* Notes *
Cycle 1 of Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera concluded with Götterdämmerung (final scene of Act II pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) yesterday evening. Francesca Zambello's production went more smoothly than at the prima earlier this month. The final scene had more impact, and Brünnhilde's torch did not go out before she lit the funeral pyre. Hagen's exit to dispose of Gunther's corpse in Act III read better from the orchestra level, but it was still unclear why he simply turns upstage and waits motionless whilst Brünnhilde and Gutrune interact just before this. There were a lot of laughs for the beginning of Act II, as Hagen watches television on the lowered scrim. There were also giggles for the Rheinmaidens, they sort recycling at the top of Act III, and this mundane task is apparently very amusing. Perhaps these gags were entertaining, but the audience response interrupted the music.
Jan Hartley's projections could be pretty. The clouds, flames, and birch forest all were attractive enough. At other times, the layered images did not look like anything at all, as it was difficult to pull apart what exactly was being shown. The motion of the projections could be clunky. The set changes were quiet, but the plastic trash bags used at both the beginning and end of Act III were not. Michael Yeargan's sets looked modern and sleek, and Mark McCullough's lighting design showed them to their best advantage. The costumes, by Catherine Zuber, were consistent and pushed the narrative forward. Gutrune's wardrobe was elegant, and the colors were used artfully. Brünnhilde's awkward gown revealed her lack of comfort in the world of the Gibichungs.
The playing under Maestro Donald Runnicles was expressive and vibrant. Though some of the brass was shaky in Act I, the playing improved, and Act III was very moving. The clarinet and bass clarinet were particularly good, as were the strings. The chorus also was wonderful to hear, even though the male chorus was not exactly together in Act III. The Rheintöchter (Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese, and Renée Tatum) were charming, but the Norns (Ronnita Miller, Daveda Karanas, and Heidi Melton) were even more impressive. Karanas' scene as Waltraute was vivid both vocally and dramatically. Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) sounded hearty. Melissa Citro (Gutrune) was squeaky, but one had no trouble hearing her.
Gerd Grochowski's diction as Gunther was clear, his voice also has good volume. It was less easy to discern which words Andrea Silvestrelli was singing as Hagen, but his rich, deep voice is seems to have no bottom. Ian Storey (Siegfried) sounded warm but a bit flat in both the Prologue and Act I, and his voice completely gave out in Act II. San Francisco Opera's General Director came out to beg our indulgence before Act III. Storey was treated during the second intermission and agreed to sing up until the end. Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde) also had trouble in the Prologue, screaming her last note. Nonetheless, the rest of the performance went better for her, and the Immolation Scene was otherworldly.
* Tattling *
The audience in the orchestra spoke a little bit, but there was a lot of electronic noise. A watch alarm beeped 20 times and someone's mobile phone rang. Snoring was also noted.
Zambello was reportedly booed from the balcony.