Fear Factor. No fear. Fear the Lord. Fear and loathing. Fear no evil. Fear of flying.
The one who has never experienced fear shall awaken Brünnhilde, become her groom and unleash a calamity that spells the destruction of Valhalla and the extinction of the gods. All of this in the five hours that make up Siegfried.
Last seen at the Hummingbird Centre (February 2005, cross-reference below) the recreation of François Girard’s production in the venue for which it was imagined and intended adds further hope to the promise and possibilities of the “everyman’s” opera house at University and Queen. Such an appropriate address, for there is much to learn and royal jelly (both real and imagined) is a very necessary ingredient in the mix and minds of COC’s brain trust.
Vocally, the cast is the same as last year’s Hummingbird triumph—the notable exception being Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde (Frances Ginzer, who excelled last year, will sing the role once on September 22). Even as the production fits the stage, so too should the voices, aided by past experience and marvellous acoustics of the new venue. Sadly, many of the big moments were lost in Richard Bradshaw’s sea of over-dynamic coverage. Would that his left hand be employed in the service of modulating the aural range so that his talented charges could soar just above the band rather than shriek to be heard.
The softer end of the scale needs work too. When Wagner demands complete silence, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts responds with an uncanny void that is deliciously matched by a pitch-black stage: like Wotan, we’re truly alone in his world. With that as the end of the scale, the piano, pianissimo and particularly the decrescendo markings should be honed and painstakingly designed (like David Finn’s extraordinary spot-on-the-ring Act 2 closer) rather than just played through. If the pit could match the excellence above and behind it, then truly “Grand Opera” will become the norm in Toronto.
The orchestra didn’t have one of its best outings. The trombones were frequently unable to match attacks or find true ensemble. The off-stage horn was too “off” for comfort. Redemption came with the four-horn diminuendo. Truly incredible was the bass drum, whose long rolls shook the room with awe once all realized the rumble wasn’t from the University-line subway.
Once again, the audience became the villains. Every hour on the hour a few watch alarms intruded into the score. (Why do so many have to know they’ve one hour less to live?) Worse: just after the second intermission, even as Girard’s minimalist vision is revealed in all its primal glory, a patron decided to unwrap one of the many candies he takes to avoid coughing and disturbing the proceedings. His wrapper’s crinkle could be heard in Mississauga! Not to be outdone, fifty bars later, a full-throttle cellphone rose above and beyond the gossamer strings and successfully destroyed the magic that was evolving below. That “Ring” cycle also had four components.
Still, the artists soldiered on. The silent Greek chorus marvellously slid and writhed into position before rising as one to become Brünnhilde’s protective fire. This realization packed an emotional wallop that thrilled and truly terrified the assemblage. Girard’s courage and insight came together to produce the cycle’s defining moment and will linger in memory for eons. A fearsome accomplishment indeed. JWR