Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Walküre in Seattle

Even more overtly than Rheingold, the Walküre of the Seattle Ring staged by Stephen Wadsworth is all about the marriage of Wotan and Fricka, and the fierce and richly argued scene between them at the beginning of Act 2 is both the dramatic turning point of the entire cycle and the production's most probing bit of stagecraft. Everything about their relationship that was established in Rheingold — from the deep erotic undercurrent that informs their dealings to the sense of moral parity that they both depend on — pays off here in a transaction of terrific transparency. Fricka doesn't wear Wotan down with legalisms or merely badger him into submission. Rather, she reminds him — forcefully and sometimes wordlessly — that she is every bit his intellectual and moral equal, and that when she tells him Siegmund has to die he can trust that she knows what she's talking about. Wotan's final capitulation ("Nimm den Eid!") is neither grudging nor despairing; it carries a sense of relief, the knowledge that for the moment at least, his helpmeet has guided him onto the right path. Regrets and complications come later.

It helps that Stephanie Blythe has been the Fricka in every go-round of this production — her dramatic and vocal majesty growing, if anything, more assured with every revival — and that Greer Grimsley, after a shaky start in 2005, has fully grown into the demands of his role. On Monday night, both of them worked this scene with the skill of practiced masters, infusing their singing with effortless, surging vocal power that only added to the moral urgency of the interaction. It was breathtaking stuff.

And the rest of the performance was nearly as fine, beginning with an emotionally charged Act 1 built around the gifts of Stuart Skelton, Margaret Jane Wray and Andrea Silvestrelli. Wadsworth's staging in the first half of the act is taut and physically constrained, with a lot of pacing and watchfulness, so that when the Wälsungs do finally burst out of the hut into the flush of love the moment carries a kinetic charge (Peter Kaczorowski's lighting is superb here, switching from shadowy moonlight to brightness without a hint of sentimentality). The precision with which Wadsworth and his cast differentiate the Valkyries at the beginning of Act 3, and the fact that their high jinks are actually funny, continues to amaze. Another unforgettable moment is the dying fall that Silvestrelli (a huge man) takes at the end of Act 2, fearlessly toppling to the stage like a felled oak.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about Alwyn Mellor's Brünnhilde — especially with two more operas to go — but her singing on Monday was rather bland, and her characterization stood out in this context for it lack of nuance. There was plenty of kittenish bouncing around in Act 2 and a sudden flood of pathos in Act 3, none of which seemed built on a solid dramatic foundation. Mellor has the laser-like power and precision for the challenging high notes (although her singing fades a bit in the middle), and she clearly has the stamina for this assignment. So far, though, she hasn't brought much zest or electricity to the role. Nor has conductor Asher Fisch — even with splendid playing from the orchestra — given the proceedings the propulsiveness they need. Siegmund's frantic opening dash through the forest sounded more like a midnight jog; I've never missed Donald Runnicles' ferocious rhythmic leadership so acutely.


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