Review: ‘The Ring Cycle’: ‘The Valkyrie –The Ring of the Nibelung-Part One’ at Washington National Opera

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Love in all of its many manifestations runs rampant throughout the Washington National Opera’s most recent offering in the continuing tale of The Ring Cycle—-namely, The Valkyrie –The Ring of the NibelungPart One. The incestuous and romantic love of Sieglinde (Meagan Miller) and Siegmund (Christopher Ventris) is conveyed with ravishing music and dramatic passion. The bickering, demanding connubial love of the husband, the God Wotan (Alan Held) and his wife, the Goddess of Marriage, Fricka (Eliizabeth Bishop) is displayed with all the matrimonial cunning and demanding demeanor of these characters. The love of father (Wotan) and daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde (Christine Goerke) is portrayed with an intense depth that defies any analysis. The deep fatherly love of Wotan for his daughter even when she is moved to defy his command is explored with deep complexity and acuity.

Alan Held as Wotan in 'The Valkyrie.' Photo by Scott Suchman.
Alan Held as Wotan in ‘The Valkyrie.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Oh, what glorious music! Under the sensitive and compelling conducting of Philippe Auguin, the Washington National Opera Orchestra adds continual instrumental enhancement to every moment that is conveyed on stage. The large Orchestra plays with evocative sensitivity throughout.

Aside from the stellar singing of the cast, the other principal actor of this wonderful production of The Valkyrie would have to be the ingenious and stunning Scenic Design of Set Designer Michael Yeargan. As the opera begins, the home of the husband named Hunding (Raymond Aceto) and wife Sieglinde (Meagan Miller) resembles a hunting lodge replete with Stags mounted on the wall and a large tree in the middle of the dwelling. As the scene develops, the habitat separates down the middle to give way to a glowing projection of the moon.

The wonderful bass vocals of Raymond Aceto’s characterization of Hunding are appropriately authoritative as he rails against what he perceives to be Siegmund ‘s intrusion into his home. Meagan Miller’s colorful Soprano mesmerizes as she is torn between her duty to her husband and her affection for her guest, Siegmund (Christopher Ventris).

As the scene progresses, the romantic bond between Sieglinde and Siegmund is captivatingly conveyed as these two characters eventually realize their bond and consider the consequences of their love. Some of the most ravishing music I have ever heard ensues as they sing longingly of their desire to be with one another. Mr. Ventris’ beautiful tenor voice pairs beautifully with Ms. Miller’s Soprano. Individually, Mr. Ventris was riveting in his scene confessing his love for Sieglinde —a love that was so powerful that he would even forsake Valhalla. Ms. Miller shone wondrously as she sang joyously of bearing future heroic progeny.

Mr. Yeargan continued his excellence in Scenic Design with his stunning rendering of Wotan’s celestial abode represented as a large executive conference room overlooking an aerial view of a large metropolis. Subtle gradations of whites and grays worked beautifully here.

Mezzo-Soprano Elizabeth Bishop’s precisely –etched characterization of the demanding Fricka coupled with her radiant voice made for another standout performance. Ms. Bishop’s sense of indignation at the mortals’ incestuous relationship and the abandonment of Hunding by his wife were perceptive and amusing.

As Wotan, Bass-Baritone Alan Held was beyond perfection as he sang with an utter command of every note. Mr. Held’s sense of timing when singing long operatic passages was masterful –one moment he would sing in defiance and, then, very fluidly collapse in frustration and despair at the consequences of some of his decisions. Mr. Held’s stage time was extensive in this opera and he made the most of every moment onstage.

As Brünnhilde, Christine Goerke was a sparkling delight as the favored Valkyrie of Wotan. Ms. Goerke’s Soprano was particularly expressive when interpreting her enthusiasm and concern for her Father, Wotan. Obviously, as Ms. Goerke was immersed in the consequences of her actions that have angered her Father, Goerke showed defiance, apology, and love intermingled to a persuasively powerful effect.

Mr. Yeargan’s innovative and masterly Scenic Design continued —as his stunning design of a series of supporting arched reinforcements to an elevated highway conveyed. This atmosphere was very appropriate as a tension-filled hiding place for Sieglund and Siegmund prior to the impending conflict.

Ms. Goerke’s interpretation of Brünnhilde as she entreated Siegmund to follow her to Valhalla was masterful. Goerke conveyed every nuance of expression as she sang.

The final Scenic Design was astounding as the other Valkyries flew in on parachutes (to much applause) to greet one another and report on the fallen heroes they had captured for Valhalla. What appeared to be a military fortification that was made of concrete was seen  to the back of a mound (that would soon become a sacrificial altar) alongside trellis-like elevated ladders that had jutting spaces for pictures of the fallen heroes to be placed on.

Costume Designer Catherine Zuber excelled with her sartorial splendor throughout but especially with her delightful parachuting gear for the Valkyries.

'The Ring of the Nibelung.' Photo by Cory Weaver.
‘The Ring of the Nibelung.’ Photo by Cory Weaver.

This final scene was very moving and transcendent as this epic tale unfolded in anticipation of the impending two operas.

The perceptive Directorial eye of Director Francesca Zambello continues as the virtuosity of the opera singers, the powerful dramatic interpretation, and all the sublime technical components continue to synergize into one cohesive whole for this glorious Ring Cycle.

Running Time: Almost four hours, with one 40-minute intermission, and another 35-minute intermission.

The Valkyrie-The Ring of the Nibelung-Part One was presented on Monday, May 2, 2016 at 6:00 PM at The Washington National Opera performing in The Kennedy Center Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Future performances of The Valkyrie are on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 6 PM and on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 6:00 PM. Purchase tickets online.

Future Performance of The Rhinegold are on Tuesday, May 2, 2016 at 7:30 PM, and Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 7:30 PM. Purchase tickets online.

Future Performances of Siegfried are on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 6:00 PM, Friday, May 13, 2016 at 6:00 PM, and Friday, May 20, 2016 at 6:00 PM. Purchase tickets online.

Future Performances of Twilight of the Gods is on Friday May 6, 2016 at 5:00 PM, Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 1:00 PM, and Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 1:00 PM. Purchase tickets online.

LINK:
Review: ‘The Ring Cycle’: ‘The Rhinegold at Washington National Opera by David Friscic on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.