A trio of great singers delivers power and passion in Wagner night at Wolf Trap Opera

Sun Jul 29, 2018 at 2:14 pm
By Seth Arenstein

Eric Owens and Christine Goerke performed excerpts from Wagner’s “Ring” cycle Saturday night at Wolf Trap Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver/ Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Considering the welcoming reception Richard Wagner’s Ring received two years ago when the Washington National Opera staged its four operas at the Kennedy Center, it was a safe bet that Wolf Trap Opera could draw an audience from the Washington area by offering popular selections from the cycle.

The bet paid off nicely Saturday night. With nearly 80 percent of the house full, an enthusiastic audience heard a rousing if sometimes unbalanced evening of Wagner staples.

Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of Houston Grand Opera, led the National Symphony Orchestra, which was on stage rather than in the orchestra pit. Even the big-voiced soloists—soprano Christine Goerke, tenor Simon O’Neill and bass-baritones Alan Held and Eric Owens—were frequently buried by the orchestra, particularly in the first half selections from Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. As a result, the singing, while highly artistic, often was a combination of strength and volume rather than subtlety or color.

With the cast of Owens, Held, O’Neill and Goerke making the event a Wolf Trap alumni night, it was fitting that the opening “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla” from Das Rheingold, featured several excellent young singers from this summer’s Wolf Trap Opera. Baritone Thomas Glass and tenor Ian Koziara gave strong performances in their brief moments as Donner, god of thunder, and Loge, the demi-god of fire, respectively. Both sang with an expansive, open sound that mixed well with the power and authority of Owens’ Wotan. Annie Rosen, Taylor Raven and Yelena Dyachek produced a warm yet strong sound as the trio of Rhinemaidens, imploring Wotan to return the eponymous gold ring to them.

The dramatic side, usually strong in Wolf Trap concert performances, proved more variable. Owens’ Wotan, though sung with authority, was acted in a stiffly regal manner. The rest of the evening’s acting more than made up for the opening’s deficit, with O’Neill’s Siegfried and Goerke’s Brünnhilde standouts in the program’s second half, along with Held. Also, after intermission, Summers drew a finer balance between the singers and orchestra in music from Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.

One of America’s preeminent dramatic sopranos, Goerke’s voice was like smooth gold during the opening bars of “Ewig war ich.” Her acting, too, was impassioned as she looked longingly at Siegfried, her savior and lover. The evening’s most dramatic acting came as the singing ended, with O’Neill paying homage to the kiss that awakens Brünnhilde.

From that moment, the evening’s artistry rose in excitement, with the concert’s best singing coming from Goerke, Held and Owens in the “Vengeance Trio “from Götterdämmerung. This led to a dream-like finale, the immolation of Brünnhilde. Summers and the orchestra did its most effective accompanying here and Goerke’s performance evoked a mix of sorrow, desire and renunciation.   

In the orchestral excerpt “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” associate principal horn Laurel Bennert Ohlson performed the atmospheric opening solo with brilliance.

Wolf Trap Opera will perform Verdi’s Rigoletto, with Grant Gershon conducting the National Symphony Orchestra, 8:15 August 3. wolftrap.org

One Response to “A trio of great singers delivers power and passion in Wagner night at Wolf Trap Opera”

  1. Posted Jul 31, 2018 at 1:09 pm by Carla Jones-Batka

    Beautifully written review! Made me wish I had been there.

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