Sunday, November 15, 2009


It's the fourth and final opera in Wagner's Ring and it was performed in concert version today, this afternoon, by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. I almost forgot to say that it was absolutely superb. I had not realized before how amenable to a concert production this opera is. We always kid about Wagner's stage directions--at the finale, he calls for the Rhine to overflow its banks as Valhalla and other buildings topple.

The singers were fine--Irene Theorin got huzzahs as Brunnhilde, but Gidon Saks as Hagen and Alan Held as Gunther were two old pros at their best. Jon Fredric West played the hero of all heroes, Siegfried, and his voice was good; he's a bit difficult to envisage in the role because he's short and stout--yet another good reason for the concert performance. Bernadette Flaitz got raves from the Washington Post reviewer as Gutrune and I agree she was good but the part is a small one.

Philippe Auguin, the conductor was fantastic. The music of course is the overwhelming part of the opera and he brought the orchestra to a marvelous height. What's wonderful about Goetterdaemerung is how Wagner does bring everything together--especially all the themes, (known as leitmotifs by the connoisseurs) for the Valkyrie Brunnhilde, for the Rhinemaidens and the Rhine, for Siegfried the conquering hero, for the fire and Loge the fire god, the dark chords for the villains, and the warm, reconciling wonderful themes as the opera closes.

The concert version makes some of the improbabilities of a story featuring gods, dwarfs, giants, and dragons a bit easier to deal with. No one has to worry if the stage dragon is realistic in Siegfried, the preceding opera, for example. So I for one was delighted that Maestro Domingo decided to take advantage of having a production ready to go save for the funding that the downturn eliminated.

I'm not exactly a Washington party circuit-rider but it was also nice to run into more than a half dozen folks whom I know well at the opera today. One old friend came in from New York to attend. I ran into three senior judges I know--I think all that says is that I know a lot of judges.

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