Das Rheingold - Wagner - Two Sopranos & Cousin JohnTuesday, August 13, 2013
Saturday night I attended ViVace Opera’s concert production of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold held at St. Mark’s Anglican Church.
I have always defined a true friend as someone who will help you on moving day. There is a new addition to this maxim of mine, “A friend is someone who will find no excuse not to accompany you for any production of Wagner.”
At the end of last night’s performance of the two-hour-twenty-four-minute opera, soprano Alexandra Hill thanked me for coming but said, “You came alone.”
I could not tell her that she was wrong and that I had come with Cousin John’s ghost.
Cousin John Hayward’s father Freddy was my father’s younger brother. He and Iris had two children, Dianne and John. When I was serving as a conscript in the Argentine Navy when I was 21 I would often visit them at tea time as Aunt Iris (pronounced eery-s) made the best deviled ham in the world. Cousin John, tall, thin, and blonde in his Argentine Army uniform (he was also doing his military service) resembled one of Hitler’s best Wehrmacht soldiers. His superiority was obvious as he would look down on me (down that long Hayward nose) as an uncouth Argentine who had lived in Mexico too long. Cousin John was cultured and loved not only symphonic music (at the time I loathed it) but was a fan of opera. He was particularly crazy about Wagner. Cousin John and I had nothing in common so we didn’t talk much.
Shortly after one of those afternoon teas I fell in love with an Argentine girl of Jewish/Austrian extraction. Susana loved me in spite of the fact that I surely was uncouth as I loved jazz and she loved opera. She commanded me to put on my best (and only) suit as she was going to take me to the opera. My first opera at the venerable Teatro Colón was Sergei Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel. From my point of view it wasn’t bad. I preferred our second outing when we saw Christoff Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.
Seeing Plácido Domingo (a young tenor at the time) in Mexico City’s Bellas Artes in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore was exciting for me. This was around 1974, By the time I came to Vancouver I had come to accept symphonic music even though I preferred baroque and the smaller string quartets. Having to photograph opera stars for the Georgia Straight gave me the opportunity to go to many opera performances and I became a fan. In all that I managed to see one Wagner opera, The Flying Dutchman.
Cousin John rose quickly in Buenos Aires in the hierarchy of the Royal Bank of Canada and was soon sent with a very good executive position to Toronto. We met several times and for once I had a few things we could talk about. The last time I saw him during a business trip to Toronto he invited me to his beautifully appointed apartment and we watched (believe it or not!) Wagner excerpts on a very large TV. I had a good time.
A few weeks later I received a beautiful letter from Cousin John telling me that we were finally more than just first cousins but friends, too.
A year later he died. I felt sad but good that we had resolved our distances in the end.
Last night was my first full-fledged Wagner opera in spite of the fact that it was not at the Colón. It was in a church and the instrumental music backing the singers was a single piano, most ably and beautifully played by Luke Housner.
Housner is a gentle, soft-spoken man whose Vivace Opera project (five years in the running) has a mission. It gives the opportunity for budding singers to be exposed to the rigors of thorough musical awareness to the degree that they could apply this technique to approaching other roles. They will be further equipped to tackle auditions and competitions, enhancing their hire-ability.
I was talking to the excellent soprano Jennifer Ashley who played Fricka during a rare and usually verboten break in the opera. Housner wanted to be kind to our bums and bladders.
Ashley told me that somehow she had not been involved in last year’s Vivace but as soon as she found out that Wagner was in the works she had to be part of it. “How often do we have the chance to sing Wagner in Vancouver,” she told me with excitement.
|Alexandra Hill - Soprano
As for my friend Alexandra Hill, that beautiful and elegant soprano, I could not avert my eyes from her role as the Rheinmaiden Wellgunde. She an the other two, played by Szu-Wen Wang and Leah Field with big taunting smiles as they dealt with Alberich, the Niebelung dwarf proved to me that I indeed can laugh at a Wagner opera as it isn’t all as serious as we have been known to think. When the fabulous (no other word suffices) Wotan played by Jeremy Ireland (a bass/baritone) and Loge the god of fire (played by Kevin Armstrong most ably) craftily convince Albrecht (in possession of not only the ring but also the magical helmet, the Tarnhelm) to turn himself into a toad/frog, and they catch him I had to laugh again!
An intimate introduction (I was seated on the first row) to a Wagner opera with a sole piano and a couple of singers I knew was exactly what I have needed all these years to launch me into the possibility of getting a good cushion and going to the nearest performance of the Ring Cycle in a near future.
I know that Cousin John with a smug smile would simply have said to me, “Finally.”