Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond


June 02, 2010

Christine Brewer

I have only one criticism of American soprano Christine Brewer’s appearance in Los Angeles this week. It is that she was singing the wrong material on the wrong stage. Specifically I mean that she should be the one singing Brünnhilde in Los Angeles Opera’s currently running presentation of Wagner’s Ring cycle instead of the lackluster Linda Watson. Now I know that you’ll all point out the many reasons that Brewer couldn’t be in this Ring cycle, or perhaps any Ring cycle if you believe the kind of gossip you read on the Internet. And certainly she didn’t manage to follow through on her scheduled 2009 Metropolitan opera appearances in that same role for reported health reasons. But come on people, there has got to be some way to make this happen. It is a crime that perhaps the best-suited living voice to Wagner’s heroine is not singing it everywhere. If Joyce DiDonato can do an entire run of Rosina in a wheelchair and Placido Domingo can sing his umpteenth new role with audible line-by-line prompter support, there is no reason Brewer can’t be put into a reasonable Ring production somewhere.

So while you industrious opera companies are working on that one, let me tell you how beautifully sung Brewer’s recital at the Walt Disney Concert Hall was. She has a warm and sizable instrument that is beautifully controlled. And if you think all Wagnerian singing is essentially shouting, you haven’t heard it sung the way Brewer can – piercingly bright, and richly textured. We did get a little Wagner from Brewer on Tuesday in the form of the Wesendock Lieder which provided enough of an excuse for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who sponsored the recital, to state they were participating in the L.A. Ring Festival. These beautifully written songs come from one of the most fruitful times in Wagner’s artistic life and carry the hallmarks of both the Ring and the later Tristan und Isolde. As beautiful as they were in Brewer’s performance, they were equally bittersweet considering that everyone in the audience knew exactly what we were missing in not having her performing across the street at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The rest of the program was similar to the one she gave in Cerritos last Fall including two songs from Joseph Marx and a variety of English language works in the second half of the program. Brewer loves the music of Benjamin Britten and featured his Four Cabaret Songs. She also returned to “Echoes of Nightingales”, a set of concert songs she’s collected which were regularly performed by great sopranos of the early to mid-twentieth century including Helen Traubel, Eleanor Steber, Eileen Farrell and Kirsten Flagstad. Granted this material can be a bit kitschy, but her vocal performance of it is impeccable and often elevates it to a much higher level. Brewer did four encores along with her accompanist Craig Rutenberg. And even though it was not a sold out crowd for this Spring's final spring program at WDCH, Brewer received a highly enthusiastic ovation. For now, we’ll just have to take what we can get.



Yeah, I'm with you. She has The Voice.

I heard her for the first time at the Donald Runnicles 50th birthday party, er, concert, and said at the time that she should be the Isolde and Brunnhilde of choice. I wish it would happen. Does the Deutsch Oper have a Ring cycle coming up? Because I think Runnicles is her biggest booster and the conductor most likely to try to get her on stage for Brunnhilde.
No Ring for the DO Berlin, but Les Troyens, Tristan, Tannhauser and Elektra conducted by Runnicles, plus some very tasty Braunfels, Respighi and Franchetti conducted by others.
Maybe I need to plan a trip to Berlin.
That is never a bad idea.
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