Toledo Opera 2011 Gala offers Wagnerian sampler

2/5/2011

Ring veterans Deborah Mayer and Jane Eaglen will make their Toledo debuts next Saturday. No, they're not advance stars for the WWE wrestling circus coming to town later this month.

Their RingThe Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner — boasts mythical plots even more bizarre and twisted than those of pro wrestling.

The Ring of the Nibelung comprises a cycle of four massive operas — Das Rheingold, Die Walkure (The Valkyries), Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung — based on Norse myths.

Wagner's epic productions are typically considered the main event in the world of grand opera, demanding of singers not only great vocal power and dramatic range but also great stamina.

"Someone once did research that showed that a singer uses up the same amount of energy singing a major role as a marathon runner," wrote Eaglen for Slate Magazine in 2001, while appearing as a Wagnerian soprano with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Eaglen, a native of England, has earned international accolades and honorary degrees for her portrayals of Wagnerian heroines. She is now based in the United States, working as artist-in-residence and adviser to opera companies from coast to coast. Most recently, she joined the faculty of Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

Wagner also is very demanding of the balance sheet.

Regional companies like the Toledo Opera rarely can afford to present these monumental works — although thanks to the Met's Live in HD series, Wagner lovers have been able to watch live productions locally through RAVE Motion Pictures. (The new Robert LePage production of Das Rheingold at the Met cost $17 million.)

As a creative alternative to a full production, the Toledo Opera has devoted its 2011 Gala to some of the most famed Wagner works. The Romance of the Ring is to begin at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.

All four operas will be represented in the two-hour program, accompanied by the Toledo Symphony and conducted by Thomas Conlin, using the original orchestrations.

Mayer, a young dramatic soprano who is gaining an international reputation as a Wagnerian performer, will tackle the ultimate Brunnhilde part: the Immolation scene from the final opera, Gotterdammerung.

An Indiana University graduate, Mayer is a winner of the Liederkranz Wagner Competition, which led to her performance in Carnegie Hall. She has sung in the Salzburg Festival in Austria, the Chichester Festival in England, and presented an invitational recital for the Richard Wagner Society of Bayreuth, Germany.

Still in the Valkyrie (Woman of Death) role, Mayer and tenor Michael Hayes will bring to life the passionate love duet from Siegfried.

Hayes made his local debut as Bacchus in the TOA production of Ariadne auf Naxos, and has sung with the New York City Opera and in major cities abroad.

As Wotan, the chief god, bass Gustav Andreassen will sing the famous farewell scene from Die Walkure. Andreassen made his TOA debut as Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. He has sung Wagner with the Utah Opera and has appeared in many U.S. and European venues.

More than most operas, Wagner's work lends itself to the kind of semi-staged concert production planned by the TOA. Passionate and historically controversial for his political views, Wagner conceived of opera as music-drama, with the orchestra not merely an accompanying ensemble but an integral part of the entire work.

So powerful is Wagner's composition and orchestration that it has been used to power-up the emotion of more than 500 films, including works directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, and Francis Ford Coppolla.

Singing Wagner is neither for the faint of heart nor the delicate of voice, notes Eaglen, whose own career, while not limited to Wagner, has gained gravity and fame because of her ability to sustain a powerful sound and flexible and emotive performance.

"I have often thought how similar a professional sports person is to a performer," wrote Eaglen. "They hone a talent and make a living from it, they have to ‘perform' at a given moment … hit a high C or a home run … and they have a lot of people watching them who think they could do better and offer ‘advice.' "

While Eaglen is not scheduled to sing, she will advance the annual fund-raiser with tales of her own experiences singing Brunnhilde, typically considered one of the most demanding soprano roles in all of opera. Her talk will begin at 7 p.m. in the Green Room near the Peristyle.

The Romance of the Ring will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Jane Eaglen's talk will begin at 7 p.m. in the Green Room of the museum and is free to ticket-holders. Tickets begin at $30 at 419-255-7464 or Copyright 2014 The Blade. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission.