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This afternoon I heard the Seattle Opera perform Richard Wagner's Flying Dutchman. I had never seen it before, and I don't think I had heard the opera end-to-end before, at least where it wasn't in the background. I never realized how, apart from cameos like the Steersman's song where this is expected, his main characters have their major arias up front -- come out and start singing the Dutchman's "Der Frist ist um" and Senta's ballad -- or stand around for at least ten minutes without singing in Act II.

Act I was the roughest, with the robust orchestration, and the men had it the toughest and sounded a bit worn, although Jason Collins' tenor has a lot of ring. I want to see next Saturday's performance before coming to final conclusions. In Act II, though, where the orchestra was much softer, Greer Grimsley gave a text-driven, nuanced, and moving performance. Act II was the best of the three in my opinion, starting with a wonderful Senta's Ballad by Jane Eaglen. She's been criticized for not having much passion; here, she sang the ballad as a challenge to the women who would tease her. Like a young woman who longs to be a martyr to a man or a church, and not content to be the girlfriend of one of the village young men, Eaglen portrayed the strangeness of an obsession and Senta's separateness from the society of the villiage women. (How credible was Katie Holmes, when, according to People, as a young teenager, she insisted to her friends that she was going to grow up and marry Tom Cruise? She showed everyone, too.)

Her Erik, Jay Hunter Morris, sang with passion and vocal brilliance. I suppose Erik is the operatic cousin of Hilarion and Gurn; his character flaw is a bit of a chip on his shoulder from being poor, and he is a bit of a whiner. But like the two ballet characters, he proves to be right: he's been ill-used by both Daland, Senta's father, and Senta in the same way. Daland has put Senta in Erik's hands while he is at sea, knowing that Erik won't lay much of a hand on her, but will keep the others away, in Daland's case, until he can bring Senta a weathly bridegroom, and in Senta's case, until the Dutchman shows up. Morris's Erik was very sympathetic, and rather than being a pest in Act III, was convincing that he had every right to call Senta on her promise to him from the beginning of Act II. In a smaller role, Luretta Bybee's sounded rich as Daland's and Senta's housekeeper, Mary.

To use a hockey metaphor, the three stars of the show were:

#1 Star: Asher Fisch and the Seattle Opera Orchestra. The majority of the orchestra is comprised of musicians from the Seattle Symphony. As terrific as the Symphony is, my feeling is that they are even greater as an opera orchestra -- and that includes when they play opera for Gerard Schwarz. The brass played with strength and clarity, the horns blended beautifully throughout, and the orchestra played as one in a vivid interpretation led by Maestro Fisch.

#2 Star: Seattle Opera Chorus, which blew the roof off in Act 3, and thanks to Stephen Wadsworth's staging, provided an eerie transition to the charged scene between Senta and Erik and then the intense Senta/Erik/Dutchman trio, against which, in my opinion, the Act II trio in Gotterdammerung pales. Kudos to the chorus and to Chorusmaster Beth Kirchhoff.

#3 Stars: Jay Hunter Morris and Jane Eaglen. In addition to being lauded for their performances here, congratulations are in order: to Mr. Morris for becoming engaged (announced by Speight Jenkins in the post-performance Q&A) and Ms. Eaglen, for very recently becoming a US citizen.

The sports metaphor is apt in another way: during the post-performance Q&A, a hockey game broke out. If Speight Jenkins hadn't already injured his rotator cuff before the Q&A, he would have been wearing a sling by the end of it. (Although it didn't stop him from snapping his fingers, holding a microphone, or gesturing with that arm.) Early on there was a rather literal-minded comment about the staging, to which Jenkins responded, followed by some raucous audience participation: unusual jeering and ganging up on the unlucky fellow, with some vocal "I agree!"'s from the crowd, which were equally jeered. The man in front of me seemed to think the entire Q&A was about him, including trying to ask questions out of turn, but managed to keep most of his running commentary confined to the few seats around him, until one audience member, who identified himself as a mariner from another community, pointed out some inconsistencies in the set. After being encouraged by Jenkins to continue in some detail, the man in front of me loudly suggested that Jenkins hire him and that he should SHUT UP. (Luckily the mariner snapped back, and he was merifully silent for the rest of the Q&A.) A woman, with a clearly Germanic accent stated that there were anti-Semitic characters in Wagner, argued that Wagner didn't have to actually say anything directly, but asserted that his code phrases should be clear to everyone (paraphrase). As Jenkins started to respond, she started to leave. When he asked her to give him specific instances, sounding tearful, she just repeated that it was obvious and walked out. It's a good thing the singers weren't there: they might have given up their profession in complete despair over the state of the audience, which might have imported from a Philip K. Dick novel.

Other Wagner news:

*Wagner Reserve Fund donors were able to pick up their copies of the recording of last year's International Wagner Competition, held one year ago to the day. I listened to it earlier, and it was great to be able to compare James Rutherford's two-thumbs up "Der Frist ist um" and Dorothy Grandia's lovely "Senta's Ballad" to the performance I heard this afternoon. Paul McNamara and Carsten Wittmoser were as impressive as I remember.

*As previously reported, Jenkins has made some substantial changes to the 2009 Ring cast:

New Casting:

Brunnhilde: Janice Baird

Siegfried: Stig Hogh Andersen

Siegmund: Stuart Skelton (he was wonderful in the same role in Adelaide in 2004)

Fafner/Hagen: Daniel Sumegi, who is singing Daland in Flying Dutchman, and who is a terrific stage presence

Loge: Kobie van Rensburg

Erda: Maria Streijffert

Fasolt/Hunding: Andrea Silverstrelli

Froh: Jason Colllins, the Dutchman Steersman and finalist in last year's Wagner Competition

Forest Bird: Julianne Gearhart

The Seattle PI article also says that Miriam Murphy, the soprano who blew everyone away with Isolde's narrative and curse in last year's Wagner Competition and was a co-winner, will sing one of the Valkyries.

Stephanie Blythe returns as Fricka, but switches from Second to First Norn, and adds Waltraute. Other major returnees are conductor Robert Spano, Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Richard Paul Fink as Alberich, Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde/Third Norn, and Marie Plette as Freia/Gutrune. (The article describes her as new in the roles, but my program from 2005 lists here in the same.)

Sadly, Nancy Maultsby, who sang a superb Erda in 2001 and Waltraute in 2005, isn't listed, nor is one of my favorite young basses, Stephen Milling, who sang Fasolt and Hunding in the last two cycles.

*The 2004 Adelaide Ring was recorded: all three cycles and rehearsals. The footage has been combined and has been released on Super Audio CDs slowly since last year after a long production cycle, and I've been collecting them from the producer as they've been released. Gotterdammerung isn't even listed in the Melba Recordings online catalog, but, voila!, all four operas were available from the Seattle Opera gift shop, and at considerably less than the price from Australia, which with today's sad dollar would cost nearly $100 each for Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, even more than the historic Testament versions. That would suggest that the recordings, brilliantly conducted by Asher Fisch, will have some distribution in the US, although not online on a US site yet, as far as I can tell.

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Helene, I always enjoy reading your reviews (and I learn to boot!). So often I agree completely with how you react, but nearly just as often I have different reactions. That's the beauty of ART I guess. (I'm more a scientist type actually, but the singularity of 2+2=4 can limit conservation!)

So I just saw my 2nd performance of The Dutchman last night (I'd never seen it either until last week). This time my reactions were very different than yours. I loved the entire opera (but then I'm a Wagner nut); however, I was least moved by the 2nd act. My favorite parts were The Dutchman's long monolog in the 1st act. (BTW, Greer Grimsley may always be "The Dutchman" for me now. How someone could play that role better, or with more authenticity, I can't imagine.) Next was the chorus in the 3rd act -- especially the "dualing" men's choruses. And last, but not least, the Overture. (I have also become a huge Asher Fisch fan in the last couple of years.)

I also feel differently about Jane Eaglen. I love the power of her voice, and the clarity of it, but somehow I don't feel the passion I expect to feel when listening to someone of her calibre. Her acting is there, good acting really, but I find it too subtle for my tastes. I also have unreasonable problems with her in these roles where I envision a romantic lead. I wish I could, but I just can't, turn off that little voice in my head that keeps saying "why are these guys so passionately fighting over her". I think Wadsworth, or whoever made the decision, did the smart thing by making the connection btwn The Dutchman and Senta an intellectual/spiritual one instead of one based on passion. That worked for me well enough.

Yep, Erik is a whiner for me. Like our disagreement months ago about the prince in Swan Lake, I find Erik to be a dismissable character. I have trouble caring about his "cares" -- especially when contrasted with the immense compassion I feel for the The Dutchman (I guess Senta's singing of his plight in the 2nd act really, really sold me.....or at least Eaglen did :).

OTOH, I am right there with you on 2 of your 3 stars (the 1st and 2nd). For the 3rd star in my constellation, I would firmly place Grimsley. I'm not sure I have ever been so totally convinced by any character in opera as I was by Grimsley's Dutchman. If you will allow me a play on words.....I felt that Grimsely felt every emotion the The Dutchman was feeling moment to moment (especially as "spoken" to us by the music at that moment). If I were a woman, I, like Senta, would have fallen head over heels for the character Grimsley so brought to life.

P.S. Oh BTW, you cost me $250 last night!!! :clapping: I have the Solti Ring CD set, but when I saw the Fisch set in the "lobby botique" at the opera house last week, I started thinking about what it would be like to own 2 different recordings of the Ring (unlike most of you aficionados I have never purchased 2 recordings of the same piece before, much less 2 Rings!) Well, then I read your last paragraph just before going last night. As soon as I walked in the door, I walked right into the boutique and purchased the entire Ring Cycle since you got me over my fear of too high a price compared to the internet. I don't know whether to praise you or to damn you, but I can tell you I am mightly looking forward to playing both versions side by side to see what I can learn over the next couple of years before 2009.....and I have a lot to learn! So thanks.

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It was stunning all right. Even Speight Jenkins said so during the post-performance Q&A.

In fact he used your exact words.....to further make his point, he said that he'd been told by patrons that the Overture alone was "worth the price of admission". Perhaps you are the one who told him so :clapping:.

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Sandy, your description of Grimsley's performance gives me great hope for this Saturday night. In the Sunday matinee, which I heard from the far left aisle of the far left section of the Second Tier, he sounded a little worse for wear, as did Sumegi, and his voice didn't rise convincingly over the orchestra. On the other hand, I would NOT want to sing the Dutchman's monologue at 2pm. I don't know how they can sing matinees. I don't remember many comments about the singing in this Q&A, and usually this audience gushes on and on. Jason Collins (Steersman) was singled out.

I hope you enjoy the CD's. To give you context, I spent $250 on the first three, and the Australian dollar was a bit weaker in early 2006 when I started to collect them. I've been very satisfied with the early ones. I need a few quiet hours to tackle Gotterdammerung. Fisch, Gasteen, and Wegener (Alberich) are the stars of those disks for me, but there are many other wonderful performances. Stuart Skelton, who sings Siegmund in Die Walkure will sing the role in Seattle, and I really liked his performance in Adelaide.

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Sandy, your description of Grimsley's performance gives me great hope for this Saturday night.

I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Incidentally, I don't feel that I "hear" voices well enough to really distinguish a good voice from a great voice, so what moves me about a performance such a Grimsley's Dutchman is the emotion he projects. For me, Grimsley acts superbly; I feel the emotion in how he sings; and most of all, I love the way he "be's" the Dutchman (if you know what I mean). If one has the ear, as you no doubt do, to hear a great voice, and let's say to make the point that Grimsley is not in great voice, then I can readily understand how that would diminish one's experience. But for me, just the way he stands at the table in the 2nd Act not singing a note, I find powerful as hell (since the music itself is "telling" me the story). I'm tempted to go a 3rd time myself. Maybe I'll see you there.

I hope you enjoy the CD's.

I'm very excited about having them. My wife and I plan to start our own RingFest this weekend. Our house is going to be full of Fisch's Ring all weekend long.....it will just be part of the air we breath as we fire up the BBQ etc :):D:D

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For those who might be lurking and might find this useful...........here are the prices I paid for the Ascher Fisch Ring. The prices do not include taxes. I also got 10% off for getting the entire set (the prices below reflect that discount). Parenthetically, I find the variation in the pricing for each opera interesting. (In US dollars)





P.S. I assume the Die Valkuire is so high because it is the most popular single opera in the Ring with the public (I think I'm right about that); so the demand will be higher; so maybe someone decided that by virtue of the law of supply and demand the higher price was justified. Pure speculation of course.

P.P.S. I did find these same CD's on the internet slightly cheaper (another 10% less) at https://www.arkivmusic.com However, that does not include shipping; also they indicate that their stock is VERY low.

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I hadn't even seen these on the arkivmusic.com site.

I think you're right about Die Walkure -- it was also the first of the operas to be released. It's possible that they front-loaded some of the costs to the first one, although there is no chance that this will recoup its costs in total (if only...).

I saw last night's performance: Night and Day compared to last weekend. Here was the Grimsley I knew from his performances as Wotan and Telramund: a rich, sonic voice across all registers. "Die Frist ist um" could have been the whole opera, primarily because it is a jump to Wagner's most mature works. The scene that follows, in which the Dutchman ruminates to Daland, could have been written for Wotan. It's such an odd thing to hear "oom-pah" music in the same work. It's as if there was an aria in Mozart's second opera that could have been written in Don Giovanni.

What is really extraordinary about Grimsley's "Die Frist ist um" isn't that he sings the central section quietly. Many singers use sotto voce in their performances, to wide effect. When Grimsley sings Wagner softly, it's almost as if he is speaking. He isn't speaking technically, or doing recitative or music-speech, but to the mind, it's as if he's transformed music into speech.

Daniel Sumegi's voice was a lot stronger in this performance as well. I really like his upper register. He has more vibration in his lower register than I tend to like, but that's pure preference. He was a terrific actor, and does comedy very, very well. He's a charming stage presence, even if he's playing a golddigging father. All of the soloists last night were wonderful. Eaglen has a voice that fills the theater, regardless of range or volume. Bybee had some wonderful low Amneris-like tones. According to Jenkins, she is not only Grimsley's wife, but also his vocal teacher, so she is to be twice applauded. Wadsworth has given the Steersman an extended bit of stage business in Act III: he's drunk and rejects his girlfriend, presumably the one he was singing about in Act I, until the very end of the act. He portrayed the ups and downs (literally and figuratively) of a drunk, without ever becoming a characature. He has a beautiful voice, and I was very happy to find on his website that not only is he singing Froh in the 2009 Seattle Ring, he is covering Siegmund. (He did a very fine rendition of "Ein Schwert vverhiess mir der Vater" in the same role in the Wagner Competition last year.)

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