Ride, DSO, Ride

Michelle DeYoung
Theater Jones

Rarely, but every blue moon, a critic will be surprised by an extraordinary performance by a known quantity. When expecting the same, something magical happens and the performance transcends, not only expectations, but also the art of music itself. Such was the case on Friday evening when Music Director Jaap van Zweden, three exceptional soloists and the Dallas Symphony presented Act One of Wagner’s second opera in his massive operatic Ring Cycle, Die Walküre.

Reaching back into a fuzzy memory, it seems that van Zweden and the DSO assayed this same act once before, with discouraging results. Not this time: the results went far beyond extraordinary and into that rarified strata of lifetime remembered performances. It was as much a surprise as it was a transcendental experience.

Michelle DeYoung greatly impressed when she appeared in the DSO’s concert performance of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and she impressed all over again as Sieglinde. She is a mezzo-soprano, but this is a role that both mezzos and sopranos sing regularly. As an understudy for an indisposed Lotte Lehmann, the 23-year-old dramatic soprano Astrid Varnay debuted in the role in 1941. Other sopranos famous for the role include Margaret Harshaw and Deborah Voigt. Yet mezzo Christa Ludwig was equally successful in the role. We can add DeYoung to the list of great mezzo Sieglindes. She effortlessly sang the role, with a rich voice of remarkable size. She also conveyed all the drama, in this unstaged version, purely with vocal coloration.

Like O’Neill, the Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson has a brighter sound than most others who sing the role of Hunding, or all of the other Wagner bass roles for that matter. However, his resonant voice still has plenty of basso depth. Hunding is the villain of the opera but Sigmundsson played him with more dignity and less coiled danger.

Van Zweden’s notorious intensity, which he brings to even the lightest works, suited him perfectly for this score. He delivered a taut performance that never let up until the last note, which followed an unexpectedly passionate kiss that O’Neill planted on a surprised DeYoung. Van Zweden, it appears, is an ideal Wagner conductor. Reportedly, his non-symphonic career is moving in that direction.

He was on hair-trigger alert right from the particularly menacing storm’s thunder and lightning, that starts the opera. Yet, no matter how loud things got, van Zweden had significant volume left in the bank for when it was needed. He also gave the singers some freedom, within his overall parameters, to bring their own interpretations to life. All this combined for a truly exceptional performance.

The DSO was extraordinary. They are not an opera orchestra, a specialized beast if ever there was one, but you wouldn’t know that from their responsive performance on Friday. Further, purely orchestral-oriented orchestras are notoriously short on rehearsal time, but Walküre sounded very well rehearsed indeed—like the orchestra had played frequently it for years. 

Read the rest of the review here