Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tropical Wagner -- Amazon Ring pics


So I finally got around to processing all the RAW files I took with my trusty Canon 10D during my trip to the Amazon Opera Festival's Ring Cycle in Manaus, and now have arranged the images into a viewable web photo album.

Check my pictures out here if you're curious. Note that this is a personal trip album; i.e., please don't re-publish these pictures anywhere else without permission. The opera pictures are about a half of the way down.

With balcony tickets selling for as little as $4 dollars, the Manaus Ring was the first presentation of an integral Ring Cycle in Brazil, and a daring gamble for the municipality of Manaus and the Amazonas state's (the largest state in the Brazilian Federation) Secretary of Culture. The Festival came off without any major glitches, and was a resounding success in every respect.

Yes, we saw piranhas

Those of you who kept telling me before the trip that the "adventure" aspect of a Ring in Manaus took precedence over the artistic experience were quite mistaken. To be sure, there were many things that were very special about the trip itself besides experiencing Wagner's Des Ring des Nibelungen in such an exotic part of our planet. Manaus and the inconceivably huge rainforest will always be there, but to experience the Ring cycle in such a fresh and inventive production, performed so wondrously in a beautiful, intimate 700-seat theater is certainly a privilege that will not soon to be repeated. Next year, the Manaus production of the Ring will in fact travel to São Paulo (the 20 million metropolis in Southeastern Brazil), but I doubt the new venue could be as intimate or splendid as the legendary Teatro Amazonas.

Of the performances, I was mightily impressed with the Brünnhilde of Maria Russo, a fine American soprano whose career has been centered mainly in Germany and Austria. She has been involved with this project from the start -- five years in the making -- and honed in on her character comfortably with great nuance and verve. I later learned that she was not at her best health last year, when the Festival offered the first staging of its Gotterdämmerung (in anticipation of this year's Ring Festival). But thankfully in full vocal powers this year, Russo's sound was supple, buttery and round -- easily supplying the vocal impact most of us only dream of from Valkyries at the Met or San Francisco. One hasn't lived until one has heard Brünnhilde's Immolation sung from twenty feet away.

I was in Seattle when Alan Woodrow hurt his foot, and had to be substituted by Richard Berkeley Steele at the Seattle Opera's Ring in 2001, so I was glad I finally got to hear his Siegfried. In Manaus, I don't know how much adjustment Alan Woodrow made in the space, but I expected him to be almost overbearing with the amplitude of his voice. The performance actually turned out to be quite musical, and Woodrow used his volume judiciously, saving it for the moments of greatest impact. Seattle patrons this summer will no doubt appreciate that his characterization is nicely fleshed-out, worthy of the best portrayals of the role we currently have available.

Wotan was portrayed with great poignancy by Licio Bruno, possibly the best bass-baritone Brazil has produced. The noble vulnerability of his singing nurtures a quality which greatly informs the character, and brings Wotan's snarly rages into high relief. Bruno was partnered by the great Brazilian mezzo Celine Imbert as Fricka, in an intense and warm blooded rendition of the role. There was a palpable sense of ensemble from the supporting cast, an assemblage of some of the best singers in Brazil, including some voices that clearly deserve greater international exposure.

© 2005 C. Chang

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