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And They're Off!

Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center
04/11/2014 -  and April 13*, 17, 23, 26, 2014
Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
Andrea Carroll (Woglinde), Catherine Martin (Wellgunde), Renée Tatum (Flosshilde), Christopher Purves (Alberich), Jamie Barton (Fricka), Iain Paterson (Wotan), Melody Moore (Freia), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Fasolt), Andrea Silvestrelli (Fafner), Chad Shelton (Froh), Ryan McKinny (Donner), Stefan Margita (Loge), Rodell Rosel (Mime), Meredith Arwady (Erda)
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, Patrick Summers (Conductor)
Carlus Padrissa (Director), Roland Olbeter (Set Designer), Chu Uroz (Costume Designer), Peter van Praet (Lighting Designer)

I. Paterson, M. Arwady, A. Silvestrelli, S. Margita,
K. Sigmundsson (© Lynn Lane)

Houston Grand Opera's nearly six-decade history is exceedingly rich, making it all the more surprising that only one opera from Wagner's Ring cycle-Die Walküre, in 1959-has ever been fully staged. The company's spectacular, newly-initiated production of the tetralogy, to be spread over four seasons, could be seen as a final accolade for the company, which has been consistent in commissioning new works, giving American premieres, and staging intriguing and well-cast productions representing virtually every nook of the repertoire.

As the flagship opera company of "Space City," the sci-fi point of view adopted by director Carlus Padrissa is fitting. Multiple dimensions, large high-definition projections and robotic super-costumes for many of the leads result in a dramatic and always-surprising visual component. As with any undertaking of this magnitude, there are a few misfires: Donner's tiny hammer looks like a Monopoly game piece, and the recurring projection of a solid gold baby seems more from an otherworldly physiology class than a mythical world of gods and giants. Loge's means of transports--a Segway--already feels dated.

C. Martin, A. Carroll, C. Purves, R. Tatum (© Lynn Lane)

The spectacular aspects far outweigh the less-than-satisfactory, though, and from the Rhinemaiden's first appearance, we are transported and consistently engaged. On a drastically raked stage, the three nymphs are captive in mobile tanks in which they swim, splash and frolic, giving ample opportunity for dousing Alberich when he nears, striking odd underwater poses and even engaging in stock synchronized swimming maneuvers in synch with the trio's unison singing. It would be unfair to spoil the ingenious moment when Alberich finally steals the gold and the effect it has on the Rhinemaidens, but it is stunningly effective. Other visual aspects, such as the initial entry of of Fasolt and Fafner, Donner's creation of the rainbow bridge, and a literally superhuman Valhalla, are inventive, visceral delights.

I. Paterson, J. Barton (© Lynn Lane)

The superb cast is one of the strongest HGO has ever assembled. Most impressive were Stefan Margita's flexible and precise Loge, Jamie Barton's confident, steely Fricka and Christopher Purves' twisted, sinister Alberich. Purves is a great find in this role, whose singing--accurate yet with a certain evil edge--was a perfect embodiment of the tortured dwarf. Iain Paterson seemed to take a while to warm up to Wotan's vocal demands, while Andrea Silvestrelli was a slight disappointment, singing with the same large but abrasive sound that marred his turn in Don Carlos. Meredith Arwady's velvet contralto made one wish Wagner had written a larger part for Erda in his epic.

The HGO orchestra has had several seasons to get ready for the Ring, and the impressive, dark and powerful brass playing and distinctive wind solos that stood out in Tristan und Isolde and Lohengrin, among others, continued. Patrick Summers coordinated the massive forces into a smooth, rhythmically incisive machine, and one anticipates that, with these forces continuing to combine in the forthcoming installments, this Ring will be one for the ages.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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