Archive for November, 2017

PostHeaderIcon Falling Under Wagner’s Spell

Three score and ten years. It’s taken that long for me to have seen two segments of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.  I resisted for so long yet fell completely under the composer’s spell this week! I did see a PBS broadcast over 15 years ago from the Met in New York, under James Levine’s baton, which I saw that on a 13″ Sony, but doesn’t count.

I can now better appreciate the cult that surrounds Wagner and his messy tale of imperfect gods and the quest to recover a magical ring. Devoted fans are known to spend thousands of dollars traveling to whatever city is mounting this high point of the operatic form. Lyric Opera in Chicago is the “Ring Nuts” latest destination. Lyric is mounting one opera of the tetralogy each year through 2019 and  staging the complete cycle in the 2020-21 season. You can be sure Lyric is already processing ticket requests.

In the world of opera, Wagner exists on a different, more mythic, plane from such composer superstars as Verdi and Puccini. Wagner can also be said to be the granddaddy of the multi-part serial. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and no less a figure than  J.K. Rowing, took a page from Wagner’s playbook in crafting their cinematic and literary blockbusters.

Eric Owns & Christine Goerke

Eric Owns & Christine Goerke

But to the opera on stage,  “Die Walkure”. In brief, Lyric has pulled out all the stops. I can’t imagine a better, more perfectly blended cast of internationally-celebrated singers for the four major roles: Eric Owens as the chief god, Wotan, Brandon Jovanovich as Siegmund, Wotan’s mortal son, Elisabet Strid as Sieglinde, Wotan’s daughter and Siegmund’s twin and Christine Goerke as Brunnhilde,  Wotan’s favorite Valkyrie daughter. They were assisted very capably by the singers playing Fricka, Wotan’s wife and also the goddess of marriage (who doesn’t approve of Siegmund and Sieglinde’s incestuous affair) and and Hunding, Sieglinde’s cuckhold. Not in the rear by any means were the fine direction by David Pountey and the masterful baton of music director, Sir Andrew Davis, marking his 30th year with the company.

Christine Goerke as Brunnhilde

Christine Goerke as Brunnhilde

It’s challenging keeping the names and the story straight. As “Walkure” begins, Wotan is plotting to recover the gold ring that he had to give to the giants as payment for building Valhalla, his fortress home. Wotan knows that, without the ring, his power is ephemeral. So, he sires two mortal children with earth mothers, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who are separated. When they discover they are brother and sister, they become lovers but this upsets Wotan’s plan and he is forced to agree to Siegmund’s assassination. He dispatches his daughter, Brunnhilde to do the job but she relents to Sieglinde’s pleas for mercy and is banished from Valhalla and reduced to being a mortal.

From Act I’s downbeat to the end of the score, nearly five hours later, I was enthralled by the singing. Two supreme moments that stick in my memory were the impassioned love duet between Siegmund and Sieglinde in Act I and the fierce exchange between Sieglinde and Brunnhilde as the former pleads the latter to spare Siegmund’s life.

 Brandon Jovanovich & Elisabet Strid.


Brandon Jovanovich & Elisabet Strid.

Sieglinde appeared in both and Elisabeth Strid, making her Lyric debut, gave a totally convincing portrayal. I hope we see more of Ms. Strid in future productions. Goerke gave one of the greatest Lyric performances I ever witnessed in the 2012-13 presentation of Strauss’ “Elektra”. She was equally compelling, both vocally and dramatically, as Brunnhilde.

Besides the vocal fireworks to delight the ear, Lyric has provided treats for the eye as well. There are flying horses, a wall-like net sporting a dozen hanging Valkyries and a stunning “Valhalla Hall” that descends from above, bisecting the stage into heaven and earthly kingdoms.

The opera’s 5-hour length scares most people away. Don’t let it or you will miss a spectacle full of emotion that aims straight for the heart. I can’t explain Wagner’s musical mastery but it seems to me he knows how to slow time down.  For example, Siegmund and Sieglinde’s love duet goes on for a full half hour yet I was so engrossed that it seemed much less. You are caught up, as in a spell, either listening to the lover’s enchantment or with Brunnhilde as she pleads with Wotan to not banish her. During those moments, time melted. By the end, I knew I had lived through a peak artistic journey. My only regret is that I must wait a whole year to learn what happens next.

Die Walkure” is running through November 30. Only five more performances remain. Don’t miss it! For tickets, go to www.lyricopera.org.

PostHeaderIcon A Diva’s Newest Challenge

Patricia Racette is an internationally-renowned opera singer who has performed at Patricia Racettemajor houses around the world: The Met in New York, Chicago’s Lyric Opera, Teatro Real in Madrid and La Scala in Milan. She made her debut in 1989 singing in Aida in San Francisco and, a short six years later, debuted at The Met where she has appeared in 172 performances. She will make her second appearance at Chicago Opera Theater as Magda Sorel in Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”, this coming Friday and Sunday.

“The Consul” speaks to the universal experience of immigration. Sorel and her family are on the run when they arrive at the consulate seeking a means of escape. Magda pleads for an audience with the consul before it’s too late to save her sick child. Here is an edited version of a conversation with Ms. Racette last week after a rehearsal.

TM: You didn’t start out to be an opera singer. You went to North Texas State to be a jazz singer.

Racette: I know. I fell into opera. I wasn’t familiar with it, I wasn’t exposed to it. And once I was and once my natural abilities for that kind of singing and vocalism was made known to me by my teacher, it apparently was just a natural path. It was just a fast and furious ascent or descent, we don’t know yet. (laughs)

TM: Was it that you loved the acting part as much as the singing part? You seem like a natural actress.

PR: Well, thank you for saying so. You don’t want to say it’s more important but it is of the utmost importance to me. To me, opera is a theatrical art form. Those two elements should be at the highest level and never separated.

TM: In thinking about your career, what do you feel was a key moment in your early days?

PR: Singing Emmeline at Santa Fe Opera in 1996. There was a lot of discovery in the process of creating that character. It was a piece that spoke to me on many levels. It takes place in New England (Racette was born in New Hampshire) and all the places it was talking about, I so viscerally understood. And that was very instructive as a performer, as a budding actress and a role to use my voice to paint its rich colors.

TM: As an opera singer, you spent the early part of your career doing the major roles at the major houses. You have referenced that now, both your body and voice are changing. So, are you now going for challenge?

PR: Without question. What I’m interested in now, and this part of Menotti’s has been on my wish list my entire career, is not broadening my repertoire as much as shaving off some of the stuff I’ve done. The list of roles I want to do now is so much shorter. It suits my temperament and my personality.

TM: What is the emotional arc that you travel from Act I to Act III?

PR: What’s interesting is that the arc of the story isn’t so much driven by the characters. When I say bureaucracy, that sort of encapsulates all the injustice. Everyone is in distress. My character, Magda Sorel, is reactive to the situation around her. In her big scene and her major aria at the end of Act II, some of the things she says for the very first time. It’s where she hits her boiling point and her breaking point. It’s something that’s unbelievably relevant for our time.

TM: What is it about having performed “The Consul” in Long Beach  that has been satisfying? Was it the tale or Menotti’s music?

PR: It’s all of it. The vocalism of it, for me, is a wonderful fit. I love the score. I love the text, phrases like “the color of eyes, the color of tears”. It’s these very true, very real human phrases.

TM: Besides the challenging roles you want to take on, are there people in the opera world who you really enjoy working with?

PR: Yeah, Andreas. Andreas is such an enormous talent. I haven’t had the pleasure of working with him when he’s conducting but I hear it’s amazing. This is my second collaboration with him and I so love his aesthetic and so believe in it and trust it. And that is not a frequent experience.

TM: I always choose to see either new productions in opera or directors who come from theater that put a different stamp on a production.

PR: This opera has very much a different stamp. The story is told authentically and truly. It’s not distorted but the emotional journey and visual aesthetic is definitely, at moments, surreal, which I love.

TM: Any last words about “The Consul”?

PR: While the truth of the story does have resonance today and while it has a certain level where it’s disturbing, it ultimately is a cathartic experience, a story worth telling and one that is certainly worth the price of the ticket.

The Consul” is the opening production of Chicago Opera Theater’s 2017-18 season. It will be performed at the Studebaker Theatre in the Fine Art Building, 410 S. Michigan Avenue. For tickets, call COT at 312/704-8414 or visit chicagooperatheater.org

 

 

 

 

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