Friday, August 21, 2009

Ringblogging IV (belated): Götterdämmerung in Seattle

OK, Friday's Götterdämmerung made it official — I'm in the Janice Baird camp now. Whatever was going on during her unimpressive Walküre Brünnhilde (nerves, adjustment, an off night) faded away during Siegfried and was fully gone by the last opening night of this first cycle. Instead, we got a full-blown, vibrantly heroic rendition that was every bit as impressive vocally as it was theatrically. She's the real deal.

My Ring date (Mom) didn't care for something about Baird's tone, and I understood her objection without sharing it — there's a dark and slightly acidic quality that could hit you in the wrong place if you're in the mood for something laser-like and clean. And there's no denying that her power is iffy in the lower register. But her voice gets bigger and bolder as it goes higher, and she had no problem at all being heard over the orchestra in the more athletic passages of the role.

Nor was it all stratospheric exertions — Baird's more intimate singing in the emotionally charged second act was shapely and specific, informed throughout by a very detailed take on Brünnhilde's travails. I'd also add that she's just about the best-looking Brünnhilde I've ever seen, which is not dispositive, but it's not, y'know, nothing either. This is theater, after all, and when Siegfried starts hollering about a beautiful warrior maiden, it's kind of exciting for once not to have to suspend your disbelief for a second.

Aside from Baird's contributions, Götterdämmerung was somewhat hit-or-miss. Stig Andersen was either recovered from his ailment or not, who can say; there was no announcement, but there was still something a bit hesitant and underwhelming about his Siegfried. Maybe that's all he's got.

The whole Gibichung plotline, as is so often the case (at least for me) didn't amount to much. There are few things that make me more impatient than people who complain, in connection with some work of fiction or theater or cinema, that there aren't any characters they "like" or "care about" or "can identify with"; but it's a sin that I myself am guilty of when it comes to this aspect of Götterdämmerung. The various Nibelungen live the fullness of their villainy, Hagen no less than his father and uncle, and Siegfried, for all his obvious character flaws, really is a Held. But Gunther, and to a lesser extent Gutrune, are merely contemptible and tedious; it's a rare performance in which I don't feel they're wasting my time with their whining and sniveling. This wasn't one. Gordon Hawkins, a middling Donner in Rheingold, thundered unconvincingly as Gunther, and Marie Plette, who had brought such fresh ardor to Freia, sounded acerbic as Gutrune. Daniel Sumegi's Hagen came to life most fully in the Act 2 scene with Alberich, perhaps prompted by Richard Paul Fink's insinuating ferocity.

Stephanie Blythe, God love her, returned as both the Second Norn and Waltraute. I had slightly conflicted feelings about the former assignment — her singing was so extraordinary, so potent and full of dark, rich colors, that she put her colleagues into the shade, which in turn upset the balance of the first scene. I'm not sure what a performer is supposed to do in that situation — tone it down to the level of her lesser collaborators? Maybe so, but on the other hand I wouldn't have wanted to miss the opportunity of hearing her sing at full strength. Waltraute's scene, in which Baird held her own, was unalloyed delight.

Whatever intermittent misgivings there might have been about individual performances, there were none about Stephen Wadsworth's staging. The big crowd scenes of Act 2 were impeccably choreographed, as was the more intimate scene of the Norns; the frolicking of the Rhinemaidens in Act 3 was the funniest I've ever seen. And although the ecological theme runs very lightly through this production, the final, post-cataclysmic stage image — the very pine forest we saw in Das Rheingold, now charred almost beyond recognition but still clearly poised for eventual regeneration — felt deeply, movingly apt. Only four more years until the next go-round.


At 8/22/2009 8:35 AM, Blogger Lew said...

1. Regarding Janice, she was excellent from her first note in Die Walküre (I went to the second cycle), and like what you have experienced, she transformed further in Siegfried. She was simply stunning.

2. Regarding Stig... When Siegfried appeared onto the stage with the bear, I was shocked. My first impression was “Siegfried is fat and old, and has beard!” What a bad choice in makeup. I was thinking that he might be still recovering from the viral infection. But then, things started to change. He is the most lyrical, most poetic Siegfried I’ve seen. And his acting is superb that I truly could understand this character. In other versions, we get a sense that Siegfried is a major idiot and a big bully. Not here. He is just so innocent and boyish, knows nothing about fear and is sincerely curious about many things in life that he doesn’t understand yet. And then, when he cuts open Brunnhilde’s breastplace and realizes she’s not a man, his shock and confusion and fear are so well acted out that, surprisingly, tears came down my cheek. I mean, who cried at that moment?

So you can see how excited I am about tonight's Götterdämmerung.


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