A Classy, Unpretentious Way of Deciphering Wagner

United StatesUnited States Wagner’s Die Walküre—A Musical Analysis: Stacey Rishoi (mezzo-soprano), Ric Furman (tenor), Gustav Andreassen (bass), Valerie Pool (piano), Charles Parsons (commentator), Wagner Society of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. 27.1.2013 (RDA)

Excerpts from Die Walküre: Ein Schwert verhiess mir mein Vater; Der Männer sippe; Winterstürme; Du bist der Lenz; Als Junger Liebe Lust mir verblich; War es so schmälich, was ich verbrach; Leb’ wohl, du kühness, herliches Kind!

Wagner needs explaining and nobody does it better than opera connoisseur Charles Parsons, a scholar and raconteur with an encyclopedic knowledge of the field, in this presentation by the Wagner Society of Cincinnati. Through illustration, commentary and demonstration—peppered by stories and anecdotes—Parsons humorously elucidated the convoluted plot intricacies of Die Walküre, helping us understand the who, what, why and wherefore of “opera’s most dysfunctional family.”

Sieglinde has been sung by sopranos as well as singers the French call “Falcons.” The name has nothing to do with falconry but with the 19th-century star Cornélie Falcon, whose mostly-French career encompassed roles as diverse asMozart’s Donna Anna (Don Giovanni) andthe unreasonably-taxingValentine in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots.This rare breed of dark-hued voice hovers between soprano and mezzo-soprano, and has been well represented by Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, Jessye Norman, Astrid Varnay and Régine Crespin, to mention but five great artists. But you may want to make note of a new one for that list: Stacey Rishoi.

The music for Sieglinde sits well in Ms. Rishoi’s imposing voice, which she shared magnificently, giving authority, pathos, vulnerability and impeccable realism to Sieglinde’s narrative “Der Männer sippe,” the ecstatic “Du bist der Lenz” and later, the brief but all-important “War es so schmaelich, was ich verbrach.” Her top voice is steely-bright, the middle warm and velvety, the low end contralto-like. This is an important compass that I look forward to hearing much of in the future. Cincinnati Opera are you listening?

Heldentenors are to the Wagnerian canon what fullbacks are to football—male singers with the vocal heft and color of a baritone and the above-the-staff extension of a dramatic tenor. Tenor Ric Furman sang Siegmund’s narrative “Ein Schwert verhiess mir mein Vater” and the iconic “Winterstürme” with galvanizing vocalism and intensity. Good Wagnerian tenors are in short supply and many of us will follow this singer’s career with interest, as he makes further forays into the composer’s work.

Gustav Andreassen is a true bass, yet his extended top voice allows him to take on the heights of Wotan—a lengthy and demanding role usually associated with the higher-voiced bass-baritones Germans call Heldenbariton. Andreassen sang a superb “Als Junger Liebe Lust mir verblich” with an inky, rock-solid sound and total commitment to the drama inherent in the music. He returned at the end to deliver the iconic “Abschied” with a torrent of sound and utter sensitivity. This terrific artist has the ability to tackle the Ring’s Wotan and Hans Sachs, excerpts of which he will be singing with the Dayton Opera next month.

But there was more than vocalism on display; pianist Valerie Pool provided superb orchestra-like support at the piano. Being new to the area, this writer had no preconceived notions about the Wagner Society of Cincinnati. Founded to “promote the study of Richard Wagner and foster a greater understanding and appreciation of his works,” the group is led by the redoubtable Jim Slouffman, its founder and president. What this group does, and the classy and unpretentious way in which they do it, is a delight and a worthy addition to the Cincinnati musical scene. Between now and the end of the year they will be attending, sponsoring and presenting Wagner-related events throughout the tri-state area, in a regional celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the composer’s birth. This is the first time I have attended a presentation by the Cincinnati Wagner Society since my arrival in the Queen City—I’ll be back for more.

Rafael de Acha