I'm listening to the forging scene from Siegfried, sung by my dear friend Gary Rideout and conducted by the great Israeli maestro Asher Fisch, with whom I will shortly be working in Chicago. I am covering --- understudying, for you opera civilians --- another great, the mezzo Stephanie Blythe, who is the current "It Girl" in my repertoire. It is a great privilege, and scary as hell.
This is the first time, the very first time I've been able to listen to this recording without weeping. You see, Gary passed away in 2007, and not a day goes by that I don't miss him. I especially miss him when I am on the road for singing engagements, as I am now, or in a part of the country that reminds me of Arizona, where we met singing the Ring Cycle (he was Loge, the god of mischief, which suited him very well; I was Erda, the Earth Goddess), or when I need good advice such as only Gary could give, or I see something ridiculous which I know he would have enjoyed. He is always with me, in the way of soulmates, sometimes more present than others.
Gary is present with me today because earlier this week, I experienced my first Metropolitan Opera HD Broadcast, of Das Rheingold. How can I express how overwhelming this experience was on every level? First, Rheingold is a deeply personal opera for me for many reasons. I sang the role of Erda several times throughout the 90s, at the beginning of my career, in the Arizona Ring. This is where I met Gary, but also many other wonderful singers who became wonderful friends. Those Rings were a very, very special experience for all of us, something not to be repeated. We had a conductor who knew and loved and understood every note of the score by heart, our late and most beloved Maestro Henry Holt. We had caring colleagues and an enthusiastic fan base and a stunningly beautiful setting, Flagstaff. It was a magical time. I cannot now hear this music without hearing the voices of my friends, but especially Gary's. When I did Rheingold again in 2009 at Indianapolis Opera --- also a wonderful experience --- I was blindsided by how very emotional it was for me. As I waited to make my entrance as Erda, to issue my warning to the marvelous Wotan of Greer Grimsley, I found myself once again suppressing tears.
But this Met HD broadcast was overwhelming for other reasons. The personal connection continued --- Miss Blythe was singing Fricka, in one of the most sensitive, loving, and beautiful performances of the role I've ever heard --- and I was completely humbled by the thought that in a few weeks I will meet her and stand in her shadow, having been chosen to take over for her should she for some reason be unable to sing. (No pressure!).
But apart from the personal, this Rheingold, especially on the big screen, embodies Wagner's ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk. From the first moments of the score, when you hear the waves of the Rhein, you are enveloped in the world of the opera. The set is a masterwork of technology and design, greatly enhanced by a brilliant lighting scheme, a wonder of which I am sure Maestro Wagner himself would have approved. It consists of a series of planks which move in various configurations and possess projections which can respond to movement or sound --- so when the Rheinmaidens,"swimming" on cables, sing or move, corresponding bubbles rise behind them. The Rainbow Bridge at the end is spectacular, as is Donner's gathering of the storm clouds and lightning strike. I don't know whether I would have had the same reaction had I heard it in the house --- I would love to, but it is sold out --- but on a giant movie screen, it was visually and vocally stunning.
From the opening chords, when those giant planks began to undulate gently like waves, I gasped and began to weep as the music and the visuals invaded my soul. I was captivated from the very first moment and remained riveted for the entire two and a half hour opera. I wept again when Richard Croft, a sweet-voiced Loge, began to sing the familiar lines --- of course I heard, and saw, my Gary, and I always will. I felt pinned to my seat by the sheer mastery of it all --- how often can anyone say that? Certainly there were things I didn't care for --- Bryn Terfel, as splendid a singer as he is, will never be my preferred Wotan; Loge's costume was silly and unflattering; I disliked the staging of the measuring of the Rheingold; but these are details. I loved the vocal performances, every one of them solid and convincing --- Eric Owens as Alberich walked away with the show in cast of stellar performances --- and each of the smaller roles was luxuriously cast.
I wept also because, for the first time since I was in college and saw a production of Carmen, I wanted to be part of that production --- that one --- so badly that it hurt my heart. That sounds pretty silly, but it's an expression of how much I love singing and performing, and the level of it I aspire to be able to create and be a part of. To be part of something that grand feeds an artist's soul in a way nothing else does. There are other, equally satisfying ways of feeding your soul; but this one is special.
That production of Das Rheingold fed my soul. Currently, I am performing music which is in no way as profound; Gilbert and Sullivan's comic masterpiece The Mikado; but it has its place in the pantheon and I love doing it, too. My goal as an artist is to take a fraction of that nourishment I received from experiencing the truly great art of others and imbue my own performance with it, in the hopes that I can feed someone else.