* Notes *
Cycle 1 of Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera continued last night with Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver). Francesca Zambello's production shows the human side of every character, both God and hero alike are shown as flawed yet accessible. The use of fire, dogs, and parachuting Valkyries came together to create a spectacle. The staging could get busy at times, and some of the motivation behind the entrances and exits of characters was not always clear. There was also strange moment of humor when the sword was revealed. Jan Hartley's projections help to tell the story in naive images, but they lack a certain elegance. The sets, from Michael Yeargan, range from Hunding's extremely detailed house to the clean bleakness of Brünnhilde's rock. Catherine Zuber's costumes reinforce the narrative, especially in the changes in wardrobe for the female leads. Sieglinde sheds layered dresses and Brünnhilde's tomboy vest transforms into a warrior woman's bodice.
The orchestra sounded utterly lovely, Donald Runnicles drove the tempi without losing control. The strings were transparent and shimmering. The harp, clarinet, bassoon, and flute had especially fine soli. There was some sourness in the Walhall motive in Act I, but the Völsungen and Siegfried motives were clear and beautiful. The final scene of the opera was superbly played.
As with last year, the Walküren included many current and former Adlers and Merolini: Maya Lahyani (Siegrune), Tamara Wapinsky (Helmwige), Sara Gartland (Gerhilde), Daveda Karanas (Waltraute), Melissa Citro (Ortlinde), and Renée Tatum (Grimgerde). Joined by Lauren McNeese (Rossweise) and Cybele Gouverneur (Schwertleite), they produced a great deal of sound and pulled off their choreography with aplomb.
Daniel Sumegi was a physically imposing Hunding, the somewhat husk-like quality of his voice is not a detriment to this character. Elizabeth Bishop made for a sympathetic Fricka, her voice is full. Mark Delavan may be difficult to hear at times, but his voice has a pleasant timbre and he articulates the words with conviction. Brandon Jovanovich had a promising role debut of Siegmund. His voice rang out with warmth. Anja Kampe's Sieglinde was moving. Her vibrato did not detract from the intensity or beauty of her voice. Nina Stemme continues to be a dazzling Brünnhilde.
* Tattling *
The audience in standing room upstairs was, for the most part, silent. Some latecomers may have argued aloud with an usher about taking their seats. One of them turned off his cellular phone, which made a chime to indicate this. Another phone rang somewhere in the balcony during a quiet part of the music of Act I. The scene changes were not an issue for this opera, and the prompter was less audible.