When Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins stepped on to the stage just before the last act of “Siegfried,” the grateful audience erupted in applause. How nice! He came out for a curtain call! In their enthusiasm the listeners had forgotten that almost the only reason a general director takes the stage is to deliver bad news: In this case, the cancellation of Alwyn Mellor (as Brünnhilde), who had awakened with an allergy attack that morning and could not sing. (Jenkins later said he had waited until the last act of “Siegfried,” the only act in which Brünnhilde sings, for the announcement so that the audience wouldn’t be thinking about the cast change during the two preceding acts.)
As it happened, the replacement singer was Lori Phillips, a company regular who opened last season in the title role of “Turandot,” and allowing for a few minor timing uncertainties, she did an excellent job of both singing and acting on Wednesday evening. Her voice is powerful and resonant, her stage presence unaffected and convincing.
The big news of the evening, however, was the Seattle debut of German tenor Stefan Vinke in the title role. Huge of voice, unflagging of stamina, imaginative and energetic on the stage: this was the finest Siegfried Seattle has ever presented, in a company that has included such greats as Herbert Becker and Alberto Remedios. The tireless Vinke bounded around the stage, leaping off rocks and dashing hither and thither, just like the feisty adolescent Siegfried is supposed to be.
From the Forging Scene to the final passionate duet with Brünnhilde, Vinke poured out huge volumes of heldentenor sound capped by a mighty high C. Surely, we all thought, by Act III he’d have to be carried out on a stretcher — but no, Vinke was as resonant and active as ever.
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Stephen Wadsworth’s staging continues to add refinements and complexities to the production. We see Siegfried’s ambivalence about his distasteful surrogate “father,” Mime (the excellent Dennis Petersen), cradling Mime in his arms even after he has killed him. We observe characters reacting to the music in the orchestra — turning around suddenly at a declamatory chord, responding to a change in the mood of the music, alert to a theme or motif in the score. Villains and heroes alike display more humanity: no one is all good or completely evil.
For all its seriousness, this “Siegfried” was often hilariously funny — never more so than in the scene in which greedy Mime and Alberich (Richard Paul Fink), gibbering with rage, hop up and down while throwing rocks at each other.
Greer Grimsley added more refinements to his portrayal of Wotan (in this opera he is called the Wanderer), completing a three-opera character arc that took him from an impetuous prime to a resolute old age. Lucille Beer was a good Erda, though she did not eclipse memories of other great Erdas past. Jennifer Zetlan was an excellent Forest Bird; Daniel Sumegi a sonorous Fafner.
The orchestra again responded with unusual dramatic brilliance to Asher Fisch’s conducting of the score many believe is the most beautiful of all four “Ring” operas. Unlike all the cast members, the orchestra plays every minute of every opera and all three cycles. Now that’s stamina at a positively Wagnerian level.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.