I have no excuse for waiting a whole month to blog about Seattle Opera's Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. I don't delude myself that the whole interwebs pining for my excited take on things; but yapping for so long about Die Walküre and then stopping altogether strays too far into Horrendously Biased territory even for me. Believe it or not, I didn't stop caring the moment Siegmund died.
How could anybody stop caring while Wotan is around? I've already enthused pretty thoroughly about Greer Grimsley's Wotan so I'll try not to repeat myself here, but his singing as the Wanderer was as impossibly fabulous as ever – possibly more so in his scene with Siegfried – and I hung on his every word. I may have developed a Pavlovian response to Greer: he appeared and I got a lump in my throat. Then again, I think we all had that lump – and more besides – when we saw him (spoiler alert, not that it matters now) at the very end of Götterdämmerung, gathering the gods together as Loge started the fire. I was a mess that night and I was not alone: in the last moments, as the orchestra died away, it was nothing but muffled sobs.
Many of the singers we'd seen in Rheingold and/or Walküre came back in different roles in the second half. Markus Brück, a formidable Donner, returned as Gunther, and I was so pleased to hear him at greater length. I loved Daniel Sumegi (disclaimer: he's my friend) in dragon form but it was his terrifying Hagen which really blew me away; of all the things I've heard Daniel sing, it could well be the best yet. Wendy Bryn Harmer was the hardest working lady in showbusiness for most of summer, singing three roles and covering a fourth, but her gleaming soprano showed no sign of fatigue as Gutrune. All three Norns had been seen elsewhere – Luretta Bybee as Schwertleite, Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde and Stephanie Blythe as Fricka – so they were as luxurious a trio as you might imagine, and Stephanie also added a remarkable Waltraute to her horde of roles.
A couple of others reprised roles from Rheingold. The Rheinmaidens – Jennifer Zetlan (also a vivid Forest Bird), Renée Tatum and Cecelia Hall – continued to wow with their voices and their trapeze skills alike, Lucille Beer's Erda made her second ominous appearance, and Richard Paul Fink's Alberich was back for both, a little more evil every time. And then there was Dennis Petersen as Mime, high on my list of Seattle Ring Revelations. If you're thinking snarling character tenor, think again; Dennis's wily, oily Mime had us in stitches one moment and then the next wondering when we could hear this commanding voice sing Siegfried.
Not that our Siegfried was going anywhere. Stefan Vinke must be one of the most tireless singers out there. That is one hell of a sing and while I've not heard any other Siegfrieds, I can't imagine there are many who maintain such strength from start to finish; nor many who run and jump about the stage so enthusiastically. Let's face it, there aren't many Siegfrieds full stop, but Vinke is most definitely one of them and it's no surprise that his auspicious Seattle debut dominated the reviews.
Alwyn Mellor also made her Seattle debut in this Ring but sadly I didn't hear her: a throat infection forced her out of both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung in the first cycle, though she recovered in time for the other two cycles and by all reports had a great success. So did her cover, the glorious Lori Phillips, whose appearances in both operas were an object lesson in How To Go On At Short Notice And Triumph. She had of course rehearsed both roles for weeks, but she'd never sung either with orchestra. Anywhere. Ever. She'd have been forgiven for getting through it and no more, but Lori did so much more than merely survive: she owned it. Vocally it fit her like a glove, and beyond that, she lived every word of it. Her Immolation Scene was quite simply one of the most spellbinding bits of operatic acting I've ever scene.
What I said about Ascher Fisch and Stephen Wadsworth with regard to Die Walküre applies to the cycle as a whole: they've been two of the best guides I could ask for in my first ever Ring. I look forward hugely to running into Ascher elsewhere, both in and out of Wagner, and while I might not encounter Stephen's production again – or indeed anything like it – I shall always treasure the intriguing ideas, inspired details and just plain beauty of his Ring.
To all this I must add my appreciation of the legendary Speight Jenkins, who steps down as General Director next year after thirty years in the job. I don't think I've ever seen a GD so utterly dedicated to, or passionate about his job. He was at every rehearsal, often in a t-shirt which matched the opera, and not just observing but actively involved in and fostering every aspect of the show. On every performance night, he stands at the top of the grand staircase, ready to greet everyone as they arrive, and if he's not there, then they know something's amiss. That's what happened on the Siegfried night when Alwyn cancelled, and when he did appear in front of the curtain before Act III, he was greeted, not by the groans you'd expect from any other opera audience, but by wild applause and a standing ovation. The Seattle audience loves him so much that they'd forgotten that a mid-opera announcement is invariably bad news – they were just pleased to see him. If that's not proof of a job well done, I don't know what is.