I’m always a sucker for an opera gala, and I’ve reached the point that seemed so impossibly far away when I was a neophyte: the point at which one has seen Wagner’s “Ring” so many times that the music is familiar and beloved, and an evening like this goes down like popcorn. I am not sure that feeling of speed was shared by everyone in the audience, but the program was smartly put together to combine a lot of greatest hits and take advantage of the voices it had — even if performing what amounted to a few snapshots of such a powerful drama juxtaposed with the sawing of eager cicadas on the outdoor stage of the Filene Center amphitheater, is inevitably less vivid than the real thing. Still, under conductor Patrick Summers, the singers and the NSO got in some good looks.
Goerke, Eric Owens and Alan Held are alumni of Wolf Trap Opera’s training program and have all served as artists-in-residence here — Goerke, this very summer. They are also among the three best American Wagnerians today. Owens, who sang Wotan in the Ascent to Valhalla scene from the first opera, “Das Rheingold,” together with a group of Wolf Trap’s current young artists, projects authority and power, although his sound came across to me as muffled.
Held was Wotan in the Washington National Opera’s “Ring” cycle in 2016, which remains one of the great experiences of my opera-going life. During the first cycle, Goerke jumped in at the last minute to replace an indisposed colleague in “Die Walküre,” and together the two of them made such an indelible impression that I am compelled to confess to outright bias: Just the prospect of hearing them again in Wotan’s Farewell, the searing goodbye the father-god bids to his favorite daughter, made me tear up. Held’s voice is a little frayed, his top notes approximate, but he conveys tremendous warmth and emotion, and Wotan’s Farewell was, again, an emotional highlight.
And it was canny programming to bring both of those deep-voiced singers back, along with Goerke, in the Vengeance Trio from Götterdämmerung, a scene that’s less often excerpted but that took full advantage of the dramatic and vocal skills of all three performers.
Simon O’Neill, the tenor, another Wolf Trap Opera alumnus and former artist-in-residence, was a weaker link: He sustains an edgy, nasal, penetrating quality regardless of what notes he’s singing and doesn’t seem able to vary it into any kind of tenderness even when the music is crying out for a legato. Nor does his voice grow when pushed: The performance is at one dynamic, and monochromatic. He powered through “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater” like an Energizer Bunny and kept up the same sound in the “Winterstürme” duet with Goerke and in the duet from the final act of “Siegfried,” “Ewig war ich.” He can produce the notes, but Goerke showed a voice that was broader, more colorful, and more flowing.
The world is so anxious for big voices that some singers have been shoehorned into the role of Brünnhilde when it doesn’t really fit: witness Deborah Voigt, the Met’s last Brünnhilde. I’ve been concerned about the same thing with Goerke, but on the evidence of Saturday I didn’t need to be. The singing was musical, thoughtful and full without sounding strained. Summers, if he couldn’t draw on the full sonic potential of the assembled forces in this acoustic situation and on this little rehearsal, led with feeling, and the Immolation Scene was as powerful a statement as a summertime classics-lite concert could hope to offer.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that three of the soloists were alumni of the Wolf Trap Opera program. In fact, four of them were. Tenor Simon O’Neill also was a Wolf Trap Opera artist and artist-in-residence. The story also said there was only one rehearsal for the evening. There were three.