The intrepid Wagner Society of Washington, DC has much to be proud of as it approaches the fifteenth anniversary of its founding. From a small number of enthusiasts meeting in a bookstore, the organization has grown into a significant cultural force in the nation’s capital, featuring monthly lecture programs, Wagner-themed trips for members, and concerts by young soloists of its Emerging Singers Program, a master class series directed by the great soprano Evelyn Lear and, until his death in 2006, her famed baritone husband Thomas Stewart. Concerts at the German Embassy and National Arts Club whetted Wagnerian appetites for this milestone Kennedy Center Concert Hall performance with the renowned Washington Chorus, an ensemble that has performed in Washington for more than half a century.
The nearly full hall and rousing audience reception left no doubts that an all-Wagner program can be dear to the hearts of Washington’s musical public. The Washington Chorus’s director Julian Wachner has grown in public esteem since assuming direction, and his efforts did not disappoint. The program roughly followed Wagner’s career in chronological progression. The first part offered the rival sailors’ choruses from the third act of The Flying Dutchman, the Festival March from Act II of Tannhäuser, the Liebestod from Tristan, the processional conclusion to Act II of Lohengrin, and the Ride of the Valkyries from Walküre. The second part consisted solely of the final two scenes of Meistersinger. Throughout the afternoon, the well rehearsed chorus spared no effort to capture Wagner at his loudest and most enjoyable. The ensemble’s fine orchestra accompanied them with exciting Wagnerian gravitas. None of the young soloists missed an opportunity to make a grand impression, and Wachner proved himself to be a model of a singer’s conductor in supporting their development. The voluble Washingtonian tenor Issachah Savage stood out for his superb, almost baritonal line in the Prize Song from Meistersinger, faltering only on highest of notes. Brent Stater’s stentorian Hans Sachs accompanied him well. Patrick Cook made clarion contributions as the Steersman in the Dutchman selection and as David in the Meistersinger scenes later on. Canadian-American soprano Othalie Graham’s Isolde may not be ready for the operatic stage, but her attractive cool tones suggested that it is a valuable work in progress we may one day hail.
The only weaknesses were incidental. We probably could have done without the weakly enacted “Dance of the Prentices” in the Meistersinger selection, which was listed in the program as “semi-staged.” And it would have been less of a distraction if the program had listed which soloists were singing which selections. Nevertheless, one can hope that the Wagner Society’s Emerging Singers Program and the fine musicians it nurtures will have more opportunities to perform so professionally.
Paul du Quenoy