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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Wagnerian Alternative

Where to see music drama in 2013-14.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Johan Engels' design for Act II of the new Parsifal in Chicago.
Stage model by Johan Engels © 2013 Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The 2013-14 opera season marks the first time since the 1918-19 season that the Metropolitan Opera is not performing Wagner.

With productions of all ten major Wagner operas in the company's repertory, Wagner is a staple (not to mention a box office draw) at the Met. However, due to some schedule changes and the health issuesof newly returned company music director James Levine, this year's slate does not include any of the ten major "canon" operas. It does feature a strong, entertaining mix of Russian opera and works by Richard Strauss and Vincenzo Bellini. But Wagnerians may be scratching their winged helmets, anxious for their fix of Germanic music drama.

The Met's choice to replace planned revivals of Tannhäuser and Parsifal in the 2013 schedule (with Dvorak's Rusalka and Berg's Wozzeck, respectively) leaves Wagnerphiles up the Hudson River without a proverbial swan boat. Happily, a look at the schedules of other American opera companies reveals that there are other Wagner performances of interest coming this season, and we  decided to put together this little survival guide to shepherd you through the 2013-14 season.

Opera Odyssey: Rienzi
(Jordan Hall, Boston, Ma, Sept. 15)

This one-night-only concert performance of Wagner's early five-act grand opera Rienzi marks the launch of Opera Odyssey, a new opera company in the city of Boston. Opera Odyssey is being billed as the successor to Opera Boston, which shut its doors on Christmas Eve in 2011. Rienzi is an elaborate story chronicling the rise and violent downfall of a populist dictator in Rome. With its complicated politics, vast choral requirements and a Meyerbeer-like finale that calls for a burning, collapsing castle, it's a sort of proto-Götterdämmerung.

Kristian Benedikt sings the title role in his North American debut. Gil Rose conducts.
Call (617) 585-1260 or click here for tickets.

Washington National Opera: Tristan und Isolde 
(Washington DC, Sept. 15-27)
Tristan und Isolde is probably the most intense of Wagner's mature operas, a concentrated, chromatic aphrodisiac that builds for three acts until the final "energy release" of the Liebestod.
Deborah Voigt returns to the role of Isolde with this Washington National Opera staging of Wagner's greatest romantic drama. Ian Storey is her Tristan (with Clifton Forbis taking over the role on Sept. 27). This production is by Neil Armfeld, who is also directing Opera Australia's first production of the Ring next fall. Philippe Auguin conducts.

At the Kennedy Center. Call (202) 467-4600 or click here for tickets.
He's your captain: Greer Grimsley takes the helm in Die Fliegende Holländer.
Image © 2013 San Francisco Opera.
San Francisco Opera: Die Fliegende Höllander (Opens Oct. 22)
(San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA)

Although Wagner's first version of The Flying Dutchman was set in Scotland, the ever-inventive composer quickly moved the action of the story to Norway following a tumultuous sea voyage with his first wife Minna and their dog Robber. Dutchman became the composer's first great success, the tale of a lonesome wanderer who must dock his ghost ship once every seven years in the pursuit of true love.
This is the first of Wagner's ten "canon" operas (the composer himself later repudiated Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and the aforementioned Rienzi) gets a new production from director-designer Petrika Ionescu. Greer Grimsley sings the title role. Patrick Summers conducts.

Click here for tickets and more information.

Lyric Opera of Chicago: Parsifal
(Civic Opera House, Chicago, IL, Nov. 3-29)

A new production of Parsifal is a major event. Wagner's final opera (the composer preferred the term "stage-consecrating festival drama")  tells the story of an itinerant fool and his quest to redeem the brotherhood of the Holy Grail by retrieving the spear that pierced the side of Christ. It is slow, meditative and at six hours in length, not for the faint of heart.

This new production is by director John Caird and designed by Johan Engels. These are the first performances for tenor Paul Groves in the title role. The stellar cast also includes bass Kwangchal Youn as the loquacious knight Gurnemanz and Thomas Hampson as Amfortas, the wounded Grail King.

Click here for tickets and more information.

The Rhinemaidens and Alberich (center) in the opening scene of Das Rheingold.
Image © 2011 Valencia Opera/Las Fura del Baus.
Houston Grand Opera: Das Rheingold (Apri 11-26, 2014)
(Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center, Houston TX)
The acclaimed Catalan opera company La Fura des Baus brings their unique high-tech take on the Ring to Houston, Texas. With stunning digital projections and a system of pantograph arms that lets the Gods and Valkyries fly high over the stage, this is a jaw-dropping approach to the Ring. Don't believe me? Read the Superconductor review of the cycle on DVD (from Valencia, Spain) here

Iain Paterson straps in as Wotan in the first installment of the Ring. With its battles between gods, dwarves and giants, Das Rheingold can be the perfect "first" Wagner opera. The fact that it's only two-and-a-half hours helps matters as well.

This is the Houston Grand Opera's first-ever Ring Cycle. Each of the four operas will premiere one per season over the next four years, but no plans have been announced for full "festival" cycle performances of the entire Ring.

Click here for tickets.

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