Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What’s on the Program:

UPDATE: This blog post has been edited to include audio selections from the Competition.

Seattle Opera’s International Wagner Competition on Thursday, aka “Wagner Idol,” pits eight up-and-coming Wagner singers against each other for significant prizes. This year, in addition to the prizes awarded by our five expert judges, we’ll be giving cash prizes to the orchestra‘s and the audience’s favorites, too. We hope to see you there! If past International Wagner Competitions are anything to go by, it’s going to be an amazing evening. For those who can’t attend, there will be a broadcast of the competition on Classic KING FM 98.1 (and www.king.org) on Saturday, August 16 at 8 pm.

To be eligible for the competition, singers must not yet be 40—and they can’t yet have sung major Wagner roles. (Several of this year’s contestants have sung small parts in Wagner operas.) Because the contestants will be in evening dress, singing on our beautiful Ariadne auf Naxos set designed by Robert Dahlstrom, you’ll have to use your imagination a bit to complete the illusion of character and location for each great moment from a Wagner opera. (We will project supertitles, so you’ll understand every word they sing—so crucial when you’re listening to Wagner.) Here, to stoke the fire of your imagination, are photos from historical Seattle Opera productions, with descriptions of the pieces you’ll hear on August 7.


“Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser (Marcy Stonikas)
Marcy Stonikas, whose Magda Sorel brought down the house in our recent production of The Consul, will open the evening with the beautiful greeting to the hall of song from Wagner’s second opera—full name, Tannhäuser or the Battle of the Singers at Wartburg Castle. It’s the perfect way to open our International Wagner Competition, since this aria sets up the Battle of the Singers from Act Two of Wagner’s great opera.

When Seattle Opera presented Tannhäuser in 1985, Karen Bureau as Elisabeth greeted the old Seattle Opera House with this music.
Chris Bennion, photo

“Winterstürme wichen den Wonnemond” from Die Walküre (Kevin Ray)
Newcomer Kevin Ray then sings Siegmund’s “Spring Song” from the first act of Die Walküre, one of the loveliest passages in Wagner’s Ring. Siegmund gently woos the beautiful Sieglinde, trapped in a loveless marriage, as he sings about Brother Spring rescuing Sister Love from the icy grip of cruel Winter.

In 1987, Barry Busse sang this music to one of Seattle Opera’s greatest Sieglindes, the one and only Leonie Rysanek.
Ron Scherl, photo

Isolde’s Narrative and Curse from Tristan und Isolde (Tamara Mancini)
Next up is Tamara Mancini, who made her Seattle Opera debut in last summer’s Ring as Ortlinde, one of Brünnhilde’s noisy sister Valkyries. She’ll sing the mighty narrative and curse from Act One of Tristan und Isolde—the scene in which Isolde fills her servant Brangäne in on what has gone before: how Tristan killed her fiancé, tricked her into healing his wound, fell in love with her, and despite himself is now handing her over in marriage to his old uncle. Consumed with passion for Tristan and furious that he isn’t marrying her himself, Isolde concludes with a chilling curse dooming both her and her beloved Tristan to death.

When Seattle Opera last presented this amazing masterpiece, Annalena Persson as Isolde raged in a vivid red dress.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater” from Die Walküre (Ric Furman)
Ric Furman first appeared on the Seattle Opera mainstage in 2012, singing the Sunday matinee performance of Fidelio. His great success in that difficult role earned him an appearance last summer as Froh in the Ring. The American tenor competes this summer first with Siegmund’s heroic aria of frustration and passion, in which the doomed wanderer remembers how his father promised him a sword in his moment of dire need. That moment now has come—and where is Wälse’s sword? Listen in this aria for the famous ‘wolf howl,’ when Siegmund twice calls the name, “Wälse,” and Wagner’s score encourages the tenor to hold the note as long as he can.

Seattle Opera’s first Siegmund, back in 1973, was the great Jess Thomas.
Des Gates, photo

“Der Männer Sippe” from Die Walküre (Helena Dix)
Next, we welcome Australian soprano Helena Dix to Seattle. Best-known for her recent Wexford Festival triumph in the rediscovery of Cristina, Queen of Sweden by Foroni, Helena will sing Sieglinde’s “Der Männer Sippe,” also from Act One of Die Walküre. (Lots of great arias in that act!) In this piece the miserable Sieglinde, forced into marriage against her will, tells the story of how a one-eyed stranger interrupted her wedding—only to thrust a sword into a tree and leave it there. The strongest of men have tugged at the hilt, but no one has been able to move the sword. Sieglinde hopes that the wounded, weaponless, handsome stranger who has sought rest and comfort at her hearth may be the one to free the sword—and will free her along with it.

In 1991, Ellen Shade sang Sieglinde’s aria to the Siegmund of Warren Ellsworth.
Gary Smith, photo

“Nur eine Waffe taugt” from Parsifal (David Danholt)
Up-and-coming Danish tenor David Danholt joins us next for the conclusion of Wagner’s final opera, Parsifal, an enigmatic quest for transcendence through art, sex, and religion. The Holy Grail—which in Wagner’s version of the story is both the spear that pierced Jesus’ side while he was on the cross, and also the cup which caught his blood—has been split apart; the powers of darkness have seized control of the spear, and used it to wound the king, who can no longer endure the agony of presiding over the ritual of the cup, which gives life to the world. In these final moments of the opera, Parsifal, an innocent fool made wise by compassion, reunites the spear with the cup and a miracle ensues: the spear itself starts to bleed with the life-giving force of the grail. Using the spear, he heals the wound that torments the stricken Grail king, Amfortas, relieves him of his duties, and takes over the kingdom.

At the 2003 opening of McCaw Hall, Chris Ventris sang Parsifal; together he and Kundry (Linda Watson) reunited cup and spear, to the delight of Gurnemanz (Stephen Milling).
Chris Bennion, photo

“Geliebeter, komm” from Tannhäuser (Suzanne Hendrix)
Next, Suzanne Hendrix, who made her Seattle Opera debut as Waltraute in last summer’s Die Walküre, will sing one of Wagner’s most sultry sirens—Venus, the goddess of love, from Tannhäuser. (If you know the famous Bugs & Elmer cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc,” you’ll recognize Venus’s seductive music, which you also hear in the glorious overture to Tannhäuser.) As the opera begins, the human minstrel Tannhäuser is getting sick of living just for sensual pleasure in the underground grottoes of the Venusberg, populated by an orgiastic ballet full of fauns and nymphs and other cavorting deities. He wants to leave gracefully—but Venus doesn’t make it easy for him.

The great Marvellee Cariaga sang Venus, to Edward Sooter’s Tannhäuser, when Seattle Opera presented this opera in 1985.
Chris Bennion, photo

“Amfortas! Die Wunde” from Parsifal (Issachah Savage)
American tenor Issachah Savage, who will be at the Met next season, comes next, with the crucial scene at the center of Parsifal’s journey in Wagner’s final opera. Kissed by the seductive eternal temptress Kundry, Parsifal experiences not erotic arousal, but compassion—for the first time he feels the unspeakable pain of Amfortas, the wounded Grail King, whose suffering Parsifal completely failed to understand, earlier in the opera. In this pivotal scene, an innocent fool is made wise through compassion.

Chris Ventris sang Parsifal's spiritual awakening (to Linda Watson’s Kundry) when Seattle Opera presented Parsifal in 2003.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Abendlich strahlt” from Das Rheingold (Roman Ialcic)
Concluding the first half of the program, German bass-baritone Roman Ialcic will sing Wotan’s lovely “Abendlich strahlt,” from the finale to Das Rheingold. As the rays of the setting sun illumine the gods’ beautiful new home, the king of the gods reflects on the terrible cost of that castle—and takes comfort in a new idea when he names the place ‘Valhalla.’

In the 1970s, Seattle Opera’s first Ring relied heavily on the use of projections for scenic effects, such as the rainbow bridge leading to Valhalla. Rudolf Holtenau sang Wotan in 1978.
Chris Bennion, photo


“Gerechter Gott! So ist’s entschieden schon” from Rienzi (Tamara Mancini)
And now for something totally new! We begin the second half with an aria from a Wagner opera we’ve never produced in Seattle: Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes, the early work which Wagner considered the final step of his education. Rienzi is an interesting opera, but we’re unlikely to produce it anytime soon because of its vast scope and scale. (If we’re going to spend that much money producing an opera, we’d rather present a great masterpiece, not an apprentice work.) Tamara Mancini will sing the grand bel canto scena for Adriano, a young man from a noble family of medieval Rome, torn between his allegiance to his patrician father and his enthusiasm for the plebian demogogue Rienzi, who wants to break the stranglehold the wealthy families have on Rome and return the city to the 99%. (Complicating matters even further, Adriano’s sister Irene is Rienzi’s beloved.) The aria follows the standard bel canto pattern of slow cavatina followed by lively cabaletta, as Adriano works his way from despair to one last wild hope.

Since Seattle Opera has never produced Rienzi, here’s a photo from a recent Bayreuth production starring German mezzo Daniela Sindram as Adriano. Sindram sang Cherubino in Seattle’s 2009 Le nozze di Figaro and returned as Dulcinée in Don Quichotte in 2011. To really sell a mezzo soprano in a “trousers role” (as a young man), your Hair and Make-up department need to give her some sexy stubble!

Bayreuth Festival, photo

“In fernem Land” from Lohengrin (Ric Furman)
Ric Furman then returns to sing the revelation of Lohengrin’s identity, from the final scene of that opera. All opera long this mysterious knight in shining armor has been refusing to tell his rescued-damsel-in-distress who he is. But since she doesn’t trust him, ultimately he has to explain himself, which he does in this glorious, heart-rending scene.

Ten years ago, when Seattle Opera last presented Lohengrin, Albert Bonnema as the Swan Knight told Marie Plette as Elsa who he was.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

Senta’s Ballad from Der fliegende Holländer (Marcy Stonikas)
We’ll hear next from Marcy Stonikas, who returns with the Ballad of the Flying Dutchman. “Yo-ho-hey! Behold, the ship that races past; blood-red her sails and black her mast!” Ever since childhood, Senta—a dreamy, romantic-minded girl growing up in a small fishing village—has been obsessed with the old legend of this doomed ancient mariner, and with the portrait hanging above her fireplace. As she tells the Dutchman’s tale, you can hear her willing herself to become a character in the story.

At Seattle Opera’s last Der fliegende Holländer, in 2007, Jane Eaglen sang this music beneath a portrait of Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Mein lieber Schwan” from Lohengrin (Issachah Savage) 
Issachah Savage returns with the final farewell of Lohengrin, now revealed to be one of the knights of the holy grail. In this passage he addresses the swan who brought him to Elsa’s land—finally revealed to be Elsa’s brother, the young Duke Gottfried, whom Elsa was suspected of having murdered. Lohengrin gives the boy a sword, a ring, and a horn, promises he will help if need arises in the future, and sadly returns to the lofty realm from whence he came.

Albert Bonnema shared the stage with an amazing animatronic swan at Seattle Opera’s 2004 Lohengrin.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Weiche, Wotan” from Das Rheingold (Suzanne Hendrix)
Next, we’ll hear Suzanne Hendrix sing Erda’s famous warning, the deus ex machina scene that climaxes the prelude to the Ring, when the mysterious, all-knowing earth goddess rises from the ground, terrifies Wotan with the news that the gods are doomed, and warns him that the end will come at once unless he shuns the cursed ring.

Many great Erdas have sung this thrillingly potent music at Seattle Opera over the years. One of the most memorable, in 2005, was Polish mezzo Ewa Podleś, whose voice The Seattle Times described as a natural phenomenon akin to Mt. Rainier. Her Wotan was Greer Grimsley, then making his role debut as the Father God.
Bill Mohn, photo

Prize Song from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (David Danholt)
David Danholt takes the stage again to sing Walther’s famous Prize Song from Die Meistersinger—particularly appropriate, given that the character uses this song to win a singing contest in Wagner’s beloved comedy. This densely rhymed, lyrically gorgeous and harmonically intriguing song recounts the poet’s waking dream, in which Eve in the Garden of Eden becomes the Muse atop Parnassus en route to becoming the woman the poet adores—and whom his triumph in the song contest will make his bride.

Ben Heppner sang Walther’s Prize Song at Seattle Opera in 1989; Hans Sachs (Roger Roloff, left) and Pogner (Gabor Andrasy, right) smiled as Eva (Helen Donath) crowned Walther with the laurel wreath of victory.
Ron Scherl, photo

Hagen’s Watch from Götterdämmerung (Roman Ialcic) 
Roman Ialcic, who covered bass Daniel Sumegi as Hagen at Seattle Opera last summer, then returns to sing Hagen’s brooding Watch Song from the first act of Götterdämmerung. Trusted by the gullible King Gunther to guard his throne, this deceitful, envious counselor lets on that he really hates Gunther, and Siegfried, and anyone who would stand between him and what he considers his rightful inheritance—the Nibelung’s ring.

In 1977, one year before he first appeared at Bayreuth, the great American bass-baritone Simon Estes sang Hagen in Seattle.
Chris Bennion, photo

“Siegmund heiß’ ich” from Die Walküre (Kevin Ray) 
Now we hear the conclusion of the beloved first act of Die WalküreKevin Ray performs the scene in which Siegmund names himself, wrests the sword free of the tree where his father left it for him, and claims his sister as his bride: “Let our Wälsung blood flourish!”

In 2005, the heroism of Richard Berkeley-Steele as Siegmund excited Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde.
Chris Bennion, photo

Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (Helena Dix) 
Our 2014 International Wagner Competition will conclude with Helena Dix performing the final scene from Wagner’s great song of love and death, the “Liebestod” or transfiguration of Isolde, who joins her beloved Tristan in a better place on the other side of death. She sings of a mysterious river of music flowing from him, sweeping her away, and Wagner’s music illustrates her experience in no uncertain terms.

In 1998, Jane Eaglen won Seattle Opera’s Artist of the Year Award for her mesmerizing performance as Isolde, paired with the Tristan of Ben Heppner.
Gary Smith, photo

Program subject to change. The International Wagner Competition will be conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing in his Seattle Opera debut.

Many thanks to the lead sponsor of the International Wagner Competition, Nesholm Family Foundation; to our honorary co-chairs and first prize sponsor, Charles and Lisa Simonyi; and to the sponsors of the Orchestra Choice Prize, Betty and Jack Schafer, and the Audience Choice Prize, Wagner and More. Listen carefully for our beautiful new Wagner tubas, made in Vienna for Seattle Opera by Andreas Jungwirth, sponsored by Jeff and Martha Sherman, and dedicated—like our 2014/15 season—to Speight Jenkins.

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