Houston Grand Opera presented “Götterdämmerung” with an illustrious cast, led by Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde and Simon O’Neill’s Siegmund, magnificently conducted by Houston Grand Opera’s artistic director, Maestro Patrick Summers. It completed Houston Grand Opera [HGO]’s four-season presentation of the Fura dels Baus production of the “Ring of the Nibelungs”.
Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde
New York dramatic soprano Christine Goerke has achieved international superstar status for her success in performing all three Brünnhilde roles that constitute Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs”.
Her “Götterdämmerung” Brünnhilde (the longest of “The Ring’s” three Brünnhilde roles) should be a lifetime memory for those who were in attendance at Saturday night’s performance.
[Below: Brünnhilde (Christine Goerke) admires the Nibelung ring; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Goerke sustained vocal power and luxurious sound throughout the five and a half hour opera. She evoked compassion and romantic love in her first scene with Simon O’Neill’s Siegfried, bewilderment in her interaction with Jamie Barton’s Waltraute, confusion, then fury, at Siegfried’s inexplicable actions in the second act, and finally, understanding and resolve in her determination to sacrifice her own life to break the curse of the Ring.
[Below: Brünnhilde (Christine Goerke) rides her mechanical horse, Grane, into the funeral pyre; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Houston Grand Opera has been one of two companies (the other, the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto) that have mounted productions of the “Ring” in which Goerke’s Brünnhilde was the centerpiece [see Review: Houston “Walküre” Showcases Christine Goerke’s Astonishing Brünnhilde, Karita Mattila’s Stunning Sieglinde – Houston Grand Opera, April 25, 2015 and Review: Jay Hunter Morris, Christine Goerke Lead a Vocally Strong “Siegfried” Cast – Houston Grand Opera, April 20, 2016.]
In my review of the 2015 HGO “Walküre”, I wrote how fortunate I was to have seen the great Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, the greatest Wagnerian soprano “of her time” perform with the San Francisco Opera in the role of Brünnhilde at various times in her career. I believe that Goerke has emerged as the early 21st century’s greatest Wagnerian soprano.
The Houston “Ring” has provided Goerke with the opportunity to realize fully this most challenging of assignments in the operatic repertory.
Simon O’Neill’s Siegfried
The Siegfried was New Zealand heldentenor Simon O’Neill, an HGO favorite whose Wagnerian assignments with Goerke have included the 2015 “Die Walküre” and “Lohengrin” [Summers Leads Sumptiously Sung “Lohengrin”: Houston Grand Opera, November 13, 2009.] He proved to have the power and endurance necessary to successfully perform this role.
[Below Siegfried (Simon O’Neill, right), his memory restored, shocks Gunther (Ryan McKinny, standing, left) and his men, with an account of his previous sexual relations with Gunther’s bride; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
O’Neill’s robust tenor voice has been enlisted by HGO for Verdi’s Otello as well [see Review: O’Neill, Pérez and Vratogna Impressive in Houston Grand Opera’s “Otello” – November 1, 2014]
Andrea Silvestrelli’s Hagen, Ryan McKinny’s Gunther and Heidi Melton’s Gutrune
Italian-born American bass Andrea Silvestrelli’s deep, resonant voice and imposing stage presence, has made him invaluable for the great bass roles of composers Wagner and Verdi [see Review: A Legendary Performance of “Don Carlo” at the San Francisco Opera, June 12, 2016.]
His brooding, villainous Hagen, although appropriately the personification of evil, was beautifully sung. High points in his performance included his summons to the Gibichung vassals, his groggy dream conversation with his father Alberich (British baritone Christopher Purves), and the menacing trio with Brünnhilde and Gunther that ends the second act.
[Below: Hagen (Andrea Silvestrelli, center, holding spear) has called upon the Gibichung vassals (Houston Grand Opera Chorus) to join in unexpected marriage festivities; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Baritone Ryan McKinny, who is one of the alumni of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, the company’s young artists’ program, has achieved international status as Wagnerian baritone, including performing Amfortas in Wagner’s “Parsifal” (at the 2016 Bayreuth Festival) and the title role in “The Flying Dutchman”.
McKinny’s baritone, which has both lyrical and dramatic qualities, contributed to his strong, psychologically-driven performance in the role of Gunther.
[Below: Gutrune (Heidi Melton, in globe, upper left) is in the company of her brother, Gunther (Ryan McKinny, below, front); edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Heidi Melton, who possesses a Brünnhilde-sized Wagnerian soprano voice, brought vocal weight and insouciant acting to the role of Gunther’s sister, the Gibichung Gutrune.
Jamie Barton’s Waltraute
In one of the many examples of luxury casting that HGO has bestowed on its “Ring”, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was assigned the relatively brief role of Brünnhilde’s valkyrie sister Waltraute. Barton’s Waltraute was yet another memorable performance.
[Below: Waltraute (Jamie Barton, right) unsuccessfully tries to overpower he sister Brünnhilde (Christine Goerke, left) in order to take control of the Nibelung Ring; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Barton, who was the 2013 winner of the Cardiff world competition and the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Richard Tucker Award, is still in the early stages of an illustrious career.
Meredith Arwady, Jamie Barton and Heidi Melton as the Three Norns
The opening scene of “Götterdämmerung” introduces the Three Norns who throughout eternity have been weaving the rope of fate, and who explain events of the past, present and future.
[Below: weaving the rope of fate are the First Norn (Meredith Arwady, left), the Second Norn (Jamie Barton, center) and the Third Norn (Heidi Melton, right); edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
The First Norn was ably sung by American contralto Meredith Arwady. Jamie Barton and Heidi Melton superbly realized the roles of the Second and Third Norns.
Andrea Carroll’s Woglinde, Catherine Martin’s Wellgunde and Renee Tatum’s Flosshilde
The three Rhine Maidens in this production not only sing but swim underwater (each in her own tank). These bravura assignments were nicely achieved by American sopranos Andrea Carroll and Catherine Martin and by American mezzo-soprano Renee Tatum.
[Below: Siegfried (Simon O’Neill , left) taunts the Rhine Maidens, Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde (Andrea Carroll, Catherine Martin and Renee Tatum, here, each swimming in her individual tank); edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
The Fura dels Baus Production
The “Ring of the Nibelungs” production seen in Houston was created by Barcelona-based Fura dels Baus company for the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, Spain.
The production abounds in eye-catching images, including the use of mechanical devices hoisting principal singers, teams of acrobats, and engaging visual projections.
[Below: Froh’s rainbow bridge to Valhalla, seen previously in the 2014 Houston Grand Opera Fura dels Baus production of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold”, surrounded by flames, soars above the Rhine Maidens after the ring has been thrown into the River Rhine; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Although some “Rings” are designed to impart “messages” about the deeper meanings of “The Ring of the Nibelungs”, for me the message is that razzle-dazzle accompanying glorious singing and the sweep of Wagner’s orchestration, enhances the experience of the live performance.
[Below: the Rhine Maidens (Andrea Carroll, Catherine Martin and Renee Tatum, center, below) recover the Nibelung Ring amidst the destruction of Valhalla, its soldiers and the gods; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
I enthusiastically recommend the “Götterdämmerung” production seen in Houston to all opera-goers that enjoy Wagnerian opera that is beautifully sung and performed, and to those who might be curious to experience one of the greatest works of art.