Monday, 24 August 2009


17/8/09-22/8/09, McCaw Hall, Seattle

written by Foster


At 19.00 we were all ready for the Prelude, and the Rhine music started ever so slowly, as it should, but some of the orchestra seemed to be still thinking about the baseball results. But soon they were all awake and when we saw the Rhinemaidens swimming in the depths of the Rhine (a great feat of artistry, let alone singing) the thing was moving in the right direction. A flirty, girly lot, easily taken in by Alberich's wily and powerful singing, they soon lost the treasure and we moved to meet the sleeping Wotan and the very watchful Fricka - who stayed like this right to the close, watching over the dead Fasolt.

The next two hours saw a tree-filled forest scene with every cast member moving purposefully and singing and acting well. In Scene 3, underground, one did not get the full sense of Alberich's domination, but his disappearing act was fabulous and, as usual, Loge tricked him into becoming a frog with an easy arrogance.

The giants were big chaps with big voices who were clearly members of the Worker's Union and wanted their contract honouring - maybe that's why Fricka, a stickler for contracts, mourned for Fasolt after Fafner's over-greedy shareout of the gold goodies. And the rainbow shone as Loge uttered his grim forecast for the future as the gods took themselves above the conflict with their golden apples but without the gold, which Fafner dragged away.

Well cast: there were no weak links. Alberich cursed Wotan in a powerful scene, Fricka cosied up to Wotan and left us in no doubt who was the stronger. Wotan sang well and showed up his weaknesses of over-reliance on others to get him out of his own scrapes - an enduring theme of the Ring. Freia, Froh, Donner all sang well and did not appear to be minor castings. Loge dominated Wotan as a much more wily operator.

A great night at the opera with a deserved five-minute ovation.


You can approach it from an intellectual standpoint and get a lot that way. But if you don't or can't weep in the last act it hasn't worked at the right level. And tonight's show moved lots of us to tears as Wotan bade the long farewell to Brunnhilde. Not just because the singing was first-rate, but also because the direction and action were just right. He was broken by it and knew his end had begun, whilst she had to hope the protective fire would deter all but the most worthy - and we shall see if that works out to be the case.

Earlier there was reminsicence therapy from Siegmund and from Wotan and hallucinations from Sieglinde. Having visited a Memory Care wing in a senior living facility one could sympathise. These updating scenes can be long-winded but again the singing, acting and positioning were right. Fricka won again - or did she ? Another end of act body for her to stand over - this time the powerful Hunding who was felled by Wotan's command.

If the theme of the Ring is Love v. Power, Fricka comes out on top in the power stakes, Siegmund is overpowered by love and loses out in the power stakes and Brunnhilde gains a little lessening of Wotan's first power-mad (literally) reaction to her love-dominated attempt to save Siegmund.

This is a very good Ring, where the weaknesses have yet to be evident - and there may not be any. The Ride was portrayed with great aplomb and the eight singers moved with skill and sang with verve. Another great night at the opera in Seattle


Trying to keep up with the action is tough. Why couldn't Wagner have written a short piece of love music - hero and heroine fall into each other's arms? Instead he wrote some absolutely riveting story pieces of one-to-ones: Mime-Siegfried, Wotan-Mime(Wotan now downgraded to the Wanderer - but not musically down-graded as the melodies for him throughout this whole opera are outstanding - and the portrayal by Greer Gimsley was also of a high degree of excellence - the fulcrum of the story so far, as he is meant to be ), Siegfried-Fafner - and here was no attempt at a wimpish dragon imitation, but the real thing - a monstrous, green, slimy fear-inducing Wurm to everyone but Siegfried.

Too many highlights to describe - but it was all of the highest Wagnerian order, with the orchestra in fine growly form for two acts and then lyrical in the last as the lovers explored all reasons not to fall in love but succumbed. Erda tried to explain, but the Wanderer was reluctant to know and so, inevitably, the spear was shattered and Siegfried pressed onwards and upwards. What a great Wagner night - and none of us want das Ende.


The Ring is back with the Rhinemaidens - but who wins? Almost up to the last miniute it is Hagen who dominates in this great production of the last part of the Wagner masterpiece here in Seattle - but Brunhilde asserts herself and by sacrificing herself she ensures that the end may presage a new beginning. This production, by taking us back to the opening forest scene, pristine and new demonstrates the Schopenhaurian optimism, which Wagner bought into.

Gotterdamerung is relentlesss and drives on and on towards the conclusion the Fates(Norns) have foreacst in the prelude. Siegfried is totally out of his depth when he arrives at King Gunther's posh mansion and is putty in Hagen's hands, easily succumbing to all the Gibichung machinations and the love potion. Brunnhilde succumbs too, but is incandescent at her fate. Tension builds up over the long, long opera and is maintained right to the end. What a tour de force.

This Seattle Ring is memorable for many many reasons. The direction of the actors is brilliant and no movement is without meaning - no standing around just to sing - but drama is created by singing and moving. Congrats to Stephen Wadsworth. Thomas Lynch achieves miracles with his set designs - green or northwest, it has been labelled, but it provides great meaning throughout the whole cycle.

Robert Spano conducts the augmented Seattle Symphony Orchestra and they got better and better as the cycle went on. At the end of the day you need a good to great cast to make it work. Many of the singers were great - Greer Grimsley as Wotan/Wanderer should be invited to Europe, Stephanie Blythe sang three parts outstandingly -Fricka, a Norn, and Waltraute; Stig Anderson acted Siegfried with intelligence and sang the role well. None of the so-called minor parts were weak - a great feature of the Speight Jenkins meticulous choice of singers.

For this reviewer, however, the disappointment was the Brunnhilde, Janice Baird - she had the power for the role, but struggled to bring beauty and colour to her voice when it was needed, being somewhat monochrome. To get everything right in the Ring may be impossible - but the Seattle team got close to that. We leave confirmed in the greatness of Wagner, with unforgettable pictures for any sleepless nights away from Seattle, and with the Ring enigma intact till next time we see it.

No comments:

Post a Comment