Tom Strini
This Week at the MSO

Wagnerian voices, pianist Emanuel Ax

By - Feb 3rd, 2011 04:00 am
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Bass Andrea Silvestrelli. Photo courtesy of

The most remarkable program thus far of Edo de Waart’s remarkable tenure as MSO music director came in October of 2009. De Waart astonished us all first by programming Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, and then by selling out three performances of this early modernist opera, which is difficult in every way that music can be difficult. The apt incorporation of glowing glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly had something to do with the big success, but so did a fabulous performance that presented this rarely-performed Hungarian-language opera in the best possible light. Capacity crowds went wild over it and adored the singers, soprano Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet and bass Andrea Silvestrelli.

This ancient history matters this week at the MSO because Silvestrelli is back for the final installment in the MSO’s German Festival. When I heard his huge, weighty bass in the title role of Bluebeard, I remember thinking: I’ll bet this guy kills in Wagner.

Of course he has a long history of singing big bass roles in Wagner. This summer, he will again appear as Fasolt, the giant, in a San Francisco Opera Ring cycle directed by our old friend Francesca Zambello, long-ago co-AD of the Skylight Opera Theatre.

Silvestrelli has piled up a lot of very good reviews for his Wagner performances over the years. We will hear for ourselves on the MSO programs this weekend, when he sings the role of Hunding in a Act 1 of Wagner’s Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), with soprano Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde and tenor Clifton Forbis as Siegmunde. Just to refresh your memory, in Act 1 the hero Siegmund, in flight from enemies, stumbles into the unhappy home of the lovely, oppressed Sieglinde and the brutal Hunding. While Hunding is out — and later knocked out by a little something Sieglinde slipped into his mead — Sieglinde and Siegmunde have time to fall in love and to realize that they are not only siblings but twins, offspring of Wotan, the top Norse god. But what’s a little incest in the crazy world of Norse mythology? Act 1 ends as they declare their love and Siegmund draws a sacred sword from a tree; just the thing for his upcoming battle with Hunding.

Pianist Emanuel Ax. Photo courtesy of

That’s where the MSO will leave the story this weekend, and where I will leave it now. You can read more about the rest of the opera right here. You can watch a bit of a 1976 Bayreuth production here.

Silvestrelli we know, but Forbis and Wray are new to us. Here is Forbis singing some of the same music we’ll hear in Milwaukee. And here is a very charming bit of Seattle Opera video of Wray practicing her Wagner in the theater lobby. As for Silvestrelli — well, prepare to have your mind blown.

As if the opera weren’t enough, the MSO is bringing in pianist Emanuel Ax, a major international heavyweight, to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. In addition to the concerto, Ax will appear on the Lynn Chappy Salon Series, a $100-a-ticket recital in a private home, at 7 p.m. Thursday, hosted by Jennifer and Joseph Tate.

The German Festival concerts, part of the MSO’s normal classical subscription series, are set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 4-5, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. Tickets are $25-$95 at the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206; at the MSO ticket line, 414 291-7605; and at the MSO website.

Categories: Classical

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