The San Diego Symphony Brings Wagner to the Rady Shell

The welcome at Saturday’s San Diego Symphony concert at The Rady Shell was shared by Martha Gilmer, the orchestra’s Chief Executive Officer, and San Diego Opera General Director David Bennett. This unusual prelude symbolized the main offering of the evening, a performance of Act I of Richard Wagner’s second Ring Cycle opera, Die Walküre.

Viktor Antipenko [photo (c.) Gary Payne]

Collaboration between San Diego’s two principal music organizations is nothing new: for the last 20 seasons, the San Diego Symphony has played in the Civic Center pit for every San Diego Opera main stage production. But this was the first time the San Diego Symphony has hosted opera at the Rady Shell, and from the favorable audience reception of Saturday’s exciting Ring excerpt, I predict we will see more opera at the Rady Shell.

Die Walküre’s opening act involves only three characters, a practical virtue for the limited space in front of the orchestra seated on the Rady Shell stage. The military procession from Verdi’s Aïda, for example, is not going to work at the Rady Shell. For the dashing young warrior Siegmund, the Russian-American tenor Viktor Antipenko proved a winning choice, as did the young American soprano Jennifer Holloway for Sieglinde, with whom the warrior immediately falls in love. And bass Peter Rose grandly fit the growling Hunding, to whom Sieglinde is unhappily married. Wagner aficionados know that Siegmund and Sieglinde are actually brother and sister—offspring of Wotan, the C.E.O. of Nordic mythology—but, because this is a Wagner opera, they don’t know they are related.

Antipenko’s bright, lyrical tenor readily met his role’s demands, and his agile vocal technique was matched by a zestful stage presence. With an impressive list of Wagnerian roles on her resume, Holloway brought both admirable vocal strength as well as keen psychological insight to Sieglinde, and the voices of these two leads could not have been more beautifully paired. Rose’s dark, brooding Hunding communicated ample threat and the basso authority the role demands. Form the orchestra, Music Director Rafael Payare inspired an impassioned yet polished account of Wagner’s rich score, with unusual warmth from the string sections and muscular brio from the brass choirs.

(l. to r.) Viktor Antipenko, Peter Rose & Jennifer Holloway [photo (c.) Gary Payne]

A small staging area that featured a blazing ring of fire extended the center of the Rady Shell stage, giving Sieglinde a place to discover the sleeping Siegmund at the beginning of the act, and a long table placed in front of the cello section suggested the dwelling in which Hunding warily entertains Siegmund. Gerard McBurney provided convincing stage direction for this 70-minute act from Die Walküre.

Rafael Payare & Daniel Lozakovich [photo (c.) Gary Payne]

To open this concert, the 23-year-old Swedish violinist Daniel Lozakovich played a powerful yet refreshingly deftly detailed account of Felix Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto in E Minor. At age 15 Lozakovich won first place in the Vladimir Spivakov International Violin Competition, but his Mendelssohn Violin Concerto displayed much more than typical competition flamboyance. His pianissimo passages suggested intimate elegance, and he was confident enough to take his time exploring his big cadenza. I appreciated both his dreamy character of the middle movement “Andante” as well as the fireworks of his thrilling concluding “Allegro molto vivace.”

This concert was presented by the San Diego Symphony at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park on Saturday, May 18, 2024.


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