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A thrilling return

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
01/31/2015 -  & February 4, 7, 10, 13, 19, 22, 2015
Richard Wagner: Die Walküre
Christine Goerke (Brünnhilde), Heidi Melton (Sieglinde), Johan Reuter (Wotan), Clifton Forbis (Siegmund), Dimitry Ivashchenko (Hunding), Janina Baechle (Fricka), Elaine McKrill (Gerhilde), Aviva Fortunata (Helmwige), Rihab Chaieb (Waltraute), Lindsay Ammann (Schwertleite), Mona Somm (Ortlinde), Laura Tucker (Siegrune), Megan Latham (Rossweisse), Charlotte Burrage (Grimgerde)
The Canadian Opera Company orchestra, Johannes Dubus (conductor)
Atom Egoyan (director), Michael Levine (set and costume designer), David Finn (lighting designer)

J. Reuter & C. Goerke (© Michael Cooper)

This production was first staged in 2004 as the COC assembled its Ring cycle, and was reviewed here in 2006 when the cycle was performed as an entity. (Little known fact: only two opera houses opened with the Ring: Wagner’s own Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, and Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre.)

Director Atom Egoyan and his associate, Marilyn Gronsdal, have made a few changes, all of them to the good. The geography of the stage with its rugged pit, hills and dales proved a hazard for singers’ energetic movement; as a result much stage action has been simplified. An even better improvement lies in the lessening of the bright lights shining out into the audience in Act III, an annoyance that gained energetic booing in 2006. The directing duo received only applause this time around (although less applause than the perfomers received).

The basic look of the set dominated by a partially collapsed industrial structure is as confounding as ever. Obviously some sort of catastrophe has occurred in the 20 or so years since the action portrayed inDas Rheingold (isn’t this supposed to happen at the end of Götterdämmerung?) Anyway, the set gives a spiky energy to the rather lengthy proceedings. The black Victorian gowns for the women (except Sieglinde, who wears a grubby coat) are also a bit of a puzzlement, although I must admit they look wonderful when they solemnly place burning torches around the sleeping Brünnhilde at the end. Throughout, David Finn’s subtle lighting provides apt support for mood and action.

The production has received a lot of pre-publicity due to the fact that it marks Christine Goerke’s debut as Brünnhilde in a fully-staged production. If she keeps performing as she does here this surely heralds the start of a triumphal progress for her. The voice has seemingly effortless power, expressiveness and beauty of tone - plus she has stage smarts as well.

The other auspicious debut is that of conductor Johannes Debus leading his first Ring opera. “Muscular sensitivity” is the best description, with impressive sonics that never overwhelm the singers. It is wonderful to see and hear the pit truly full with more than 100 players.

A real discovery is the “other” soprano, Sieglinde, performed by Heidi Melton who manages to match memories of Adrienne Pieczonka’s glowing performance seven years ago. Clifton Forbis was the Siegmund then and his voice now, with its clarion high notes, is remarkably similar to what it was then. (On March 7 his understudy, Issachah Savage, sang the role - reportedly to fine effect.) As Hunding Dimitry Ivashchenko displays a dark, baleful voice that sends the appropriate chill.

Johann Reuter has a very attractive voice but one wishes he gave more variety of expression in Wotan’s many lengthy narrations. The fact that he is a baritone and not a bass-baritone might have something to do with this, although he seems to have no difficulties with the lower notes.

Janina Baechle is an in-demand Fricka and it is obvious why as she forcefully expresses the character’s implacable position, although the voice isn’t ideally uniform in tone.

It’s hard to sort out individuals amongst Brünnhilde’s eight sister valkyries, but the brief solo lines all come across well and as a group they give the unique thrill Wagner intended.

All in all, it adds up to a very satisfying experience that dyed-in-the-wool Wagnerites will want to see more than once.

Michael Johnson



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