Das Rheingold

SF Opera's Das Rheingold Cycle 1

_37A1480* Notes *
An exuberant orchestra and strong cast in Das Rheingold opened a revival of Francesca Zambello's Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Scene 4 pictured, photo by Cory Weaver) last night at San Francisco Opera.

It is a joy to hear Maestro Donald Runnicles conduct the orchestra, which sounded driven and robust. The brass, though not perfectly precise, sounded especially bright and effusive. The harpists and percussionists also did a very fine job.

The cast is solid. Since more than half the soloists are the same as in the premiere of this production (at least as a whole cycle) seven years ago, it is fascinating to compare the different singers. For me, the standouts are still tenor Štefan Margita as Loge and mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller as Erda, both of whom had these roles in 2011. Margita’s voice is incisive without being the least bit harsh, he embodies his cunning role as demigod with a graceful ease. Miller is nothing less than a force of nature, the sumptuousness of her sound emerging from the floor of the stage as she rises from below for her entrance is very effective.

Also ably reprising their roles were the lovely Rheinmaidens Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Renee Tatum (Flosshilde), and Stacy Tappan (Woglinde). Their last scene with Margita is haunting and gave me chills.

As for those new to the cast, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is particularly promising, her Fricka is lush-voiced. I also look forward to hearing more of both bass-baritones Falk Struckmann (Alberich) and Greer Grimsley (Wotan). Struckmann has a richer tone than Grimsley, but there were heavily orchestrated moments in which I had difficulty hearing him. Grimsley is a secure presence and a good actor.

Zambello's production is wonderfully human, there's lot of great humorous moments, as when Loge tricks Alberich into becoming a toad in Scene 3 or the gods frolic in the beginning of Scene 2 and as they ascend Valhalla in Scene 4.

Revamped by S. Katy Tucker, the overwrought video projections are still the weakest link. It makes sense that visuals are needed between scenes, but it is gratuitous to add in effects that are perfectly handled by the music, as when Alberich curses the Ring. Also the descent into Nibelheim with scenes of moving through mountains paths and into caves looked especially awkward. Images of water, clouds, and fire looked best.

* Tattling *
I definitely annoyed myself the most during the performance and can hardly complain about anyone else, as I have a slight but lingering cough from asthma that's acting up because of a fire we had in our house a few weeks ago.

A woman had a seat in front of us in orchestra standing room, but she has a back condition at the moment and had to stand rather than sit. She was very apologetic when she explained her situation, saying she was the wife of "the main guy" in the opera. I wondered if she was Alberich or Wotan's wife, but it was very clear right away that it was the former.

Rheingold at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Rheingold-2013* Notes * 
The second cycle of Frank Castorf's Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Bayreuther Festspiele opened yesterday with Das Rheingold. The production is a hodgepodge of Americana that does not give the characters any place to go. The action takes place at a Texan motel and gas station, all carefully arranged on a turntable. An electronic billboard above shows both live video capture and prerecorded footage.

It was impressive how well-coordinated the performance is, but often the characters act in completely irrational ways that have nothing to do with the opera or even normal human behavior. For instance, Nibelheim is depicted as an Airstream that is dragged into the gas station by stagehands. At the top of Scene 3, Wotan and Loge have taken Alberich and Mime hostage, and tied them to posts. This is completely against the text, and makes the rest of the scene unnecessary. There are also no vocal Nibelungen, and thus part of the score is missing, as their cries and screams simply were absent.

Kirill Petrenko conducted the orchestra with a beautiful lightness. Maestro Petrenko perhaps does not instill the same sort of fear as Christian Thielemann does, and an obvious brass error was heard in Scene 4 before Fafner, Fasolt, and Freia enter. Nevertheless, the music sounded palpably fresh and dazzling. The orchestra only rarely overwhelmed the singers.

Singing is fine. The smaller roles are not terribly strong, Oleksandr Pushniak (Donner) was wheezy, while Lothar Odinius (Froh) and Burkhard Ulrich (Mime) were fairly nondescript. However, all three acted splendidly. Pushniak twirled his mustache in a charming way. Ulrich was endearing when he found that the Airstream was all his, and not only started maniacally polishing it, but cheerfully switched out the Confederate flag of the motel with a rainbow one. Mirella Hagen (Woglinde), Julia Rutigliano (Wellgunde), and Okka von der Damerau (Floßhilde) looked rather listless as the Rheintöchter but sounded pretty. The Riesen are cast distinctly, Sorin Coliban's Fafner is grumbly, while Günther Groissböck's Fasolt is almost sweet. Nadine Weissmann made for an ethereal Erda, her sound is delicate yet not too quiet. Elisabet Strid (Freia) had a much more muscular voice. Claudia Mahnke was a bit breathy as Fricka, but her voice is neither shrill nor strident.

Norbert Ernst was a unctuous enough Loge, with a nice voice. There was a little strain in his higher notes, but his acting made up for this. For me, the weakest link was Martin Winkler, whose vibrato I find disagreeable. His Alberich is made to be extremely puerile, which does not do him any favors. His voice sounds more than passable when the his music is not highly orchestrated, but does not have the brightness to cut through when it is. Wolfgang Koch, on the other hand, is an excellent Wotan. He sings with effortlessness, power, and warmth.

* Tattling *
This was the worst-behaved audience of my time in Bayreuth so far. There was an electronic sound at the beginning of the first scene. Talking was heard during the music irrespective of singing. I hushed the loud couple in Orchestra Left Row 20 Seats 25 and 26, and thankfully they whispered instead for the rest of the opera. Gallingly, the female half of the couple screamed "Bravo" at singers she had not been fully listening to.

An uptight German-speaking couple (possibly mother and son) in Orchestra Right Row 21 Seats 27 and 28 were convinced I was in one of their seats despite the fact that my ticket clearly shows that I am in Orchestra Left Row 21 Seat 27. I tried to gently remind them that 27 comes after 28, and that logically Orchestra Right Seat 27 would be to the right of Seat 28. They remained doubtful, talking to the usher on the right side of the house, then harassing a grey-haired East Asian couple, oblivious to the fact that they were not me and Axel Feldheim. By the time they made it back to the middle of the row, they refused to believe me, my companion, or the kindly person in Orchestra Left Row 21 Seat 25 that they were in the wrong.

The son demanded that we speak to the usher on the left side of Row 21, so we made everyone on the left side of the row get up to let us through. Finally, the usher explained that 27 comes before 28, so the pair's other seat is to the right of 28, since their tickets clearly read "Parkett Rechts." We marched back to the middle of the row, inconveniencing 25 people yet again. When the high-strung man explained to his mother that they were mistaken, she shooed away the European-looking (but evidently not German-speaking) man in her seat, even taking his seat cushion and sort of pushing it at him. After all this, these two did not even apologize for their various rude blunders. At least they were very quiet, the man hardly shifted in his seat, and managed not to elbow me even once.

Das Rheingold at the Met (Cycle 2)

Met-rheingold-2012* Notes * 
A second Ring cycle began with Das Rheingold (Scene 4 pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) last night at the Met. Robert Lepage's production involves a series of about 24 jointed panels that can be arranged in many different configurations. Known as "The Machine," Carl Fillion's set is not unlike a huge shape-shifting robot. The scene changes were certainly resolved in breathtaking ways. However, the main drawback is not that "The Machine" is slightly noisy, snapping here and there, but that it placed the singers awkwardly upstage or on terrifying rakes where they do not seem as able to project well. The lighting, designed by Etienne Boucher, is attractively simple. The video images, from Lionel Arnould, evoke nature and space. Only the rainbow bridge was busy, with its dancing strings of multicolored light. François St-Aubin's costumes did not appear markedly different from the previous Ring production, traditional, perhaps taking on the aesthetic of comic book superheros in the armor of the Gods.

The orchestra sounded clear and secure under Fabio Luisi, and the tempi were moderate. The brass was clean. The singing was consistent around. Wendy Bryn Harmer was an incredibly hearty, bright Freia. Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt) and Hans-Peter König (Fafner) turned out perfectly respectable performances. Adam Klein did not quite sparkle as Loge, but since he stepped in at the last moment for an ailing Stefan Margita, it is understandable. Patricia Bardon's Erda had an ethereal quality that was appealing. Stephanie Blythe was a sympathetic Fricka, warm with the right amount of steeliness. Eric Owens impressed as Alberich, his renunciation of love in Scene 1 was poignant, and his curse in Scene 4 haunting. As Wotan, Bryn Terfel's voice has a beautiful richness to it, but seemed a touch light at times.

* Tattling * 
An usher attempted to seat a pair of latecomers in Family Circle after the music had started. Unfortunately one of their seats had been taken, and there was a flurry of whispered instructions. A watch alarm sounded at 9pm and 10pm. Some were having respiratory issues, loud nose blowing and sniffles were heard, as were the usual crinkles of cough drops being unwrapped.

David Cangelosi Interview

David-cangelosi-in-siegfried-at-sfopera Tenor David Cangelosi (pictured left in Siegfried Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver) sings Mime in San Francisco Opera's current Ring production. Cangelosi has been blogging himself since 2009, and graciously agreed to meet with The Opera Tattler and Miss LCU before the final dress rehearsal of Das Rheingold last month.

What are your dream roles?
Mime is my dream role! Years ago I received the Solti Ring box set on cassette tape, and for some reason, I started listening to Siegfried first. I got into opera to sing this role.

You are clearly an athlete. How does your training as a springboard diver help you as an opera singer?
I've always been athletic and wiry. I have really good control of my body in the air, so springboard diving came very naturally to me. Being physically strong helps my stamina on stage. In Siegfried I am on stage for 90 minutes without a break, and my Mime is very physical, so it is pretty exhausting.

What makes a good Mime?
For any role, I make sure to listen to what the other characters say to me. 90 to 95 percent of what I do is simply to react. I've never had an acting lesson!

How does Francesca Zambello's production compare to your experiences at Lyric and the Met?
Zambello is great, she really challenged me. She is interested in a longer emotional arc of the character, from Das Rheingold into Siegfried, and she adds a human touch to Mime's narrative. You will notice that in the last scene of Das Rheingold she has me wait around, and then I run off stage right. So it makes sense how I get from Nibelheim to the forest.

Do you sympathize with Mime?
There's really no black and white in these operas, all of the characters have a humanity to them. I don't think Mime planned to kill Siegfried from the beginning. Of course, Mime has his own agenda, but he raised this child, and I think he does care for Siegfried. But there is a point at which Mime chooses himself over Siegfried, obviously.

What are your favorite hair products?
Local business Nancy Boy in Hayes Valley makes some great products that aren't too heavily scented.

SF Opera's Das Rheingold Cycle 3

Sfopera-rheingold-gods * Notes *
The third and final Ring cycle of the season at San Francisco Opera started with Das Rheingold (Brandon Jovanovich, Elizabeth Bishop, Melissa Citro, and Gerd Grochoski in Scene 4 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) last Tuesday. Maestro Runnicles had the orchestra sounding noticeably cleaner this time around, especially the brass. The playing was gorgeous. The low strings and the harp were absolutely lovely. The balances were better, only the baritones were overwhelmed briefly when the orchestration was heavy. There were strong contributions all around, especially from Mark Delavan (Wotan), Elizabeth Bishop (Fricka), Andrea Silvestrelli (Fasolt), and Ronnita Miller (Erda). Štefan Margita's Loge was most impressive.

It was illuminating to sit so close to the stage this time around. One suspects that Francesca Zambello's directorial style is rather detail-oriented and very specific. The expressions and gestures used do create a sense of intimacy, but perhaps do not read that well from the back of the house.

* Tattling *
One could hear the squeaks of pulleys during the set changes. There was talking during these times as well. Electronic noise was at a minimum, but a watch alarm sounded at the beginning of the piece.

SF Opera's Das Rheingold Cycle 2

Sfopera-rheingold-scene2-loge-wotan * Notes *
The Ring at San Francisco Opera began anew with Das Rheingold (Štefan Margita and Mark Delavan in Scene 2 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) on Tuesday. Everyone sounded more comfortable and relaxed. There were fewer issues with moving the sets, though there were still audible thumps and bangs as things were put into place. The orchestra, under Maestro Runnicles, made fewer errors in playing, which was very lovely. Mark Delavan was stronger as Wotan this week, especially in the last scene. However, Štefan Margita (Loge) stole the show yet again, sounding smooth and brilliant.

* Tattling *
The prompter could not be heard this time around. There were many people on the Balcony Level for standing room. I observed the apparently requisite talking from latecomers as I read the score whilst sitting on the floor.

SF Opera's Das Rheingold Cycle 1

Rheingold-scene-4-sf-opera * Notes *
Francesca Zambello's "American" Ring opened with Das Rheingold Tuesday night at San Francisco Opera. Many of the video projections (by Jan Hartley) had been changed. Instead of reminding one of screen-savers, they look more like scenes from a Lord of the Rings video game. The projections for the beginning were a vast improvement from the ones used in 2008, the images of clouds and water went better with the music. Michael Yeargan's attractive sets are elegant, but the transitions were are noisy and we could even hear instructions to cast or crew when the scenes were switched.

Catherine Zuber's costumes do a good job of differentiating characters when this is appropriate. Of course, the Rheinmaidens, Nibelungs, Gods, and Giants all have a distinct look. Within that, it was easy to tell Fasolt from Fafner, or Fricka from Freia, from simple differences in attire. As for the staging, there was a certain campy humor to it, Donner's part with the stage directions "Ein starker Blitz entfährt der Wolke; ein heftiger Donnerschlag folgt" (Scene 4 pictured above, photo by Cory Weaver) was especially absurd. Zambello clearly thought through many of the holes in the plot. Loge showed up at the end of Scene 1, so we see how his promise to the Rheinmaidens could have been made. An apple is left on the table, which Wotan grabs to sustain him for a trip to Nibelheim. Mime hangs around a bit after the other Nibelungs run back home in Scene 4, and he clearly runs off stage right, to the woods.

The orchestra sounded beautiful under Runnicles, the tempi were not lax, but not rushed either. The brass was in fine form, there were only a handful of small errors, most noticeably in the overture. The Rhinemaidens sounded as comely as they looked. Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Renee Tatum (Flosshilde), and Stacy Tappan (Woglinde) were playfully alluring in Scene 1 and doleful in Scene 4. Ronnita Miller was impressive as Erda, her rich contralto is gorgeous. David Cangelosi was the downtrodden, abused Mime, he whined and cried just as one would expect. Melissa Citro's acting as Freia was convincing, but she had a tendency to be shrill. Donner (Gerd Grochoski) and Froh (Brandon Jovanovich) were both sung drolly and added to the comedic aspects of the opera.

Andrea Silvestrelli sang Fasolt with warmth, and Daniel Sumegi made for a good foil as the more pragmatic Fafner. Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) was well matched with Mark Delavan (Wotan). Both have pretty voices that are not hefty, but are never harsh. Elizabeth Bishop made for a very human Fricka, clearly in love, and insecure in that love. Her voice is robust. Štefan Margita stood out as Loge, unctuous and mocking. His smooth, bright singing seemed flawless.

* Tattling *
The prompter was easily heard in Scene 2, and someone yelled "Hurry up" during the transition between Scenes 3 and 4.

The audience in orchestra standing room whispered a good deal, but only during the transitions. Someone without a place at the railing had a plastic bag that she kept moving around, creating an annoying amount of rustling. During the ovation, someone in the Orchestra Ring section booed Citro and Hawkins.

Final Dress of SF Opera's Das Rheingold

Das-rheingold * Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Das Rheingold (Mark Delavan, Jennifer Larmore, Tamara Wapinsky, Charles Taylor, and Jason Collins pictured left; photo from the 2008 production by Terrence McCarthy) was yesterday. Nearly 70% of the cast has changed from the opening San Francisco performances of this production three years ago, so it was fascinating to watch how things have developed thus far. Many of the projections have been changed, but the essentials remain the same.

* Tattling *
I find the aesthetic of the Gods in Francesca Zambello's production very amusing for some reason. When Donner is to clear the air with his hammer, marked "Ein starker Blitz entfährt der Wolke; ein heftiger Donnerschlag folgt." in the score, I could not stop giggling. Something about how this is staged is simply hilarious.

Brandon Jovanovich Interview

Brandon-jovanovich This month tenor Brandon Jovanovich (pictured left, photograph by Peter Dressel) has role debuts of Froh and Siegmund in San Francisco Opera's Der Ring des Nibelungen. In August, Jovanovich sings Věc Makropulos at the Salzburg Festival. Next season he performs in Cologne, Munich, Chicago, Berlin, Houston, and Washington, DC. The Opera Tattler spoke to Jovanovich at the War Memorial before rehearsal on Tuesday.

How did you get into opera?
By accident. I sang in high school choir. I had wanted to be a football player, and I went to the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota on a scholarship. The first year I was there it got to -80ºF below with the windchill factor. It was just too cold! I transferred to Northern Arizona University, but they wouldn't give me a scholarship for football without seeing me play. I ended up sending a tape of my choral singing, and was accepted into the music department.

Do you play an instrument?
Unfortunately, no. I can play enough piano to plunk out notes, and occasionally I can play a whole chord. I took about a year of piano at the age of 7 or 8. After the first 6 months I was allowed to take swimming lessons, and in another 6 I got a skateboard. And after the skateboard, well, that was it, no more piano.

How is working in opera? Is it stuffy as it is purported to be?
Since opera has to compete with other forms of entertainment, we do have to move around and act. I'm down two pairs of jeans from Ring rehearsals so far. Really, I've ripped two pairs!

You recently had a debut at the Met as Don José in Carmen (January 2010), and then returned the following season. How did that go?
It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was great. I was covering Alagna, but it ended up that he sang 6 performances and I the other 6. I didn't get to work much with the director, Richard Eyre, until I went back to sing the role again last Fall, but it was so nice working with him.

Alagna was in the simulcast though, yes? How do you feel about the HD simulcasts?
That's right. It does bring bring opera to the masses. Especially with the HD broadcasts, they are such high quality, and that is wonderful. I am also apprehensive, as I have heard that some directors are looking at their work with an eye for the movie theater. Maybe something looks too much like stage acting for the camera, but that's where we are.

Is this your first Ring?
Yes, it is my first Wagner, in fact. I did hear Die Meistersinger in Chicago back in 1999. The first Ring operas I heard were Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in Los Angeles last year. I was there singing Die Vögel.

That's right, they had Die Vögel on that same steep rake as the Ring. How was that?
It was terrifying. The choreographer, Peggy Hickey, had us doing ankle exercises to keep us injuring ourselves.

How did you get the role of Siegmund?
That's a very good question! I have no idea! They hired me in 2008, I believe. In 2007, when I won the Richard Tucker award. I sang "Winterstürme," so maybe Greg Henkel heard that and thought that this role was in me. Or perhaps they heard it in the Pinkerton I sang here in that same year.

Is it an intimidating role?
On one hand, yes. Wagnerites definitely set the bar at a particular level, and many great singers have sung Siegmund. On the other hand, it is exhilarating. The role fits my voice like a glove.

Is Siegmund a hard role to relate to?
He is a very odd character, even setting aside the whole incest aspect. He's a vigilante who sees the world in black and white.

What are you singing next?
Let's see. I am singing in a couple of Carmen productions, of course. I also have Tenor/Bacchus in Ariadne, Don Carlos, and Samson et Dalila in the next season. I am learning roles from Lohengrin, Fidelio, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It is a lot of music to get into my wee little brain!

Your rep is varied, from Baroque to contemporary. What are the challenges of creating a role versus singing ones that everyone knows inside and out?
New works are important and rewarding to sing. You are given a blank slate and you get to create something, first and foremost with the composer, but also with the director, conductor, and your colleagues. I especially like Daniel Catán, as far as his style, his sound was his own, but people can relate to it.

Do you have favorite operas?
I should preface this with, I like everything I work on when I'm working on it, because when you are looking at the music and singing it all the time, you get to appreciate how great it is. But as for particular favorites, I love Peter Grimes and Jenůfa. From the very beginning of Jenůfa a nervousness invades your body, it just doesn't let up, and the very last five minutes are just sublime.

You've described yourself as a goofball before. Please explain.
I don't take myself too seriously, I like to make people laugh in rehearsals and to have fun.

Why don't you have a Wikipedia article?
I was wondering that too! I won't write one myself, and I don't mind not having one. I don't need to be in the limelight all the time.

Das Rheingold at the Met (Lepage)

Met-rheingold An account of the final performance of Das Rheingold this season at the Metropolitan Opera from the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
Director Robert Lepage gave an extensive interview in New York City last fall about his conception of the Ring. He spent considerable time in Iceland, and said that no one who lived in the Icelandic hinterlands for any length of time could ever doubt the existence of gnomes, giants, or mythic Gods. Hearing him speak, it is impossible to doubt his seriousness and integrity.

Unfortunately, the production's stage machinery, designed by Carl Fillion, seemed to overwhelm the evening. The set consists of gigantic, undulating planks, which morph into visually paradoxical, Max Escher-like planes. Complex, computer-generated effects and lighting were projected atop this. Only Wagner's gigantic score seemed unsubjugated by this restless behemoth. Particularly distracting were the all-too-visible cables from which the soloists were suspended as they moved in hazardous sideward and slanted trajectories across the cantilevered components of the set.

The audience applauded and tittered in delight at the cavorting Rhine-mermaids and their taunting of Alberich, and certainly Wagner would have approved of this. The dragon/dinosaur transformation, aided by the Tarnhelm, was also very effective.

Of the cast, Eric Owens' tremendous Alberich dominated the show, even though he seemed to tire during his final curse. It is a rare evening when Alberich is a more powerful dramatic and vocal presence than Wotan. The admirable Bryn Terfel's rendition of the God lacked the heft and thrust required of the dramatic bass-baritone voice type for which this role was conceived.

Stephanie Blythe, a singer in a class unto herself, poured out tremendous waves of sound, yet failed to capture the hectoring character of Fricka, as she agonizes about the fate of her sister Freia (sung with steely power by soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer), who is held as a downpayment by the giants Fafner and Fasolt for their building of Valhalla. Ms. Blythe seemed to fashion her vocal expression according to the surface contours of Fricka's vocal line, and not to the underlying text. Beautifully, in fact, overwhelmingly well sung, her rendition seemed lacking in dramatic comprehension of the character.

On the other hand, Bayreuth veterans Gerhard Siegel (Mime) and Hans-Peter Koenig (Fafner) inhabited their roles in such a fashion that one never thought of vocalism. They performed their roles with a perfect unison of text, powerful vocalism and dramatic intent. Patricia Bardon's dark-hued, threatening rendition of Erda's "Weiche Wotan" was, for this reviewer, the highlight of the evening.

Another Bayreuth veteran, Arnold Bezuyen, captured the essence of Loge, part scheming diplomat, part crooked lawyer, although one was often distracted and concerned for him as he slid down and then scaled backwards the steeply angled set. Tethered by a cable, his freedom to gesture and act with his body was severely inhibited. Possessed of a solid character tenor voice, he seemed somewhat underpowered in the large Met auditorium.

Having heard many performances of the Ring conducted by James Levine, it is difficult for this reviewer to make a fair assessment of Fabio Luisi's reading. Luisi drew from the Met orchestra an almost chamber music-like, transparent performance that served the singers well, but one missed the elusive combination of weight, grandeur and forward momentum that Levine achieved in this music. The brass section was uncharacteristically fraught with mishaps.

No doubt the composer would have been delighted to have had at his disposal the modern machinery used in the Lepage Ring, machinery which would have freed him from the two-dimensionality of the set design and lighting available to him at the time. One wonders, however, if he would not have employed these resources in such a way that the protagonists of his music-dramas were not relegated to the visual and dramatic background. One awaits eagerly the upcoming Walküre for a further assessment of the new Met Ring.

Das Rheingold at LA Opera

Rheingold-la-opera * Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera's first Ring cycle began with Das Rheingold last night. James Conlon had the orchestra sounding cohesive and supportive, though the musicians and singers were not always perfectly together. There were a few sour notes from the brass, but for the most part the playing was not bad. The voices of Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Floßhilde) were pretty set against each other. Tappan was particularly fluttery in Scene 1, one could immediately imagine her as the Waldvogel in Siegfried. The three Rheintöchter sounded mournful and beautiful at the end of the opera. Jill Grove has improved as Erda, the role still does not seem easy for her, but she did hit her notes. Ellie Dehn was especially brilliant as Freia, and I am curious to hear her as the Countess in San Francisco Opera's Le Nozze di Figaro later the year. Michelle DeYoung's Fricka was appropriately shrewish and almost biting at first, but her pleasantly metallic voice is beautiful. Morris Robinson had the volume for Fasolt, but lacked the full resonance of Eric Halfvarson (Fafner). Beau Gibson and Wayne Tigges spent much of their time far upstage as Froh and Donner, respectively. It was difficult to gage the weight and heft of their voices. Richard Paul Fink continues to be a convincing Alberich, he snarls and acts even through his mask. Arnold Bezuyen (Loge) was caustic at times, but also could sound sycophantic or even unctuously caressing. As Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow, sounded authoritative and displayed his great command of his low range.

Achim Freyer's production has an entertaining circus element to it, as far as costumes and effects. It also is a strange cross of Star Wars, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. There really were light sabers in the production, for instance. The steep rake was a challenge, Richard Paul Fink fell after Scene 1, and the other singers had similar problems. All of the scenes were quite arresting, much was going on, but for the most part it all made some sort of internal sense. However, the very last part, when the Gods are to go to Valhalla, a nondescript object suspended from wires swept across the stage. The audience in Balcony B clearly could not discern what this was meant to represent and many people started talking at this point.

* Tattling * 
There was no applause during the music, but there was a lot of talking during the overture and the transitions. At least two watch alarms were heard at 8pm and 9pm. My seat in Balcony B was ideally situated on the aisle, but in the middle section and in the front, so I was glad that the Wagner Society of Northern California pulled through for me in this case. The person next to me either took a nap during parts of Scenes 2 and 3, or was meditating on the music with great concentration. His regular breathing was quiet but noticeable.

Das Rheingold at the Bayreuther Festpiele

Regenbogen-feder * Notes * 
The third and last Ring cycle of this year's Bayreuther Festspiele began with Das Rheingold last night. Under Christian Thielemann, the orchestra sounded splendid: the string were brilliant, the harps lovely, and the horns clear. For the most part, the singers could not match this fullness of sound. The voices of Christiane Kohl (Woglinde), Ulrike Helzel (Wellgunde), and Simone Schröder (Floßhilde) blended nicely, though Kohl sounded slightly shrill. Christa Mayer had every note as Erda, and her voice is strong but she lacked a certain visceralness. As Freia, Edith Haller stood out, her voice had about twice as much volume as anyone else on stage and was very bright. Michelle Breedt's Fricka was unsympathetic, she seemed to whine her way through the role, which is reasonable enough, but less than exciting.

Wolfgang Schmidt was a sniveling Mime, cowering under Andrew Shore (Alberich) very convincingly. Shore was perhaps most arresting, his performance was grittily brutal and he practically screamed some of his notes, but he somehow stayed musical throughout. Ain Anger was a tad quiet as Fafner, especially compared to Kwangchul Youn as his brother Fasolt. Youn's voice has a pleasant resonance that Anger's is missing. Arnold Bezuyen was vicious as Loge, his music is often very pretty but there was definite sarcasm that came through. Clemens Bieber (Froh) and Ralf Lukas (Donner) both had slow starts, but improved. Bieber in particular pulled through in the last scene. As Wotan, Albert Dohmen sounded a bit thin and delicate, at times he was difficult to hear.

The production, directed by Tankred Dorst, was inconsistent, though Frank Philipp Schlößmann's sets and Bernd Ernst Skodzig's costumes were fairly attractive. The first scene worked well, the video art depicting the Rhein was almost even chic. It only became slightly overwrought near the end of the scene. Unfortunately, tackiness was in full evidence in the design of Walhall, which looked like something out of a fantasy comic book. Similarly, the huge cobra head used for Alberich's transformation was simply laughable. The random supernumeraries that would walk through in contemporary dress were an interesting idea, at times it was simply confusing. However in Scene 3 it made my breath catch when the upstage was revealed, and the contrast of the modern day person wandering in before that set up that surprise. For the most part the production was very respectful of the music, but at the end Loge writes something about "being only as strong as one is delusional," which was distracting.

* Tattling * 
There was no applause during the music whatsoever and only the tiniest bit of whispering. Some ringing was heard during the first half of Scene 2, to the left of the house. There was also one watch alarm that sounded at 7 and 8. The audience was in a great rush to leave, people stood up to go, but there was a round of curtain calls and for the most part they just stayed to clap some more.

Das Rheingold at the Met (Schenk)

Ken-Howard-Met-Opera * Notes * 
The second cycle of the Met's Der Ring des Nibelungen began yesterday night. The orchestra sounded very clean and restrained under James Levine. The tempi were often rather slow. All of the singing was solid, though not terribly exciting. As Wotan, Albert Dohmen did well, though his voice was a bit thin at times. Yvonne Naef had
some very lovely, pleading moments as Fricka. Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia) had some shrillness, as did the Rheintöchter. Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) gave a particularly convincing performance, he was brutish, and his singing in Scene 4 was heartrending. Dennis Petersen failed to steal the show as Loge, as can happen in this opera, but did not sing poorly. The giants were grand, their voices are distinct, René Pape (Fasolt) was sweet, John Tomlinson (Fafner) was mean, and all was as it should be, one supposes. Wendy White's Erda was most moving, though she was a bit shaky at first, she sang her words of warning with much authority.

The Otto Schenk production is amusingly campy, though I imagine that this was not the intent. Though servicable, the rock formations of the set look especially dated. One does appreciate how quickly the sets are changed, and without all the banging and such that we hear at some other opera houses. The staging itself was occasionally hilarious, from Freia's fey bouncing back and forth across the stage to Alberich's transformations in Scene 3. Fasolt's death did not have the appropriate gravitas, having Fafner throw him off stage, and then attack him with a walking stick/scepter was somehow ridiculous.

* Tattling * 
The performance began 10 minutes late, and the line to get in the house was enormous. Certain people in the last row of the Family Circle refused to be quiet. They spoke at full volume all night, despite repeated admonitions from fellow audience members and even an usher. A watch alarm sounded the hour of 9, as Loge made his first appearance. There were many buzzes and squeaks throughout the evening, perhaps from either hearing aids or microphones.

My companion in standing room guffawed at Fasolt's death. He did have to cope with my jet-lag induced antisness, I was constantly fidgeting for the first half, and did not get a second wind until the anvil part that opens the third scene.

Conrad Susa at WSNC

Composer Conrad Susa gave an amusing talk entitled "In Wagner’s Musical Forge: Das Rheingold" on Saturday afternoon. The focus was very much on the music itself, as evidenced by the beginning of the score taped to the wall. Susa played recordings of Bach's F Major Toccata and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, and demonstrated how Wagner stole from these composers. He also extolled the virtues of Pythagoras, having proved music mathematically and elevating music to a sublime and divine art. Entertainingly enough, Susa called atonal music inhuman and political.