Sunday, May 23, 2004

May Festival's opera evening a stunner

Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The audience rose with a roar in the gripping conclusion of Wagner's Act I from Die Walkure, in the season's second May Festival concert Saturday night in Music Hall. Deborah Voigt, one of the world's great sopranos, soared magnificently in this stunning performance.

With James Conlon on the podium, the cast, which also included tenor Clifton Forbis and bass Jyrki Korhonen, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra earned a five-minute cheering ovation.

And that was just the first half of this opera evening. The second half was equally thrilling, with James Morris, one of the great Wagnerian basses of our time, presiding as Hans Sachs in the finale of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.

Voigt received bravos as she made a regal entrance onto Music Hall's stage, fresh from singing Isolde, another taxing Wagner role, in Vienna, Austria, two days earlier. After Cincinnati, she'll have six weeks paid vacation, courtesy of London's Covent Garden, which fired her from her signature role, Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, because of her dress size.

They can have their little black dress. Voigt was resplendent in gold brocade, lined in hot pink. What's more, she sang like an angel.

Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) is the second music drama in Wagner's marathon Ring Cycle. In Act I, Sieglinde (Voigt) and Siegmund (Forbis), fall in love and discover they are twins, separated at birth.

Voigt is clearly the world's reigning Sieglinde. Having sung the role recently in a revival at the Metropolitan Opera, her portrayal had unequalled beauty, depth and character. Although it was a concert version with orchestra, she inhabited her role totally, navigating vocal leaps effortlessly while communicating each word with perfect diction and stunning expression.

Her sound was rich with voluptuous color, and she could project both girlish purity and emotional intensity. The rapturous "Du bist der lenz" (You are the spring), was radiantly sung, as Sieglinde and Siegmund professed their love.

Forbis was a fine Siegmund, with a dark lower register and ringing high tones. His third-scene soliloquy was wonderfully sung, as he cried out "Walse! Walse!" against the Sword motif in trumpet and glowing strings. Making his festival debut in the role of Hunding, Finnish bass Korhonen projected an arresting voice.

The Cincinnati Symphony, augmented with four Wagnerian tubas, had a luminous sound. Conlon captured the magic of this music masterfully, creating a shimmering, transparent canvas that never covered his soloists.

After intermission, the May Festival Chorus was onstage and trumpets were in the balcony for a glorious performance of excerpts from Die Meistersinger, including the Prelude, the Act III Quintet and the final scene.

The opera's story involves a song contest in 16th-century Germany, and the winner marries the beautiful Eva. The finale was a joyous, vibrant scene, a pomp-filled pageant that was vividly portrayed in orchestra and singers.

The Prelude was spacious and warmly phrased. Jennifer Ringo as Eva, John Aler, Stacey Rishoi, Vinson Cole and Morris made an admirable ensemble in the Quintet that followed.

The orchestral playing was spectacular, as Conlon brought the familiar themes to a stirring climax with the entrance of the Meistersinger Sachs.

Morris was a superb Sachs, the master cobbler, who sang with command and nobility, but also with an engaging warmth. Equally impressive was the excellent tenor Cole as Walther, whose Prize Song, "Morgenlich leuchtend in rosigem Schein," was beautifully sung. Bass John Cheek performed well as the befuddled Beckmesser, who performed a confused version of Walther's song.

The chorus, in the role of the people (boosted by the men of the Vocal Arts Ensemble), cheered, applauded and sang thrillingly. "Wacht auf!" (Awake) had terrific weight, followed by singing that was refined, seamless and plush. (Chorus director Robert Porco deserves special praise for his work with the chorus.)

The sweeping final chorus, "Honor your German Masters" rang true to the audience of about 2,700, who were on their feet again with bravos.

For all May Festival reviews, visit, keyword "May Festival." The May Festival continues Friday and Saturday in Music Hall. 381-3300 or


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