Dallas — For lots of folks, even regular concertgoers, the notion of attending a full cycle of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is an intimidating prospect. The four operas, meant to be performed on successive days and comprising about 15 hours of music in total, constitute a marathon for musicians, singers, and audience members alike. Even Lohengrin, represented on Friday’s program, clocks in at nearly four hours.
The Dallas Symphony, then, did many of us a favor with its series of two mostly-Wagner concerts. These were one-offs that were originally scheduled for the orchestra’s European tour, a tour canceled because of concerns about terrorism. The first of these two programs, on April 1, was an concert version of Act I of Die Walküre, was reviewed by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs here.
The second, two weeks later, was more varied: the program began with Hadyn: the Sinfonia concertante in B-flat Major. This piece was an interesting choice as an aperitif to the Wagner that followed; it was, however, an opportunity to highlight four fine Dallas Symphony musicians. Erin Hannigan brought her characteristic clear, penetrating tone to her solo passages, while new principal bassoonist Theodore Soluri proved that he is a worthy successor to Wilfred Roberts, who retired at the beginning of the season. Soluri’s sound is appealingly round and full. DSO co-concertmaster Nathan Olson provided a skillful balance-- he doesn’t have a huge sound, but his warm, caramel-like tone was just right, especially for the lyricism of the Andante second movement. Theodore Harvey’s tone was similarly an absolute delight, cozy in lyrical moments, crisp in the allegros. The orchestra overbalanced the soloists somewhat, especially in the third movement, but this was a minor fault in an otherwise enjoyable performance.
The real show happened after intermission, however. Most audience members for this concert were no doubt there to hear the Wagner, especially after all the positive reviews for the first concert in the pair. And they were not disappointed. Projected supertitles helpfully provided a few stage directions as well as the libretto, helping to make this an ideal program for Wagnerian neophytes.
And the music itself was glorious. Many selections, from Acts II and III of Die Walküre and Acts II and III of Lohengrin, are familiar even to those whose only orchestral music experience was watching Looney Tunes as children. (If you walked out of the Meyerson Friday evening softly singing “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!” in your best Elmer Fudd voice, I’m talkin’ to you.)
Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung was a commanding, imperious Fricka and bass Kristinn Sigmundsson was a pure-voiced Wotan in the Prelude and Scene 1 from Act II of Die Walküre. The succinct program notes skillfully provided the necessaries of the plot—Fricka has put up with Wotan’s infidelities and resulting offspring, but his twin children Siegmund and Sieglinde falling in love with one another and deciding to marry even though Sieglinde is already married, not to mention the shared-a-womb thing, is just Too Much, and Fricka calls for Siegmund’s death.
The only other vocal offerings of the evening were two arias from Lohengrin. Tenor Stuart Skelton received a deserved standing ovation for “In fernem Land” and “Mein lieber Schwan.” He drew just the right amount of poignancy from the two arias, which are some of the saddest in the Wagnerian canon. Skelton’s is a Wagnerian tenor, to be sure, but with a difference: there was no bombast here, just a big, rich voice with exquisite phrasing and a fine sense of pathos.
The remainder of the program was orchestral; in addition to the de rigueur “Ride of the Valkyries,” highlights included the Prelude to Lohengrin. The violins, who begin the Prelude soli, were eloquently gorgeous. Simply beautiful phrasing created an exciting but not melodramatic build, adding instruments until the big crash-cymbal climax, then back to a subdued closing with only violins, again.
Although I’m sure that many of the musicians of the Dallas Symphony would have preferred to play this concert in Europe, I for one am glad it got a performance here in Dallas, the circumstances notwithstanding. The Wagner was thrilling—I don’t think I’ve ever heard this music played better.