Miami Wagner Institute debuts

Arts / Article

This post has been updated.

Organized by the brand new Miami Wagner Institute, the July 16 concert at the New World Center was the high point of the third season of the Miami Music Festival’s advanced training program. The concert’s success proved that you can do Wagner in Miami, even in midsummer, and that the demand is there, given the size of the audience.

The first thing to note is the admirable performance of the student orchestra conducted by festival founder Michael Rossi, infinitely better than last year’s. In the first part of the program, it dared tackle the “Der Rosenkavalier” suite that Richard Strauss quickly composed on the heels of the resounding success of the opera of the same name. The performance was solid, though a Wagner overture–“Tannhäuser” and “Rienzi” or “The Flying Dutchman”–might have been a more appropriate prologue to the singing.

The parade of young Wagnerian singers trained to perfection in a week of intense work by opera coach Kathleen Kelly and soprano Christine Goerke–who was summoned back to Miami by Rossi after her sensational master class last year gave rise to this project–evinced dedication, fervor and promising talent. We will definitely be hearing from some of them again. A case in point was contralto Rehanna Thelwell and her first-class rendition of Erda’s call (“Weiche, Wotan, Weiche!”). Tracy Cox kicked off the evening with a “Dich teure Halle” from “Tannhäuser” that was rich and full, barely straining at in the high notes, followed by Rebecca Wilson’s intimate “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde.” Two couples took turns delivering excerpts of the first act of “Die Walküre.” The tenors–Brent Turner and Matthew Opitz–had some trouble navigating Siegmund’s vocal range. Soprano Jennifer Root’s “Der Männer Sippe” was less rich and full, but more finished, and Elisabeth Rosenberg delivered a perfectly competent “Du bist der Lenz.”

The second part was the evening’s raison d’etre because of the presence of Christine Goerke and  bass-baritone Alan Held, who have sung Brünnhilde and Wotan in Toronto, Seattle, Chicago and Washington and are scheduled to do so at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Only the first two scenes of the third act of “Die Walküre” were performed, leaving out the third, which contains a crucial dialogue between father and daughter. Nevertheless, what was included displayed shrewdness and intelligence on the part of director Dan Wallace Miller, who treated the event as a gigantic multimedia show, projecting slides on the New World Center’s screens, and deploying a dynamic ensemble to add humorous touches (such as a valkyrie in black leather). Kathleen Kelly’s meaty introduction warmed up the audience in the best possible way. The orchestra performed beautifully, with the cellos and French horns excelling, despite a few understandable miscues by the latter. In the role of Sieglinde,Tracy Cox measured up to her famous colleagues. By her side, Goerke exuded authority and talent, and Held’s powerful voice dominated the stage from the very beginning.

Lacking the end of the third act, the concert ended somewhat abruptly, but after the enthusiastic bravos, Goerke still had an ace up her sleeve. As an encore, she delivered no less than “Fliegt heim, ihr Raben,” the last part of Brünnhilde’s self-immolation scene, in which she let loose a Wagner sound like has not been heard in these parts for a long time. Thus did the great American soprano keep faith with her audience, supported by an orchestra that succeeded in depicting the glorious finale of “The Ring” cycle, a far-from-negligible achievement.

May Goerke–a well-rounded, magnetic and (fortunately) accessible artist–return next year, and may the Miami Wagner Institute live long and prosper in this city. May the excellent, longstanding idea that it is possible to do good opera in the middle of our stifling summer take hold. And, above all, may Wagner and Miami become better friends, finally hanging out together as they should, forever. Let us remember Florida Grand Opera’s “Flying Dutchman” and “The Valkyrie,” its aborted “Tannhäuser” and, most recently, “Tristan” at the Arsht’s new auditorium.

The Miami Music Festival has taken the first step, and now local companies should find it easier to follow suit. Judging from the audience’s reaction, the conditions are in place. Congratulations and a Wagnerian “Hoyotoho!”