Union Avenue Opera concludes 21st season and four-year journey with ‘Götterdämmerung’ | St. Louis Public Radio

Union Avenue Opera concludes 21st season and four-year journey with ‘Götterdämmerung’

Aug 20, 2015

Clay Hilley as Siegfried, Alexandra LoBianco as Brünnhilde
Credit John Lamb | Union Avenue Opera

Union Avenue Opera (UAO) concludes its 21st season along with its four-year production of Wagner’s ‘Ring cycle’ with the final opera in the series, “Götterdämmerung.”

“Der Ring des Nibelungen,” commonly known as the Ring cycle, is loosely based on Norse sagas. The titular ring refers to an actual ring, explained soprano Alexandra LoBianco, who plays the heroine Brünnhilde: a stolen ring with tremendous power, passed between various characters of the cycle that tend to die after acquiring it. It’s rather like Tolkien’s ring of legend, LoBianco said, but Wagner thought of it first.

All who possess the ring go on a different journey with it. In Brünnhilde’s case, the ring becomes a symbol of love despite its bloody past when it is given to her by Siegfried (tenor Clay Hilley), who in the previous opera had fallen deeply in love with her. At the beginning of “Götterdämmerung,” the two have been living together on a mountaintop. They bid goodbye as Siegfried resumes his adventuring—and that’s where the real drama begins.

Brünnhilde is soon the subject of emotional onslaught, LoBianco explained. “There is nothing quite like the roller coaster of human emotions, and she goes through it so quickly—through them all, from absolute joy and love and safety, and feeling secure in who she is, and the love that she has, to being completely betrayed—completely thrown into confusion and angst and sorrow, and anger.”

Over the course of the opera, Brünnhilde becomes the catalyst for the reconciliation of god and human worlds. If that sounds like a lot to pack into only one segment of a four-part story, that’s because it is, said director Karen Coe Miller.

“Wagner does a very good job in keeping [it] contained, and explaining within the course of the drama anything you need to know,” Miller said. “It’s all taken care of; you won’t be lost.”

As the story comes to a conclusion—what Miller calls “a moment of understanding”—Union Avenue Opera will likely experience similar catharsis. The four-year project has been “a lifetime journey,” LoBianco explained.

“This is not a one-stop-shop. This is the beginning of a lifetime journey to learn and grow these roles. But to have the opportunity at this age, and in this environment, which is so supportive and safe, is extraordinary.”

Hilley agreed, noting how rare it is that young singers get the chance to perform such rich and complex stories. “There aren’t many operas like the Ring cycle, where there would be an occasion to come back and continue along the same character path as a prior engagement. For me, it’s just a dream come true that I could do this at such a young age.”

Miller, too, expressed a feeling of great reward from working with Wagner’s cycle. “It has been a challenge and honor to work with this material and deepen inside the piece; I have learned so much, also, about Wagner. The score is so rich—coming back to this musical material every year has been kind of like coming home. And so it’s been a wonderful adventure.”

Union Avenue Opera was founded in 1994 with the mission of bringing professional but affordable opera to the St. Louis area and showcasing burgeoning—rather than established—talent. “Götterdämmerung” will be performed in the original German with English supertitles and additional visuals.

Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.