The Washington National Opera celebrates its 60th anniversary with three complete cycles of Richard Wagner’s powerful “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Clutching the tickets they snapped up months in advance, devoted fans are arriving from throughout the world to attend the only Ring Cycle performed in North America this year.
This enormous undertaking eclipses the company’s individual presentations of the composer’s four Ring operas from 2006-09, and occurs when the destruction of the world’s economy and the environment by greed and corruption is foremost in people’s mind.
British soprano Catherine Foster makes her WNO debut as Brunhilde, the role that elevated her to fame at Bayreuth in Germany.
“It’s a role I love and have been doing for a long time,” Miss Foster told The Washington Times. “I’m especially thrilled to be singing it to a new audience in Washington in the spring, my favorite time of the year.”
Since singing the role of Brunhilde for the first time in 2007 at Weimar, Miss Foster has interpreted it on some of the world’s most prestigious stages, but it is not surprising that her greatest thrill was her first performance of the role at Bayreuth.
“Bayreuth is the Hollywood of Wagner, the place he designed specifically for his music,” she said. “He was first impressed by the small theater at Riga, Latvia, where the acoustics got his ear. Because he knew how to mix the orchestra, he designed the orchestra pit at Bayreuth with a small lip that sends the sound directly to the audience.”
During the past decade Miss Foster delved deeply into Brunhilde to discover all there is to know about the character she admires for her diversity.
“Brunhilde expresses everything from joy to sorrow and naivete to full-blown maturity,” she said. “We first meet her as a teenager in ‘Die Walkure.’ Next, in ‘Siegfried,’ we find her in her first passion of falling in love. Finally, in ‘Gotterdammerung’ she becomes a whole person who is joyful for having loved and learned how to forgive.”
Miss Foster developed her own understanding of human nature during her 15 years as a midwife before transitioning on full-time to music.
“There was never a question in my mind but that I would succeed in both careers, and when I was ready to move on to music, I was prepared,” she said.
Miss Foster began voice studies at Birmingham Conservatoire in 1995 after accumulating rich experiences working with hospital patients of all ages, then studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and the London Opera Studio. Despite several successful engagements with Welsh National Opera and the English National Opera, her vocal career did not take off until she moved to Germany to become an ensemble member of DNT in Weimar. She has lived in Germany ever since.
“I hope the Kennedy Center audiences discover a great deal about Brunhilde by the journey she took,” she said. “It’s also important that they understand what the ‘Ring’ series means in today’s world. This production is completely American in perspective, and I’m very intrigued by the way Francesca Zambello calls on what is happening in [American] culture to tell the story.
“I’m also pleased that she has approached the series from the female perspective, with deep understanding and support for all women.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Washington National Opera presents Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” in German with projected English titles
WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St NW, Washington, D.C., 20566
WHEN: Through May 22
INFO: Tickets from $75 by calling 202/467-4600, 800/444-1324 or visiting Kennedy-Center.org.