voice impressive. Well she isn’t delivering on that promise and now I hear problems. I don’t think she will solve them. Meanwhile, she is only a favorite in Seattle and one or two other places(ENO?). Her international career is gone. I think that her career has lost momentum and most major conductors have lost interest.
    Now she is a great gal personally I am sure but I think she is an honorable failure as an artist.

    The orchestra played very well for Robert Spano. They played with great ensemble and drive. They don’t have the incredible dynamics, colors and sound picture creating ability of the Met orchestra but the tempos were faster than Levine and energy was always there.

    The final scene has real fire onstage -- they have gas jets underneath the inflammable Valkyrie rocks and it was kind of scary. They actually have inflammable trees but I thought that a few prop trees had caught on fire. You could smell the gas smoke by the end of the scene.

    Siegfried:
    I am liking this “Ring” more with each installment. The sets are similar in style and emphasis to the Met Schenk/Schneider-Siemssen “Ring” but are fresher and better blocked. Seattle Opera doesn’t have the stage elevator or turntables the Met has -- therefore
    no instantaneous onstage transformations. However, their Fafner Dragon is much better than the Mets -- it is an enormous puppet worked by four or five stagehands.

    Jane Eaglen was always weakest as the “Walkure” Brunnhilde, much better as the “Siegfried” ex-Valkyrie (especially early when she was singing Mozart and Bellini) and best in “Goetterdaemmerung”. She was
    much stronger on Wednesday night with nice pianos, more radiant tone and a decent attempt at the trills. The concluding high C was short and abrupt but she had it. What is lacking is poetry. Hildegard Behrens did an almost expressionistic dance when she greeted the
    light -- she was on her knees and her arms were upstretched above her in joy and wonder. I was a beautiful moment (later on for the final
    climactic high C she threw her arms up again and let out a pitchless shriek). Jane is prosaic with not a lot of imagination. You need a really outstanding voice and technique working at peak level to get
    away with this, and she isn’t quite at the vocal force of nature level at this point. Much better then on Monday though.

    Alan Woodrow has a dark baritonal middle and what seemed at first to be a short, unresonant and less than ringing top. He had no wobble and that was cheering and he didn’t bark all that much. By the last
    act he was capable of lyricism, he hadn’t tired and the top was brighter. He looked and sounded mature but you can’t expect Brad Pitt in a loin cloth producing Lauritz Melchior’s or Jacques Urlus’ voice. He won my total respect by the end of the evening.

    Greer Grimsley was a very dark and imposingly mysterious Wanderer -- he really has come into a whole new phase of his career with this assumption. He had dark firm resonant tone all throughout the range
    and the costume made him visually imposing. He also rode the orchestral peroration at the opening call to Erda at the beginning of Act III. Erda was Ewa Podles and her weird haunting contralto suggested someone ancient, mysterious and otherworldly. She also had
    a volume and tonal creaminess that made her equally at home in Wagner as she has previously been in Rossini and Handel. Podles is also a charismatic actress with an arresting stage presence that I hadn’t seen in her concert and recital work. Very expressive face and body
    and she moved well -- suggesting that Erda was seriously in love with Wotan and still had many tender feelings for him.

    Mime and Alberich sing a lot and having two attractive voices -- Thomas Harper and Richard Paul Fink -- spare the ears much fatigue in an opera where the sopranos don’t show up much before the end of the second act and end of the third. Both were excellent physical actors and didn’t stoop to barking or cliched whining. Wendy Hill sang clearly and brightly as the woodbird -- there was a fake bird on a tree that stood in for her onstage.

    Spano approached the score for action, drive and bounce -- no slogging like Levine. The orchestra (despite horn section mini-bloopers) did very well.

    I think Wagner saw “Siegfried” as the happy scherzo of the tetralogy -- all about youth and love and heroism with little betrayal or darkness. However his hero is less charming to his audiences than he was to the composer -- the arrogance, cruelty and insensitivity are too apparent. We spend a lot of time listening to two tenors -- who often both have ugly voices. Only Jacques Urlus and Melchior could really sing the young Siegfried really well -- the rest were managing. None were a heroic, athletically glamourous presence. So
    the opera often seems longer and heavier without a winning hero.

    Goetterdaemmerung:

    This in many ways was a coalescing of all the strengths of this production and cast. Jane Eaglen generally has gained strength with each opera as Brunnhilde and is at her best as the betrayed former
    Valkyrie in the last opera. That is because “Goetterdaemmerung” is fairly plot driven and less cerebral in many ways. Jane has basic emotions of love, anger, jealousy and revenge to play with and they carry her along. She still doesn’t have much range of facial or physical expression but she has more to do with the little she has.
    The score also hits the good parts of her voice which rings out impressively often enough. There was a real ovation after her solid Immolation Scene that had some enthusiasm behind it -- unlike the dutiful but tepid applause for her “Walkure” Valkryie. Alan Woodrow
    again showed smart acting and vocal pacing -- he nailed a high C in the third act. The voice is sturdy but ringing when he needs it to be and you always felt that the part was under vocal control. Many commented on how stupid Siegfried is (despite the fact that he is the victim of magic potions). That is the problem with these operas is that you are supposed to adore Siggy and he is a bit of a thug and a clod -- arrogant and oafish. His tragic fall only gains depth and
    grace from Wagner’s music.

    The evening began with Ewa Podles, Stephanie Blythe and Margaret Jane Wray as the Three Norns. Usually my reaction to this scene is “this too shall pass” but with these three it could have gone on another
    half hour with no complaints from me. This is one of the blessings of the Seattle “Ring” -- luxury casting in the small parts. This continued in the lush attractive voices of Marie Plette and Gordon
    Hawkins (a Rigoletto and Amonasro) as the Gibichungs. The ear constantly had some tonal balm applied during even the longest explanatory passages. Gidon Saks, brooding in black leather as Hagen, was a vocal weak link. His bass-baritone voice didn’t have enough projection or depth and became patchy and ran out of steam in places in this role that calls for a true German deep “black bass”.
    Speaight Jenkins came on to announce that Saks had developed an upper respiratory infection during the performance. I think that the part is just not for him but he was a strong stage presence and had an enthusiastic hand at the end. Richard Paul Fink again presented a powerful anti-Wotan as the spectral Alberich. The Rhinemaidens looked like agile and attractive women with rather major voices --
    Jennifer Hines and Mary Phillips stuck out on the lower end. Nancy Maultsby was Waltraute.
    She wasn’t bad but her stage presence is too approachable and mundane and her voice, though resonant and dark, was slender and monochromatic. She wasn’t arresting or gripping in her Narration.
    Also, in the end of the first act where Siegfried appearing as Gunther (thanks to the Tarnhelm) abducts Brunnhilde and the ring, Gordon Hawkins mimed and lip-synched Siegfried in disguise while Alan Woodrow sang his lines from behind the cave. Then after Brunnhilde
    had been dragged into the cave, Woodrow appeared holding the Tarnhelm. At the Met Siegfried wears the Tarnhelm which is a helmet with a chain visor that obscures his face. This is much clearer and better dramaturgy.

    Despite some bizarre touches -- Gutrune committing hara-kiri after confronting Brunnhilde over Siegfried bier -- the ending was well done but not the cinematic spectacle that the Met provides. Grane made an
    appearance being walked by a trainer behind Jane on his way to the offstage funeral pyre. (Grane, a handsome brunet steed (I always saw Grane as a white Arabian stallion…), made two appearances. His first appearance was at the end of the Prologue love duet (good final C from Jane) where he was led out of the Valkyrie cave (which must have been capacious to hold
    Jane, Alan and a horse) by Siegfried to wild applause from the audience. The second appearance was where he was led, riderless (mercifully Jane was occupied with the Immolation scene), from stage left to stage right behind Brunnhilde. In the Met staging Grane is
    mentioned and even addressed by characters but never is seen onstage. Maybe he and Brunnhilde communicate by telepathy…)

    A series of black-outs and scene changes (Seattle has no stage elevator like the Met)showed various tableaux of Valhalla with Wotan and Fricka greeting the fateful ravens and embracing for the last time as the flames
    engulf them, Hagen trying to get the Ring and the Rhinemaidens on their harnesses getting it from him with a final image of a peaceful forest. Nature wins out over god and mortal in the end and a new
    cycle of life and death begins.

    • DonCarloFanatic says:

      Thanks. Very interesting to hear how this same production was in a prior year. Many of the people I talked to there have gone to every iteration of the Ring, including more than one cycle per production.

    • derschatzgabber says:

      Hi GM,your report from the 2005 Seattle Ring matches my memories of that cycle very closely. I especially agree with your assessment of Eaglen in each opera.

  • Ilka Saro says:

    ‘ A house spokesman told me, “They’re visual leitmotifs, in case you thought the Ring didn’t have enough leitmotifs.” ‘

    It sounds like the “House Spokesman” was also a bit vexed by the additional leitmotifs. Where can I get a job like that? I’d be a happy spokesman for the Met, if I could give my own views so freely!