Monday, May 24, 2004

Voigt owns Wagner role

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gala honors Conlon
At a Saturday gala honoring James Conlon's 25th anniversary as music director of the Cincinnati May Festival, he was presented with a large charcoal portrait by artist Muli Tang. The drawing is for his home; the board announced that it is also commissioning an oil portrait by Tang to hang in Music Hall, along with other luminaries from the symphony, opera and Pops. During the evening, Conlon was roasted and toasted by artists such as opera stars Deborah Voigt, Benita Valente, John Aler, John Cheek and James Morris. The May Festival Chorus also presented Conlon with a gift of its own: an original crystal sculpture from Frabel studios, showing a conductor's beat pattern.

The audience rose with a roar in the gripping conclusion of Wagner's Act I from Die Walkure, in the 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, bass Jyrki Korhonen and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, earned a five-minute ovation.

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

Voigt received bravos as she made a regal entrance onto the 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 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. 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 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.

Forbis was a fine Siegmund, with a dark lower register and ringing high tones. 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 created 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.

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 by 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.

Morris was a superb Sachs, the master cobbler, who sang with command and nobility, but also with an engaging warmth. Equally impressive was 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.)

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

The May Festival continues Friday and Saturday in Music Hall, 381-3300 or


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