Siegfried in Seattle
The vocal and dramatic demands that Wagner piled onto the title role of Siegfried are, on the face of it, absurd: hours of singing at full voice above a crashing orchestra, running around like a hopped-up teenager, conveying the character's strange blend of arrogance and naïveté and heroic strength, all before settling in for a marathon love duet opposite a well-rested soprano. It's absurd, that is, until you witness someone pull it off as handsomely as Stefan Vinke did during Wednesday's Seattle Opera performance, at which point you think, "Well, maybe that wasn't so hard." But also: "Zowie."
Siegfried has been a bit of a star-crossed assignment for the Stephen Wadsworth Ring ever since it was new 12 years ago; the tenors who have come through have never been all-out failures, but they've never fully measured up either (and one of them tripped over an exercise machine right before the opera, leaving him able to sing but not to appear on stage). Vinke, a young German artist, is the strongest Siegfried this production has had yet, a fount of seemingly endless vocal power with the physical stamina and youthful persona to go with it. Act 1 was scarcely underway before he made it clear how effortlessly he was going to sail through the challenges of the role, and everything that followed made good on the promise. His "Forging Song" was lusty and rhythmically robust, the comic bits of Act 2 were lively and genuinely amusing (if perhaps a little overextended when it came to reed-cutting), and Vinke spent Act 3 pouring out waves of ardent romantic sound. There's one downside to Vinke's singing, which is that his tone isn't especially bright or colorful; it tends a bit toward the gray. But hearing the role sung and embodied with such fervor is more than adequate compensation.
Wednesday's performance brought another, equally memorable thrill, which was soprano Lori Phillips' full-throated and beautifully expressive Brünnhilde. Phillips — the cover for Alwyn Mellor, who was ailing — is a graduate of the Opera San Jose program (although I don't recall ever having encountered her there), who's gone on to sing Senta at the Met and elsewhere, and most recently, Turandot here. You don't usually want to face any last-minute substitutions in the Ring, and certainly not Brünnhilde; but Phillips gave a superb performance, marked by throaty, richly colored vocalism and a wonderfully focused theatrical demeanor. If there were any fumbles in the staging, they didn't register in the audience.
Alongside Vinke and Phillips, the evening boasted two well-established assets: the dark-hued, majestic Wanderer of Greer Grimsley and the twitchy, malevolent but radiantly sung Mime of Dennis Petersen. Their quiz-show face-off in Act 1 was as dramatically charged as I've ever seen it. Richard Paul Fink's return as Alberich carried plenty of malice alongside a certain wounded nobility that made the twinning of him and Wotan feel plausible. Only Lucille Beer's watery, out-of-tune Erda (no better here than it had been during Rheingold three nights earlier) let down the side.