United States Wagner, Das Rheingold: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 1.10.2016. (JLZ)
Woglinde – Diana Newman
Wellgunde – Annie Rosen
Flosshilde – Lindsay Ammann
Alberich – Samuel Youn
Wotan – Eric Owens
Fricka – Tanja Ariane Baumgartner
Freia – Laura Wilde
Loge – Štefan Margita
Fasolt – Wilhelm Schwinghammer
Fafner – Tobias Kehrer
Donner – Zachary Nelson
Froh – Jesse Donner
Mime – Rodell Rosel
Erda – Okka von der Damerau
Conductor – Sir Andrew Davis
Director – David Pountney
Original Set Designer – Johan Engels
Set Designer – Robert Innes Hopkins
Costume Designer – Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting Designer – Fabrice Kebour
Choreographer – Denni Sayers
Inaugurating the 2016–2017 Lyric Opera season, a new Wagner Das Rheingold simultaneously set a celebratory tone for the year ahead and offered a preview of the company’s new Ring cycle. The production, designed by Johan Engels, came to life in the hands of director David Pountney, whose steampunk-influenced scaffolding surrounded the stage. High production values included special effects like the lifts that move Rhine maidens and others, and other details including safety warnings for trap doors in German. The costumes, such as Loge’s motoring goggles, also inhabited the steampunk world. Stage hands were always nearby, interacting seamlessly with the cast.
Korean bass-baritone Samuel Youn (in his American debut) gave a vivid performance as Alberich. Youn’s full, resonant voice made each phrase clear and audible, while his acting masterfully supported his character. If at times the pitches bent for emphasis, the result was always effective. The final scene was most impressive in the way Youn not only played into Wotan’s hand, but gave the ring’s curse the proper musical and dramatic execution.
Štefan Margita was equally vivid as Loge, persuasive vocally and dramatically. Margita showed a sure sense of pitch, dynamics, and timing crucial to the responses he elicited from Wotan and the other gods.
In the role of Erda, Okka von der Damerau gave a powerful reading, with her richly textured voice ringing clearly throughout the hall to command “Weiche, Wotan” with dramatic and vocal authority. Also making her American debut, she made a strong impression in this short but crucial role.
Eric Owens was a subtle Wotan. His diction was clear, but sometimes his voice was overshadowed by the orchestra, which often swelled in symphonic style. Nevertheless, in the final scene, his ringing tone came through. As Fricka, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner was nuanced, if somewhat deferential, to Wotan, with a lovely, supple voice.
As the giants Fafner and Fasolt, Tobias Kehrer and Wilhelm Schwinghammer delivered admirably, matching each other well in somewhat declamatory roles. And as Freia, Laura Wilde offered a lithe voice and acting.
Other members of the cast were equally strong, with Jesse Donner as Froh; his limber tenor suggested a performer who could take on other Wagner operas. Rodell Rosel gave Mime physicality without resorting to caricature, and with fine vocal delivery. As Donner, Zachary Nelson made his part in the final scene work well in the satisfying staging of the gods’ entry into Vahalla.
Sir Andrew Davis led the orchestra with style and clear leadership, pacing the story with remarkable concision and poignant delivery. Notable orchestral details included the burnished sound of the brass. Horn playing was usually spot on, even though it sometimes flagged near the end. All in all, though, it was a powerful opening night that will remain in memory for a long time, an enviable Rheingold for any house.