Seattle Opera has served up a glittering “Das Rheingold” as the opening production in its four-opera “Ring,” which drew football-stadium cheers Sunday evening from an audience of Wagner devotees from all 50 states and 22 countries.
Propelled by the vivid, exciting conducting of Asher Fisch and the strongest “Ring” cast in memory, this “Rheingold” reached new heights for the so-called “Green ‘Ring,’” with Thomas Lynch’s verdant Northwest-forest sets depicting nature not yet despoiled by mankind. The few intonation missteps in the brass section paled beside the thrilling surge of the orchestra, where Fisch’s crescendos underscored the drama on the stage to telling effect. He draws a lush, radiant sound from the orchestra, but also gets the lower brass to snarl and snap.
There’s always an excited buzz in the house for the opening of a “Ring,” and this time, there’s also the awareness that 2013 may be the last go-round for this production (first unveiled in 2001, and repeated in 2005 and 2009). It’s the last Seattle Opera “Ring” for company general director Speight Jenkins, who will be succeeded by new director Aidan Lang next year, so many operagoers are conscious of the passing of an era.
If the rest of this cycle equals this “Rheingold,” it’s going to be a gilded passage indeed. From the opening scene — with the marvelously naturalistic Rhinemaidens (Jennifer Zetlan, Cecelia Hall, and Renée Tatum, all superb) swooping and swimming in midair — to the ambiguity of the triumphant but already-doomed entry of the gods into Valhalla, there’s not a weak voice anywhere in the cast. Stephen Wadsworth’s brilliantly re-imagined staging gives each character more complexity, and more clearly defined relationships with the other characters. Sometimes, in the scenes where there are eight or nine singers on the stage at once, there’s so much going on in their interactions that you’re almost certain to miss something.
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This is the one “Ring” opera particularly rife with special effects, especially disappearances (Alberich’s invisibility when donning the Tarnhelm) and appearances (Erda’s magical rise from the earth); they all came off as if charmed, enhanced by Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting.
Greer Grimsley’s pivotal Wotan is his strongest work yet in this role, right down to his despairing “Nein!” when he resists relinquishing the dangerous Ring he so covets. Stephanie Blythe’s sumptuous Fricka, passionate and mighty, awakens Wotan not with a stentorian opening statement, but with a quick, whispered injunction that’s much more realistic. Richard Paul Fink revels in the villainous role of Alberich, mighty of voice and almost over-the-top in growling menace. Some newcomers to the cast, including the powerful soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia) and tenor Mark Schowalter (Loge), made outstanding contributions, as did Lucille Beer as Erda.
Dennis Petersen was a terrific Mime; Markus Brück and Ric Furman were both excellent as Donner and Froh, and the giants — Andrea Silvestrelli and Daniel Sumegi — surpassed themselves in the emotional range of their portrayals.
The Valkyries are up next, and we get to hear the new Brünnhilde, Alwyn Mellor. Be still my Wagnerian heart.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.