Splendid singing and playing mark the DSO’s semi-staged”Die Walküre”

Fri May 03, 2024 at 3:37 pm
By Stuart Cheney
Fabio Luisi conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Die Walküre Thursday night. Photo: DSO/Sylvia Elzafon

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre, the second in the orchestra’s cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen this year, stood out for its superb singing and stunning orchestral playing Thursday night in the Meyerson Symphony Center. Such semi-staged concert versions of operas allow for greater emphasis on the now-visible orchestra while sacrificing some of the plot’s drama.

Without costumes, scenery, or staging, singers were limited in their actions, bringing more focus to their voices and the instrumental ensemble. This approach works well for Wagner since as a principal developer of modern orchestration, he was an indisputable master of orchestral writing. His imaginative variety of instrumentation, along with the orchestra’s magnificent playing, was more apparent than in a traditional opera staging. The opening prelude was crisp and cohesive, with shimmering strings and warm winds and brass. Principal cellist Christopher Adkins suavely rendered the significant “spear” motive early in Act 1.

The cast offered crisp inflections, sensational sonorities, and sensitively controlled vibrato throughout. The passionate soprano Sara Jakubiak sang the role of Sieglinde, her radiant soprano line rendered with crystal-clear diction. Christopher Ventris brought his lofty, energetic tenor to the role of the hero Siegmund. Hunding was portrayed by the tremendous, rich bass of Stephen Milling.

Trumpets and horns combined in fiery timbres to evoke the desperate, burgeoning love between the twins Sieglinde and Siegmund. The six harps lent their elegant tone colors to several scenes. The bass clarinet, played by Marci Gurnow, shone through vividly in several supple solo passages in each act, as did the English horn solos of David Matthews. Other compelling wind solos were performed by principal clarinetist Gregory Raden and principal bassoonist Ted Soluri. The second act’s prelude was energetic and buttery, with brilliant trumpet passages.

Mark Delavan sang Wotan with a majestic, woody tone. Brünnhilde was sung athletically by vivacious soprano Lise Lindstrom. Her best moments were her duet with Ventris, her heartfelt response to Wotan’s wrath in Act 3, and her final plea for a formidable fire to surround and protect her long sleep. Mezzo-soprano Deniz Uzun robustly portrayed Fricka, whose consternation with her husband Wotan set in motion most of the opera’s tragic conflict. The battle scene between Hunding and Siegmund began with the protagonists’ amplified voices from offstage.

Throughout Act 2, the orchestra hinted at the famous “Ride of the Valkyries” tune, foreshadowing the momentous convergence of Wotan’s militant daughters. Low-reed ensembles featuring bassoons, contrabassoon, clarinets, and bass clarinet were potent for their color and drama.

Act 3 began with a bold, dazzling performance of the “Ride,” as the Valkyries gathered. Eight grandiose female voices portrayed Brünnhilde’s warrior sisters: three sopranos and five mezzos, soon joined by sopranos Lindstrom and Jakubiak. Dense textures of horns, Wagner tubas, and trombones dominated much of the soundscape, while trombones in powerful unison colored the melodramatic, lengthy duets of Wotan and Brünnhilde. The final portions of their duet are set to what is arguably Wagner’s tenderest music.

In addition to translations, the surtitles described the stage action before and between singing. In addition, subdued lighting effects featured projections of lightning at selected climactic points (for example, Siegmund removing the sword from the tree). For the ending, subtle flames were projected onto the Meyerson Symphony Center’s organ pipes, taking advantage of its reflective metallic effect. Under Fabio Luisi’s leadership, the massive orchestra was dynamic and appropriately supportive. Luisi specializes in both German and Italian opera, having conducted long-term at the Metropolitan Opera and Zurich Opera. In 2012, he made Grammy-winning recordings of portions of the Ring cycle.

Stage director Alberto Triola created fine yet understated acting from the cast. He effectively increased the range of movement and physical interactions with each new act. This successful quasi-dramatic performance drew delighted responses from the audience, who offered standing ovations after each act.

Das Rheingold will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with Die Walküre 3 p.m. Sunday. dallassymphony.org

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