Gods and Mortals, the Glimmerglass Festival’s patchwork evening dedicated to the founder of another famous summer festival, cannily solves the current Wagner problem. I’m not speaking of political matters – though you always could with this composer – but of practical ones. Although Bayreuth returned to in-person performances this year, it should go without saying that Wagner didn’t compose with a pandemic in mind, and the length of his works are more than some might feel comfortable sitting among strangers these days. They would be especially taxing in an open-air setting too, like the one Glimmerglass is employing this season. An 80-minute concert of great arias and scenes provides the ideal stopgap for those who still long to hear this music at its most elemental.

Mia Athey, Emily MIsch, Alexandria Shiner, Stephanie Sanchez, Lisa Marie Rogali: Gods and Mortals
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

Director Francesca Zambello and conductor Joseph Colaneri draw their singers from artists cast in other operas currently running, as well as members of the Glimmerglass Young Artists Program. Soprano Alexandra Shiner emerged as the standout. A promising jugendlich dramatischer, she won the 2020 Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals with “Dich teure halle”, which she reprised thrillingly here, hand on heart as she looked in the distance to the Alice Busch Opera Theater. It was a poignant, resonant moment, aided by her fearless high ascents and seamless legato. Wagner’s young heroines always benefit from a pretty tone, and it was nice to be reminded of the youthful impetuousness of Senta when she sang her ballad of love for the Dutchman, truly conveying the sheltered, enraptured girl. She and tenor Ian Koziara captured otherworldly loveliness in an extended excerpt from Die Feen, which Glimmerglass was to have staged last year, and made an ardent pair of Wälsungs (although Colaneri’s languorous pacing of “Du bist der Lenz” could have used a shot in the arm).

Ian Koziara in Gods and Mortals at The Glimmerglass Festival
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

Raehann Bryce-Davis, the festival’s outstanding Azucena, summoned another sorceress with Ortrud’s “Entweihte Götter!”, an incantation worthy of Wotan’s attention. She returned as Fricka with a fiery, contemptuous reading of “So ist es denn aus”. Aaron Jacob Keeney brought a honeyed, mellow tone to Wolfram’s Song to the Evening Star, as placidly inviting as Koziara’s entreaties to Venus in “Dir töne Lob'' were passionately expressed. A gaggle of game young women from the apprentice program – Mia Athey, Marie Therese Carmack, Mary-Hollis Hundley, Emily Misch, Lisa Marie Rogali and Stephanie Sanchez – roused the audience with the Ride of the Valkyries. I heard not just Helmwiges and Siegrunes among their ranks but future Sieglindes and Brünnhildes as well.

Eric Owens in Gods and Mortals at The Glimmerglass Festival
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

Disappointment comes in the form of two veterans. Mark Delavan knows how to shape the Dutchman’s narrative in “Die Frist ist um” spellbindingly, but a touch of the Bayreuth bark has crept into his baritone. Eric Owens was announced as unwell but soldiering on prior to the performance, and indisposition was evident in his cragginess and pitch inconsistencies. Still, he shows himself a thoughtful, committed artist, with sparkling attention to detail in text and commanding stage presence. In “Leb’ wohl”, performed with Shiner as the wordless Brünnhilde, Owens communicated the deep anguish of forsaking his favorite child and his bone-deep knowledge of the hardships to come. This wrenching moment compared movingly to the promise and hope he rendered in “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge”, which left you almost wishing Wagner had written a happy ending.