Patrick Summers
Houston Grand Opera Chorus and Orchestra
April 2017
Wortham Theater Center Houston
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedSimon O’Neill
BrünnhildeChristine Goerke
GuntherRyan McKinny
GutruneHeidi Melton
AlberichChristopher Purves
HagenAndrea Silvestrelli
WaltrauteJamie Barton
WoglindeAndrea Carroll
WellgundeCatherine Martin
FloßhildeRenée Tatum
1. NornMeredith Arwady
2. NornJamie Barton
3. NornHeidi Melton
Opera News

WITH ITS PERFORMANCE of Götterdämmerung on April 21—a co-production of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (Valencia) and Maggio Musicale (Florence)—Houston Grand Opera completed its first Ring cycle, one performed in annual installments and thus introduced over a three-year period. This Ring maintained the connecting thread of narrative with enthralling computer-generated imagery that parallels Wagner’s web of signifying leitmotifs. To start, the HGO orchestra, led by Patrick Summers, established itself as an ensemble of top-tier, international standing with its finely balanced, detailed textures and satisfyingly rich sweeps of sound. But singing alone could have sustained this performance, with three incomparable voices in the central roles—soprano Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde, tenor Simon O’Neill as Siegfried, and bass Andrea Silvestrelli as Hagen.

Goerke seems made for the role of Wagner’s superhuman heroine. She has the power to overtop a brass-swollen Wagnerian orchestra and the vocal colors and dramatic range to capture Brünnhilde’s experiences of rapturous love, shocked betrayal and searing anger. O’Neill’s tenor has a focused, burning core that can cut through the thick texture of Wagner’s scoring and exude a hero’s grim determination. But when disguised as Gunther and drugged by a potion, he easily adopted a chillingly robotic and pitiless manner. As Hagen, Silvestrelli couldn’t have been creepier, pairing his edgy bass resonance with a get-up of sunglasses that reflected an LED-like red glow from his tattooed-looking, totally bald head.

These main players led a uniformly strong cast of singers, some of them, such as Goerke, continuing in roles from the previous operas in the cycle, some appearing in new roles for Götterdämmerung. (O’Neill was heard as HGO’s Siegmund in 2015, and Silvestrelli was the Siegfried Fafner last season.) As the Rhinemaidens, Andrea Carroll (Woglinde), Catherine Martin (Wellgunde) and Renée Tatum (Flosshilde) reprised their preening frolics in suspended Plexiglas pools, singing in glowing soprano harmonies and ducking coyly under the water between phrases. Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny (Donner in Rheingold and now Gunther) sings with such appealing nuance and smokily sustained tones that we empathized with the character in spite of his worldly ambitions. And Meredith Arwady (Erda in Rheingold and Siegfried, Schwertleite in Walküre, and this time First Norn) once again showcased the richness and depth of her contralto voice, which conjures up supernatural power and timelessness. As Gutrune and Third Norn, Heidi Melton made a rewarding debut with a soprano that, for all its power, came across as sweet and youthfully bright.

The central moment of Götterdämmerung, the magnificent double wedding that goes bad at the beginning of Act II, is distinct in the Ring cycle for its prominent chorus. The HGO Chorus sustained that scene with power and precision. In particular, the basses and tenors sang with an authority and vigor that gave voice to the resolve of the battle-ready Gibichung vassals who then turn to celebration. For that scene, the combined talents of director Carlus Padrissa, set designer Roland Olbeter, video designer Franc Aleu and costume designer Chu Uroz, in this production by La Fura dels Baus, created a wondrous complement to Wagner’s grand centerpiece. Sacrificial animals (trussed up human acrobats) were hoisted high up in the background. Their blood coursed down that background and then across the stage in video images shown on the large, moveable screens that functioned as the main scenery throughout the opera. In the middle ground and just above the lower-lying video screens, the boat bearing Gunther and Brünnhilde back down the Rhine bobbed and swayed (the work of unobtrusive black-clad supernumeraries working movable cranes). And in the foreground, Siegfried, Gutrune, Hagen and the Gibichung vassals celebrated their arrival.

That scene represents the best of this production in its ability to inspire wonder while realizing all of the dramatic potential of Wagner’s conception. Other moments similarly and uniquely intensify the experience of the story—the surrounding three-dimensional effect of the Norns’ dangling ropes in combination with the ropes’ projection on background computer screens and on a foreground scrim; the writhing nest of (seemingly) naked bodies into which Siegfried (as Gunther) pulls Brünnhilde at the moment of her rape. The staging of yet other scenes, however, was baffling: there must be an idea behind the screen images of ciphers during the scene in the Gibichung hall—including the prominent but mysterious Greek letter on Gunther’s back—but what is it? And, as brilliantly imaginative as La Fura’s visual accompaniments to earlier transitions have been, the slowly turning earth, revolution after revolution, during Siegfried’s journey back to Brünnhilde was disappointingly tedious.

In spite of these complaints, there is no doubting the creativity, originality and often-compelling vision of La Fura’s production—one that renews Wagner’s Ring cycle and challenges its audience to think deeply about it. And, in the HGO performance, there was unrivaled singing to boot.

Gregory Barnett |JULY 2017 — VOL. 82, NO. 1


Houston Grand Opera’s Spectacular “Götterdämmerung”

Houston Grand Opera presented “Götterdämmerung” with an illustrious cast, led by Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde and Simon O’Neill’s Siegmund, magnificently conducted by Houston Grand Opera’s artistic director, Maestro Patrick Summers. It completed Houston Grand Opera [HGO]’s four-season presentation of the Fura dels Baus production of the “Ring of the Nibelungs”.

Christine Goerke’s Brünnhilde
New York dramatic soprano Christine Goerke has achieved international superstar status for her success in performing all three Brünnhilde roles that constitute Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs”.

Her “Götterdämmerung” Brünnhilde (the longest of “The Ring’s” three Brünnhilde roles) should be a lifetime memory for those who were in attendance at Saturday night’s performance.

Goerke sustained vocal power and luxurious sound throughout the five and a half hour opera. She evoked compassion and romantic love in her first scene with Simon O’Neill’s Siegfried, bewilderment in her interaction with Jamie Barton’s Waltraute, confusion, then fury, at Siegfried’s inexplicable actions in the second act, and finally, understanding and resolve in her determination to sacrifice her own life to break the curse of the Ring.

Houston Grand Opera has been one of two companies (the other, the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto) that have mounted productions of the “Ring” in which Goerke’s Brünnhilde was the centerpiece.

In my review of the 2015 HGO “Walküre”, I wrote how fortunate I was to have seen the great Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, the greatest Wagnerian soprano “of her time” perform with the San Francisco Opera in the role of Brünnhilde at various times in her career. I believe that Goerke has emerged as the early 21st century’s greatest Wagnerian soprano.

The Houston “Ring” has provided Goerke with the opportunity to realize fully this most challenging of assignments in the operatic repertory.

Simon O’Neill’s Siegfried
The Siegfried was New Zealand heldentenor Simon O’Neill, an HGO favorite whose Wagnerian assignments with Goerke have included the 2015 “Die Walküre” and “Lohengrin” [Summers Leads Sumptiously Sung “Lohengrin”: Houston Grand Opera, November 13, 2009.] He proved to have the power and endurance necessary to successfully perform this role.

O’Neill’s robust tenor voice has been enlisted by HGO for Verdi’s Otello as well.

Andrea Silvestrelli’s Hagen, Ryan McKinny’s Gunther and Heidi Melton’s Gutrune
Italian-born American bass Andrea Silvestrelli’s deep, resonant voice and imposing stage presence, has made him invaluable for the great bass roles of composers Wagner and Verdi.

His brooding, villainous Hagen, although appropriately the personification of evil, was beautifully sung. High points in his performance included his summons to the Gibichung vassals, his groggy dream conversation with his father Alberich (British baritone Christopher Purves), and the menacing trio with Brünnhilde and Gunther that ends the second act.

Baritone Ryan McKinny, who is one of the alumni of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, the company’s young artists’ program, has achieved international status as Wagnerian baritone, including performing Amfortas in Wagner’s “Parsifal” (at the 2016 Bayreuth Festival) and the title role in “The Flying Dutchman”.

McKinny’s baritone, which has both lyrical and dramatic qualities, contributed to his strong, psychologically-driven performance in the role of Gunther.

Heidi Melton, who possesses a Brünnhilde-sized Wagnerian soprano voice, brought vocal weight and insouciant acting to the role of Gunther’s sister, the Gibichung Gutrune.

Jamie Barton’s Waltraute
In one of the many examples of luxury casting that HGO has bestowed on its “Ring”, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was assigned the relatively brief role of Brünnhilde’s valkyrie sister Waltraute. Barton’s Waltraute was yet another memorable performance.

Barton, who was the 2013 winner of the Cardiff world competition and the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Richard Tucker Award, is still in the early stages of an illustrious career.

Meredith Arwady, Jamie Barton and Heidi Melton as the Three Norns
The opening scene of “Götterdämmerung” introduces the Three Norns who throughout eternity have been weaving the rope of fate, and who explain events of the past, present and future.

The First Norn was ably sung by American contralto Meredith Arwady. Jamie Barton and Heidi Melton superbly realized the roles of the Second and Third Norns.

Andrea Carroll’s Woglinde, Catherine Martin’s Wellgunde and Renee Tatum’s Flosshilde
The three Rhine Maidens in this production not only sing but swim underwater (each in her own tank). These bravura assignments were nicely achieved by American sopranos Andrea Carroll and Catherine Martin and by American mezzo-soprano Renee Tatum.

The Fura dels Baus Production
The “Ring of the Nibelungs” production seen in Houston was created by Barcelona-based Fura dels Baus company for the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, Spain.

The production abounds in eye-catching images, including the use of mechanical devices hoisting principal singers, teams of acrobats, and engaging visual projections.

Although some “Rings” are designed to impart “messages” about the deeper meanings of “The Ring of the Nibelungs”, for me the message is that razzle-dazzle accompanying glorious singing and the sweep of Wagner’s orchestration, enhances the experience of the live performance.


William Burnett | April 26, 2017

Houston Chronicle

Music and visuals collide in over-the-top presentation of ‘Götterdämmerung’

Siegfried, that dumb brute, cries out for the last time near the end of Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” to signal the beginning of the end.

As the “Twilight of the Gods” saga comes to a close, tenor Simon O’Neill sings of mortal realization. Meanwhile, percussive flutes and harp behind him offer a breath of air after four hours of minor-key, pounding, stringent, oh-so-Wagnerian arpeggios from the horn section that are the musical equivalent of stabs to the chest.

As Siegfried dies, a drop of blood appears on the screen behind him, then slowly spreads into the dark void. Soon black turns to red, and the entire world is about to be engulfed in fire and water.

The conclusion to Wagner’s “Ring” tetralogy, at the Houston Grand Opera through May 7, is, like Siegfried’s journey from fiery mountain to red abyss – demanding and spectacular. At five-plus hours, it’s one of the longest operas most audience members will ever see, and director Carlus Padrissa’s vision takes the eye in more directions than most can imagine.

But the evening’s achievement is first and foremost musical. The cast, helmed by Christine Goerke, delivered a forceful and relentlessly virtuosic performance Saturday night.

The show’s music and visuals clash, sometimes in grand fashion, like gods in the halls of Valhalla, and sometimes awkwardly, like an opera singer trying to belt out a solo while hanging upside down. O’Neill does this bat-inspired stunt for a few seconds, though it’s far from the strangest physical feat that Padrissa’s production subjects its singers to perform.

The Spanish opera and theater auteur, after all, is a key member of La Fura dels Baus, the performance-art group responsible for the opening ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. An opening ceremony to an Olympics is the height of maximalist performance, often indulging in thousands of dancers, fireworks, celebrities and the transformation of stadiums into light-infused, otherworldly dreamscapes.

You can describe Padrissa’s “Ring” treatment similarly.

The production wants to do everything in an absurdly superlative fashion. Aerial acrobatics. Giant metal seesaws. Singers diving in water tanks. More projection and screens than a Consumer Electronics Show exhibit hall. And there are absurd visual jokes, like a woman residing in a white Death Star-esque cage or the image of a naked man dancing inside a tube of water.

The sets by Roland Olbeter and video projection by Franc Aleu make up in ambition and novelty what they lack in coherence. It takes Wagner’s fire-and-brimstone world, rooted in the Viking era, and turns it into a landscape of grim, futuristic artificiality. It was difficult to keep track of what symbolism the designers were going for, what with all the Nazi-esque red armbands and the monetary symbols and the big, electronic backdrops that look like oversize screensavers.

But certain scenes worked. When Brünnhilde’s mountain-top perch turns into an orgy of human flesh, the jaw drops and the eyes remain transfixed on the stage. This is a new sight like the others, but this time it’s honest, even revelatory in its novelty.

If only more scenes triumphed like this, and if only the visual circus didn’t often distract from the gems of the evening – O’Neill certainly, not to mention Goerke as Brünnhilde and Andrea Silvestrelli as Hagen. These are Olympic athletes of the opera, who, rather than fading as the evening wears on, offer the audience more and more climactic energy.

It didn’t matter what strange outfit Goerke was in, or what peculiar metal contraption she was strapped to. Her resonant voice embodied every bit of Brünnhilde’s emotional brew of vengeance fulfilled and love lost. When her first note pierced the night, louder and brighter than any other singer, I wondered if she could sustain such energy throughout the night. But her goal wasn’t to merely keep up. Her performance grew, in fact, as her character morphed from the passive and domestic role of a damsel to the fiery vitality of a leading woman.

Meanwhile, you can see how hard Patrick Summers works the orchestra, demanding the instrumentalists’ utmost energy during each crescendo as his baton frothed up the air. Audiences often speak of singers’ tremendous stamina in the “Ring,” yet the orchestra’s ability to maintain an unwavering quality was just as impressive.

Siegfried’s death marks a quiet moment in “Götterdämmerung,” with a near 10-minute dirge performed without vocals. Yet it is the night’s most gloriously contemplative scene, with those Wagnerian horns taking the spotlight and demanding all our attention.

Goerke, in the end, is every bit the star that this production deserves. But Silvestrelli’s Hagen, Ryan McKinny’s Gunther and Heidi Melton’s Gutrune match her virtuosic spirit with their own give-it-their-all showcase. Both singer and designer realize that the conclusion to the “Ring,” about the folly of humankind and the end of the natural order, rarely has room for delicacy.

Nor will the hero of “Götterdämmerung” be greeted by angels when he dies. Padrissa’s production may lack the visual consistency of a more traditional rendition, but in the end, Wagner was always about cosmic ambition rather than safety.

Padrissa reaches for the cosmos. The musicians are already there. And those flutes that accompany Siegfried’s dying words are an appropriate harbinger for the serenity that comes after the apocalypse – if the horns signal destruction, then the wind instruments speak of the rebirth after the curtain call.

After O’Neill has been carted off the stage, Goerke remains, suspended high above the ground, her arms held high and her voice still ringing out in the final hour. We have all now witnessed the destruction of the world. Wagner should never feel any less heroic.

Wei-Huan Chen | April 24, 2017

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 48.0 kHz, 591 MByte (MP3)
A production by La Fura dels Baus
Possible dates: 22, 25, 29 April, 4 and 7 May 2017
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.