Bad boy—often very good bad boy—director Christopher Alden continues his work on Jonathan Dove’s 1990 chamber reduction of Wagner’s “Ring” with a trimmed-down “Valkyrie.” The “Rhinegold” of 2001 was provocative with Quentin Tarantino-meets-“Dynasty” aesthetics, and, all in all, a fitting complement to the Met’s doggedly idea-free “Ring” staging.
Jonathan Sheffer, EOS Orchestra’s guiding light, is a questing conductor/impressario in the line of Leon Botstein and Will Crutchfield. One doesn’t always totally agree with his results, but he sure makes interesting things happen. EOS musicians are encouraged to dress up in the post-Kronos Quartet—so far black is not mandatory for the audience, but expect an evening with many of the gay glitterati—but withal are some of the best players in Manhattan.
The largely unknown lead singers may not attain the vocal grandeur of the Met’s Deborah Voigt or Matti Salminen, but the chamber format allows for dynamic nuance and delicacy. One of the outstanding members of the “Rhinegold” cast, the striking mezzo Linda Pavelka, returns as Fricka.
But the big news is Sanford Sylvan’s first Wotan. The openly gay Boston-based singer has long been one of America’s finest vocal artists. His warm-timbred, if light and highly placed baritone, is wed to exceptional musicianship, encompassing legato phrasing and pinpoint articulation. The full, nuanced range of communicative expression he brings to sung texts has made him a favorite interpreter of contemporary composers. Witness one of the key offerings among his eclectic recordings: John Adams conducting the Walt Whitman-based “The Wound Dresser” with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
Also look for the baritone’s much-praised collaborations with David Breitman, his excellent piano accompanist for the last quarter century: Schubert’s “Die Schone Mullerin,” “Beloved That Pilgrimage” (a collection of American songs, notably by Barber and Copland) plus “The AIDS Quilt Songbook,” joined by the other fine baritones Kurt Ollmann, William Sharp, and the late Willam Parker.
On the opera stage, Sylvan has made his biggest impact in two Adams roles: Chou En-Lai in “Nixon in China” and Leon Klinghoffer in “The Death of Klinghoffer” (both recorded).
Sylvan also won plaudits playing Alfonso as a confused Vietnam vet in “Despina’s Diner,” based on “Cosi fan tutte” the most successful Peter Sellars’ Mozart/da Ponte rendering.
Until this Wotan, the only other Wagnerian role in Sylvan’s repertoire has been “Tannhauser”’s Wolfram von Eschenbach—aptly, a highly articulate and sensitive mastersinger.