“Die Walkure” Provides a Riveting Four Hours of Opera Monday at McCaw Hall

Greer Grimsley as Wotan. Chris Bennion photo

Greer Grimsley as Wotan. Chris Bennion photo

Wagner’s “Die Walkure” has long been regarded one of great operas in the canon. It is no error on the public’s judgment that it is probably the most performed opera in the cycle. The reasons why were made very clear Monday night at McCaw Hall in the compelling performance at Seattle Opera. From the rush of music in the overture to the final heartbreaking moments, the music-drama was real, exploring the human experience. It was sublime, expressive, passionate, energetic and profoundly moving.

There are not as many obstacles in “Walkure” to a satisfying performance. But they are there, especially in the second act. None was present in Monday’s performance. The music-making was exemplary and the acting as well. Thank you conductor Robert Spano, and the superb cast of singers, and stage director Stephen Wadsworth. Every moment was alive.

Most conductors make their mark in “Walkure” at the beginning, with that torrent of notes from the pit. Spano chose not to do so. He was almost leisurely, holding back, nearly to the point of frustration. I am not sure Wagner is well served, but Spano makes his case by the organic development, measure by measure, that follows. His pacing was careful, with plenty of nuances and intensity and sweeping lyricism throughout the rest of the opera.

Stephanie Blythe was back as Fricka, imperious and larger-than-life. Her voice has such amplitude and beauty of tone and range, it is mesmerizing. Margaret Jane Wray has sung Sieglinde in every “Walkure” is this third round of “Rings” — in 2001, 2005 and this summer. Her soprano seems even larger and more dramatic than in the past. Along with her brother and husband, Siegmund, Sieglinde is the most poignant of all the “Ring” characters. That human feeling Wray readily conveyed on Monday.

This summer Seattle Opera has a new Brunnhilde in Janice Baird. She made her local debut last fall in the title role of Strauss’ “Elektra.” One expected much given the evidence of that performance. At first, she had trouble controlling her voice. Her vibrato was unusually wide and her pitch unsteady. Finally, uncertainty developed into certainty, and she pulled everything together and provided an astonishing portrait. One should not leave the women in the cast without mentioning Brunnhilde’s fellow valkyries. Expertly staged by Wadsworth, they moved well and sang even better. Bravi.

Another company debut was Stuart Skelton as Siegmund. It is a role for which he is well suited, vocally and by dramatic temperament. He and Wray make a very appealing couple Andrea Silvestrelli’s Hunding was impressive for the blackness and depth of sound and the force of his physicality.

Greer Grimsley may not be everyone’s cup of tea as Wotan vocally, but he commands the stage as Wotans are supposed to but cannot manage. There were also moments of quiet lyricism.

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