Lyric launched this artistic campaign with a bang Friday, snaring the world’s most-talked about future Bruennhilde, American soprano Christine Goerke, for role of the sky-riding valkyrie who has inspired 135 years of serious and satirized tough women in breastplates and heads topped by horned helmets.Yes, and she sings at the end of the opera, as Valhalla crashes and burns and the Rhine overflows its banks. Keep the wisecracks to yourself.
Nearly as anticipated is the casting of American bass-baritone Eric Owens in his debut as Wotan, leader of the gods and Bruennhilde’s father.The Chicago Tribune's appropriately named John von Rhein offers additional details.
Every aspect of the tetralogy — from the singers to the creative team to the conductor, orchestra and chorus — must be of the highest international caliber. Otherwise, why bother?Yes, and the Ring offers all sorts of opportunities to engage in creative staging: Nibelheim in a freight tunnel under the Chicago River, the forge for the Ring at Goose Island, Valhalla in Tribune Tower with a rainbow bridge to the south bank, Casey and Mills putting out the Magic Fire, the Gibichungen in City Hall, Brunnhilde riding a cow that kicks a lantern over at the end.
Perhaps for that reason, Lyric Opera has ventured Wagner's monumental epic as a full cycle only twice in its 59-year history. That was in 1996 and again in 2005 when the late August Everding's production — complete with Rhine maidens on bungee cords and Valkyries bouncing on trampolines — played to sold-out houses at the Civic Opera House.
I'm NOT making this UP, you know!
“Ring” cycles of every conceptual and visual description have popped up around the world in recent seasons, most notably last year when the music world celebrated Wagner's bicentennial. In 2013 the Metropolitan Opera revived director Robert Lepage's $16-million, high-tech, glitch-prone production, the first segment of which appeared in 2010-11. Last year also brought an even more controversial new “Ring” by German theater director Frank Castorf at the Bayreuth Festival, the Wagner holy of holies, in Germany.First, though, comes the Midwestern premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's "The Passenger," a 1967 composition that has only been performed since 2010.
Without referencing either the Met or the Bayreuth “Ring” productions directly, in a separate interview, Lyric general director Anthony Freud promised that Lyric's new version of the Wagner saga about gods, dwarfs and mortals vying for possession of an all-powerful ring, will adhere to Wagnerian basics, rather than machinery and special effects.
“Over recent years and in a variety of places,” he said, “the ‘Ring' has been dominated by technology and special effects, to the extent that (they have) become an end in themselves. What I want from our new production is something that will be spectacular visually but ultimately will be a narrative-based exploration of both text and subtext: a production within which the music, the characters, their relationships, their emotions and the narrative can come to really vibrant life. David (Pountney) is absolutely at one with me on that.”
Weinberg, a Polish Jew, was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, fleeing on foot from Warsaw to Russia after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. But his troubles were far from over. Throughout the rest of his life in Russia he suffered repeated official attacks for his modernist musical leanings and for being Jewish. His friend, composer Dmitri Shostakovich, wrote letters on his behalf to obtain his release from prison. Shostakovich later wrote that he considered “The Passenger” to be a “perfect masterpiece.”
Weinberg remained prolific despite his political travails, living long enough (he died in 1996) to compose 25 symphonies, 17 string quartets and numerous other works. “The Passenger” was based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Zofia Posmycz, a Polish Catholic who survived Auschwitz. Alexander Medvedev's libretto was written in Russian but Lyric will present the text in Polish, Russian, German, French, Yiddish and English, per Pountney's belief that the inmates of the Nazi death camp depicted in the opera should sing in their own languages.
The plot concerns Liese, a former Nazi overseer at a concentration camp, who believes she sees her former prisoner, Marta, on a ship sailing from Europe to Brazil, where Liese hopes to escape her wartime past. Much of the opera is told in flashback and is set to brooding music of considerable lyrical power.