'Autobahn to Bayreuth' - English soprano sings for Wagner's 200th

Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:31am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - It's happened very fast for soprano Catherine Foster, who was a midwife before she became a singer and this week will be the first Englishwoman to sing Brunnhilde for Wagner's "Ring" cycle at the Bayreuth Festival, in the composer's 200th birthday year.

Foster, a native of the mid-England city of Nottingham who made a drastic career switch in the mid-1990s, plays the warrior goddess who lets the gods burn but saves humanity in a new production by radical Berlin theatre director Frank Castorf.

Given that she came to singing late and will now perform a star turn at the Bavarian opera house that Richard Wagner built, in his bicentenary birthday year no less, Foster has only one way to describe her career path.

"I've come straight down the autobahn to Brunnhilde, and not on many side roads," she told Reuters in a telephone interview from Bayreuth, where she is rehearsing.

Castorf's staging, combined with Wagner's scenario, has something for every taste: squabbles over oil and gold, lust, incest, treachery, love potions and, of course, a bonfire of the gods at the end. "For me it (the 'Ring' cycle) is a trip towards the gold of our time - crude oil," Castorf told German newspaper Die Welt in one of his rare public comments on the production.

Among the major roles, Canadian heldentenor Lance Ryan sings Siegfried, German bass-baritone Wolfgang Koch is Wotan, German-born Italian soprano Anja Kempe sings Sieglinde, and South African tenor Johan Botha is Siegmund. Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko makes his Bayreuth "Ring" debut conducting in the Festival Hall's famous sunken and covered orchestra pit.

All this at prices often above 200 euros ($260) per ticket, more in the after market, in a sweltering, 1,925-seat non-air-conditioned 19th-century opera house. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her opera-loving husband, theoretical chemist Joachim Sauer, always attend what is seen as the German social event of the year, and the waiting list for tickets can be a decade long.

It is almost possible to imagine Wagner, who died in 1883 and is buried in an unmarked marble grave beside his Bayreuth mansion, smiling at the wry and improbable plot twists that have brought Foster to sing Brunnhilde at Festival Hall, the timber structure Wagner built on the "Green Hill" at the edge of Bayreuth.   Continued...