Review: ‘The Ring Cycle’: ‘Twilight of the Gods –The Ring of the Nibelung –Part Three’ at Washington National Opera

Mother Earth is crying in despair and degradation in Director Francesca Zambella’s audaciously brilliant interpretation of the final opera of Wagner’s artistically magnificent Ring CycleTwilight of the Gods –The Ring of the Nibelung–Part Three. The Washington National Opera has “pulled out all the stops” in a synergistic production that integrates the music and words of Wagner with a heightened dramatic urgency that is penetrating, subtly wry, and –ultimately—enthralling.

-Eric-Halfvarson (Hagen) and Melissa Citro (Gutrune). Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.
Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) and Melissa Citro (Gutrune). Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.

The three Norns are connecting a long cable (indicative of the anti –industrial thrust of the piece) when they notice that the cable is frayed and they fear for the order of the world. Award–winning Costume Designer Catherine Zuber has appropriately dressed the three Norns (Lindsay Ammann, Jamie Barton, and Marcy Stonikas) in industrial gear and goggles.

The famed, stellar Scenic Designer Michael Yeargan presents a sleek contemporary vision of a modern home with steel girding and walls of glass. In this abode lives Gunther (Ryan McKinny) and his sister Gutrune (Melissa Citro) as well as their half-brother Hagen (Eric Halfvarson)–who is the son of Alberich. They plot to gain access to the Ring –now in Siegfried’s possession. Indeed, the continual thread of this sweeping opera cycle is the curse of the Ring that brings with it a lust for unquenchable power.

Bass Halfvarson totally commands the stage with his resonant and powerfully thrilling voice. Halfvaron’s nefarious and sly cajoling of his family to gain the Ring is conveyed with acerbic and sly touches of humor.

The development of the opera moves to Brünnhilde’s (Catherine Foster) Rock where her Valkyrie sister Waltraute (Jamie Barton) visits her, — as the Gods’ powers are fading as is the natural world —consequently she urges that the Ring must be returned to the Rhinemaidens or all will be doomed.   Mezzo-Soprano Jamie Barton is enthralling as she sings so expressively meshing her emotions to each corresponding note with fluidity and ease. As Barton warns Foster’s Brünnhilde of the approaching destruction, one is held spellbound.

The contrasting reactions of Brünnhilde are riveting as Ms. Foster’s superlative Soprano sings defiantly of her never giving up the Ring as it is a symbol of her love for Siegfried. Foster’s soaring and thrilling vibrato was a thrilling privilege to hear.

Marcy Stonikas, Lindsay Ammann, and Jamie-Barton as the Norns. Photo by Scott-Suchman.
Marcy Stonikas, Lindsay Ammann, and Jamie-Barton as the Norns. Photo by Scott-Suchman.

The resonant Baritone of Gordon Hawkins’ Alberich is thrilling as he appears to son Hagen in a feverish dream that opens Act Two.  Alberich urges Hagen to get the Ring from Siegfried. Mark McCullough’s evocative lighting is beautiful and mesmerizing –as if being in a dreamlike reverie.

Complex plot machinations occur and we are in the striking, slanted, vaulted, glass panels that represent a huge Hall which is the stunning setting for the dual marriages of Siegfried (Daniel Brenna) to Gutrune and the marriages of Brunnhilde and Gunther. A magnificent highlight is the large assemblage of singers from the Washington National Opera Chorus portraying the guests at the wedding. The Chorus members sang so heartily yet so sensitively.

The gorgeous singing of Ms. Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde is thrilling and magnetic as she sang of treachery and betrayal. Dressed gorgeously by Catherine Zuber, I could not take my eyes off of Foster as she sang with such passion and fervor.

As Hagen, Brünnhilde, and Gunther joined hands on Hagen’s spear swearing their revenge to Wagner’s music, there is an emotional thrust that sent chills down my spine.

The Ring continues to work its curse as Act Three begins and one witnesses the degradation of the environment replete with haze-filled skies, parched earth, and piles of garbage. The three Rhinemaidens are wearing drab garb as they sing and lament grievously over the state of Mother Earth.

Daniel Brenna’s Tenor exuded a natural and earthy charm as he sang gloriously of his past victories and conquest to the hunting party.   Brenna is simply amazing in every facet of this role.

As Siegfried is killed by the conniving Hagen, the opera draws near conclusion. The wrong committed against Siegfried is perceived as an affront to his great  heroism and honesty. The funeral music by Wagner is transcendentally moving.

A simply stunning and evocative projection of the earth surging through the mists (Designed by S. Katy Tucker) set against Wagner’s incredibly haunting music is spellbinding.

Ms. Foster reappears with dramatic, striking presence to order a funeral pyre to be built for Siegfried and realizing the Gods’ responsibility for his death.  Brünnhilde returns the Ring to the Rhinemaidens and walks into the flames to join her lover in death.

Brünnhilde’s death frees the Ring of its curse and the natural order of the world is restored. In the astoundingly perceptive final scene, a young girl silently steps forward and plants a tree—new life is regenerated.

The Washington National Opera Orchestra is beyond perfection under the Direction of Conductor Philippe Auguin and they appropriately appeared on the stage for Curtain Calls —for, indeed, isn’t the Music the main performer in this Wagner masterpiece?

Ryan McKinny (Gunther), Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) and Danie -Brenna (Siegfried). Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.
Ryan McKinny (Gunther), Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) and Danie -Brenna (Siegfried). Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.

Since this production of Twilight of the Gods—The Ring of the Nibelung –Part Three is such an unqualified success, and completes Wagner’s operatic cycle, it is important to say:

The entire cast, technical staff, The Washington National Opera Chorus, and each and everyone involved with this opera —and the prior operas —in this Ring Cycle deserve huge acclaim. Under Director Francesca Zambello’s astute artistic vision, the Washington National Opera’s production of The Ring of the Nibelung is an artistic masterpiece that all future productions must reckon with.

Running Time: 4 hours and 15 minutes with one 40-minute intermission and another 30-minute intermission.

Twilight of the Gods –The Ring of the Nibelung –Part Three was presented on Friday, May 6, 2016 at 5 PM by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center Opera House – 2700 F Street, in Washington, DC. Future Performances of Twilight of the Gods is on Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 1:00 PM, and Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 1:00 PM. Purchase tickets online.

Siegfried–The Ring of the Nibelung–Part Two was presented on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 6 PM by the Washington National Opera performing at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC.

Future Performances of Siegfried are on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 6:00 PM, Friday, May 13, 2016 at 6:00 PM, and Friday, May 20, 2016 at 6:00 PM. Purchase tickets online.

Future performances of The Valkyrie are on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 6 PM and on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 6:00 PM. Purchase tickets online.

Future Performance of The Rhinegold are on Tuesday, May 2, 2016 at 7:30 PM, and Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 7:30 PM. Purchase tickets online.

Review: ‘The Ring Cycle’: ‘The Rhinegold at Washington National Opera by David Friscic on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Review: ‘The Ring Cycle’: ‘The Valkyrie –The Ring of the Nibelung-Part One’ at Washington National Opera by David Friscic on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Review: ‘The Ring Cycle’: ‘Siegfried-The Ring of the Nibelung-Part Two’ at Washington National Opera by David Friscic on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Review: ‘The Ring Cycle’: ‘Twilight of the Gods –The Ring of the Nibelung –Part Three’ at Washington National Opera by David Friscic on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.


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