Das Rheingold

Closing Performance of Das Rheingold

* Notes *
The last performance of
Das Rheingold at San Francisco Opera this summer was yesterday. The orchestra sounded better, the brass section was clearly more in tune. The Rheinmaidens sounded even prettier last night than they had earlier in the run. Tamara Wapinsky (Freia) still had a few high notes that wavered so much they were not in tune. The same goes for Jill Grove (Erda), though it wasn't so much the high E that was giving her difficulty, as in previous performances. Grove would have to repeat the same note, but sometimes her vibrato got in the way of this. However, Grove definitely showed improvement. Jennifer Larmore (Fricka) sounded nice, though still a tad quiet and thin.

Jason Collins (Froh) and Charles Taylor (Donner) both had the obnoxious swagger necessary for their parts, and they both had good volume. Taylor did especially well at the end when Donner summons a storm. Andrea Silvestrelli played the lovelorn Fasolt well, and Günther Groissböck was a fine foil as Fafner.
David Cangelosi was perfectly sniveling as Mime, his voice is bright and seems to have enough volume. Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) gave a nuanced, beautifully colored performance. Stefan Margita stole the show, as Loge often does. Margita's voice is simply gorgeous and Loge's craftiness came through in his voice. After five performances, Mark Delavan sounded, understandably, more comfortable in the role of Wotan. I look forward to hearing him in 2010 when San Francisco Opera presents Die Walküre.

* Tattling (Or Why Sartre Was Right) *
I told myself that I was not going to get angry if the audience was ill-behaved, I was just going to read the score and concentrate my attention there. Unfortunately, standing room on the balcony level was completely full. There were no less than three conversations around me, and I had to hush them, as it was getting in the way of being able to read the score. The worst was between two girls, one of them had parked herself next to me and was leafing through her planner and playing with her cell phone. When I told them to be quiet, they acted as if I was insane for asking them to not speak during an opera. Perhaps they do not know what a score looks like, and assumed I was reading a coloring book and stretching to Das Rheingold for my health. They spoke for a good 15-20 minutes of the opera. I don't understand why one would bother going to the opera just to converse. Every time there was an explosion on stage or laughter, the one girl next to me would hop up and try to see what was going on, but by that time she had missed most of the action.

Also, a tip for you, dear readers. If you ever happen to have a pregnant wife (or friend for that matter), please don't drag her to the opera and expect her to stand for 2 hours and 35 minutes in the second row of standing room, with nothing to lean on.

Das Rheingold Cast Party

This event occurred in the Opera Cafe after the performance on Sunday. The cheese disappeared quite rapidly and they ran out of plates, but otherwise there was plenty of fruit to be had. Donald Runnicles asked questions to the cast as they all stood around outside of the women's restroom. The best part was when Runnicles asked Andrea Silvestrelli how he felt about bel canto, Silvestrelli had to admit he found it boring, and then launched into a stereotypical bel canto tune, pretending to be the orchestra. Many people had to leave the cast party early to check into the Auditions for the General Director by 5:45pm.

Gold Rush - Forging The American Ring Symposium

The Wagner Society of Northern California held a Das Rheingold symposium on June 14, 2008, which was declared Wagner Society of Northern California Day at San Francisco Opera. The first talk, entitled "From Iceland to Valhalla: What do the medieval Icelandic sources of Das Rheingold really say?," was from Dr. John Lindow of UC Berkeley. His first slide was of Sir William Jones and he went on to show how the Indo-European languages are related, and why the 80-85% of Wagner's sources for the Ring are from Iceland. He admited that Wagner was the reason he became interested in Scandinavian studies. Das Nibelungenlied was discussed, as were the Poetic and Prose Eddas, along with the Völsunga Saga. Of particular interest was a comparison of Old Norse gods with the characters of Das Rheingold. Lindow associated Frigg/Fricka with Venus and Friday, rather than Freyja/Freia, as the former's name is cognate with Old Saxon fri "beloved lady" and Icelandic frjá "to love." Freyja/Freia comes from the word for "lady," but since she is fertility goddess, she is also tied to love.

The second talk, Dr. Thomas Grey's "Leitmotive, from Ring to film and Back," focused on the Wagner's Ring compared to the Lord of the Rings films. Grey is not convinced that Howard Shore's music is much like Wagner's, but is rather more like the score for Gone with the Wind. He also found Tolkien's motivation for writing his work rather different than Wagner's. But certainly there are commonalities, as both Wagner and Tolkien used the Völsunga Saga as a source.

The third talk was the most awaited, as it came from the New York City Opera dramaturg, Cori Ellison. Her "Valhalla, the American Dream" discussed the reasons behind the "American Ring." Her claim that North Americans do not know Norse myth certainly rang true. She went on to describe the current production at SF Opera and the themes the production team were focused on, these being nature, love, and women. It seems that the team were interested in making the Ring a cautionary tale. Ellison went on to talk about Fricka, how she is considered an unsympathetic character, and how Wagner's relationship with his first wife Minna informed the goddess' portrayal. Much of what she said can be read in Rudolph Sabor's Richard Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen: A Companion, specfically pages 25, 88-89, and 93-94. Unfortunately, I missed some of Ellison's talk as I had two coughing fits, and did not want to subject people to the noise, so left the room. Ironically the coughing was due to having a cough drop (I was worried I would cough) but I happened to be allergic to the one that was offered by the Wagner Society.

"Das Rheingold: Wagner, Shakespeare and Tragicomedy" was an entertaining talk by Dr. Simon Williams of UC Santa Barbara. Williams described a 2001 Robert Carsen production of Das Rheingold at Köln Opera, particularly noting how Loge stole golden apples, and latter gave them to Wotan so he could go to Nibelheim without any trouble. This production revealed the tragicomedic nature of Das Rheingold to Williams, and he believes it is the only successful one in the 19th century as far as opera is concerned.

Das Rheingold Opening at SF Opera

Sfopera-dasrheingold* Notes *
Francesca Zambello's American-inspired Das Rheingold opened last night at San Francisco Opera. The video projections, the work of Jan Hartley, varied from completely campy to tastefully elegant. The first projections did have me in stitches though, and not in a good way. They looked like the opening credits to the Star Wars franchise, one expected the yellow text to appear, explaining what would occur in the next 2.5 hours. I was also quite pained by the projected beams when the Giants enter in Scene 2, they looked flat and their colors did not match the color of the one real beam. However, the projections were excellent for when Alberich turns himself into a dragon, and also worked well for the sky in Scene 2 and 4. Michael Yeargan's sleek set was pleasing, though the set changes were rather loud. I especially liked how the rainbow bridge to Valhalla was portrayed and Nibelheim. Some of the costumes were awkward, Catherine Zuber put the Rhinemaidens in corsets, which looked great when they were still, but since they had quite a lot of choreography, they looked uncomfortable at times. The Giants also looked uneasy in their enormous boots, they seemed to always walk gingerly. They were fitted with oversized robot hands, which was also a bit strange. Other costumes were attractive enough, certainly the Gods looked nice in their Roaring Twenties clothing. The Nibelungen looked quite in keeping with Norse mythology, but best of all was the illusionism used in the Nibelheim, it was a fine spectacle.

The orchestra sounded a bit rough under Runnicles, which was surprising, but it was the first performance. Someone in the brass section was not having a good day and hit at least three wrong notes near the end of the opera. The singing started off well, the Rhinemaidens sounded both ethereal and teasing. They also looked gorgeous. All three, Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Buffy Baggott (Flosshilde), and Catherine Cangiano (Woglinde), had their San Francisco Opera debuts in this production. The other three female singers fared less well, Tamara Wapinsky was loud enough as Freia, but was quite wobbly. Her acting was fairly strong, and it was interesting how lovelorn they had her be after her return to the Gods. Jill Grove's high notes were harsh, some were rather suspect. Her Erda was not an unreal force of nature, though her lower range is nice and warm. Jennifer Larmore (Fricka) looked absolutely cunning in her smart cream and black outfit, but her voice started off rather thin and shaky. She was audible, but always sounded delicate, and it was easy to hear that she usually sings Rossini or Baroque music. However, the other principal singers were stronger, Richard Paul Fink was wonderful as Alberich, he was moving in Scene 4, especially when he curses the ring. Stefan Margita played a rather slimy Loge well, his voice is so beautiful, with good volume and a certain richness. Mark Delavan was promising in his role debut of Wotan, his voice does not have the heft of Fink's, but was lovely.

* Tattling *
San Francisco Opera has started scanning tickets instead of tearing them, just like the symphony.

David Gockley was in the orchestra standing room area for the beginning of the opera, and gave technicans directions about lowering something or other during the overture. This first performance was loud, stage directions were audible in between scenes, which was unfortunate given that the orchestra was playing.

The performance looked full, and standing room had quite a few people. A woman stood behind me for the second half of the opera, and apparently she had an imaginary friend. She spoke at full volume about "how cool" the Nibelheim was and "how cute" Alberich was as an amphibian. Then before Scene 4 she started furiously typing on her Blackberry and was given 3 pointed, angry looks before she scurried away.

Das Rheingold Panel Discussion

Rheingold Kip Cranna moderated a panel discussion on Das Rheingold yesterday evening at Herbst Theatre. The panelists included conductor Donald Runnicles, baritone Mark Delavan (Wotan), baritone Richard Paul Fink (Alberich), mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore (Fricka), and associate director Christian Räth. There was a fair amount of good natured teasing between the singers and conductor. Everyone was quite excited about the new production, the so-called "American Ring." In this production Das Rheingold starts off in the United States around 1900 and ends in the 1920s, though it sounds like the giants were modeled after a photograph of American construction workers from 1932. Räth was specifically asked about how Erda was to be portrayed, and he said she has been changed from being a Native American to being something "more general."

SF Opera's Das Rheingold Media Round-Up

Rheingold Summer Season Press Release | SF Opera's Official Site | Francesca Zambello's Official Site for this Production | Bloomberg Preview

Summer Season Previews: San Francisco Chronicle | Sentinel | Examiner

Interviews of Former Adler Fellow Mark Delavan (Wotan): KQED's The Do List [MP3] | San Francisco Chronicle | San Jose Mercury News | Contra Costa Times

Events: Opera Insight Panel Discussion (June 2, 2008) | Gold Rush – Forging The American Ring Symposium (June 14, 2008)

Reviews of Washington National Opera's 2006 Performances: New York Times | Washington Post | NPR | PlaybillArts | Ionarts | My Favorite Intermissions | More

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's 2008 Performances: The Opera Tattler | San Francisco Classical Voice | InsideBayArea.com | Los Angeles Times | San Francisco Chronicle | The Rehearsal Studio | Not for Fun Only | The Reporter | SFist | BayAreaReporter | The Reverberate Hills | lies like truth | Tracy Grant | Out West Arts | Civic Center | Opera Warhorses | Prima la musica, poi le parole

The Met's 2008-2009 Season

September 22 2008: Gala
September 23- October 16 2008: Salome
September 24- October 9 2008: La Gioconda
September 27-December 19 2008: Don Giovanni
October 3-25 2008: Lucia di Lammermoor
October 13- November 13 2008: Doctor Atomic
October 20- November 20 2008: La Traviata
October 24- November 22 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 7- December 4 2008: La Damnation de Faust
November 21- December 13 2008: The Queen of Spades
November 28- December 20 2008: Tristan und Isolde
December 8 2008- January 8 2009: Thaïs
December 15 2008- January 10 2009: La Bohème
December 22 2008- January 1 2009: Die Zauberflöte
December 31 2008- February 26 2009: La Rondine
January 9-31 2009: Orfeo ed Euridice
January 24- February 12 2009: Rigoletto
January 26- February 7 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
January 30- February 21 2009: Eugene Onegin
February 6-28 2009: Adriana Lecouvreur
February 16- May 8 2009: Il Trovatore
February 27- March 7 2009: Madama Butterfly
March 2- April 3 2009: La Sonnambula
March 9-21 2009: Rusalka
March 19- April 10 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 25- May 4 2009: Das Rheingold
March 31- April 22 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
April 1-17 2009: Rigoletto
April 6- May 5 2009: Die Walküre
April 13-24 2009: Don Giovanni
April 18- May 7 2009: Siegfried
April 25- May 9 2009: Götterdämmerung
May 1-9 2009: La Cenerentola

The Met's 125th season includes 6 new productions and 22 revivals. Susan Graham is singing Marguerite and Don Elvira. Karita Mattila sings Tatiana and Salomé. Juha Uusitalo has his Met debut as Jokanaan in Salomé. Deborah Voigt stars in the title role of La Gioconda with Ewa Podleś as La Cieca, and Olga Borodina as Laura Badoero. Thomas Hampson is Athanaël in Thaïs, opposite of Renée Fleming, and Onegin, opposite of Mattila as aforementioned. Fleming also sings the title role in Rusalka. Anna Netrebko will sing Mimi and share the role of Lucia with Diana Damrau. Netrebko's Edgardo is, of course, Rolando Villazón. Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna (Giuseppe Filianoti in February performances) sing in La Rondine, the production is the same one that was seen in San Francisco last Fall and which will be broadcast this weekend. Gheorghiu stars in L'Elisir opposite of Rolando Villazón. Alagna also appears in Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. John Relyea is in two productions, La Damnation de Faust and La Cenerentola. René Pape sings Hunding and Fasolt in the Ring and King Marke in Tristan und Isolde. Daniel Barenboim is making his Met debut conducting Tristan.

McVicar's Il Trovatore is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. The Met performances feature Salvatore Licitra, along with Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky for the first performances, and then Marco Berti, Hasmik Papian, Luciana D'Intino, and Željko Lučić.

I am most likely to see Orfeo ed Euridice, the Mark Morris production was my very first opera when it was performed in Berkeley several years ago. I am disappointed to not see Ruth Ann Swenson or Andreas Scholl in this lineup for the next season.

Press Release | Official Site

LA Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-26 2008: Il Trittico
September 7-26 2008: The Fly
October 2-18 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 15- December 14 2008: Carmen
January 10-25 2009: Die Zauberflöte
February 21- March 15 2009: Das Rheingold
April 4-25 2009: Die Walküre
April 11-26 2009: Die Vögel
May 21- June 21 2009: La Traviata

Two U.S. premieres and the company's first Der Ring des Nibelungen. Quite a lot of film directors this season: William Friedkin (Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica), David Cronenberg, and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi). I'm most interested in hearing Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund. I have to say I'm disappointed that LA Opera is starting Der Ring the same year as Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera, and only a year after San Francisco Opera unveils Francesca Zambello's production on the West Coast.

Press Release [PDF] | 2008-2009 Season Official Site

WNO Opera's 2009 Ring Cycle

Washington National Opera is presenting a complete Ring Cycle for the first time in November of 2009. Dubbed the "American Ring," this co-production with San Francisco Opera is directed by Francesca Zambello.

November 2-16 2009: Das Rheingold
November 3-17 2009:
Die Walküre
November 5-19 2009: Siegfried
November 7-21 2009: Götterdämmerung

Official Site | Press Release [PDF]

Seattle Opera's 2009 Ring Cycle

Seattle Opera is putting on the Stephen Wadsworth/Thomas Lynch production of Der Ring des Nibelungen for the third time in August 2009.

August 9-25 2009: Das Rheingold
August 10-26 2009: Die Walküre
August 12-28 2009: Siegfried
August 14-30 2009: Götterdämmerung

Official Site | Ring Cast Press Release [PDF]

Der Ring des Nibelungen at Seattle Opera

RheingoldSeattle Opera is especially dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner. The founder of this opera company, Glynn Ross, apparently adored Wagner at a time in which his works were generally neglected by most American opera houses. Seattle Opera has built its reputation on staging Wagner in a traditional manner, a reaction to the ultra-minimalism of Bayreuth. From 1975 to 1983 they gave Der Ring des Nibelungen every summer, in both English and German versions. This month Seattle Opera is staging their third production of Der Ring for the second time. Glynn Ross' ambitions certainly have been fulfilled, as these performances were sold-out a year in advance, even the waiting list had to be closed 8 months before the cycle began.

Stephen Wadsworth's production has a particular emphasis on nature, many of Thomas Lynch's sets are covered in greenery. The most evident motif throughout were human coverings: the robes of Wotan and Siegmund were especially prominent, the former used as Brünnhilde's pillow, the latter dragged all about by Siegmund, Sieglinde, and Siegfried.

Das Rheingold
The audience was rather delighted with the acrobatic Rheintöchter, they were suspended from the ceiling and did all sorts of flips and dives. They were still able to sing quite well despite the athleticism required, good thing they were forced to be on some sort of cardio/yoga/pilates regimen beforehand. I was a bit confused by the staging though, it leaves Alberich on the bottom of the Rhein, since he is on the stage and they are above him.

They cast people well, Richard Paul Fink and Thomas Harper were suitably small as Alberich and Mime respectively, and Fasolt and Fafner, Stephen Milling and Gidon Saks, were convincing giants.

The weakest scene of the opera, and possibly the whole cycle, was the third scene in when Wotan and Loge go to Nibelheim and trick Alberich into changing into first a giant snake and then a toad. Both simply looked like children's toys, and the snake was not impressively larger than the toad. This received an audible giggle from the audience.

The singing was fairly even. Compared to the Bayerische Staatsoper Ring production of 2003, the only singer that was less impressive was Greer Grimsley, because John Tomlinson was an amazing Wotan. Grimsley was slightly quiet, but consistent. Tomlinson was fuller and more brilliant, but he was also singing with a poorer cast, so it could be simply the contrast. The most exciting vocals came from Ewa Podleś in her tiny role as Erda. As she rose from the earth her enormous voice seemed a force of nature.

Die Walküre
Everyone seemed to adore Margaret Jane Wray and Richard Berkeley-Steele as the Wälsungen, but I found Stephen Milling's voice most compelling in his role as Hunding, though he did not make a particular impression on me as Fasolt in the earlier opera. His voice had a certain command, it is very solid. Jane Eaglen was at her best as Brünnhilde, her high range never grates nor threatens to break glass, her low range is quiet.

The set for Act III (Auf dem Gipfel eines Felsenberges) where we find the Walküre left something to be desired. It looked too clean and neat, as if one had bought it from IKEA. It reminded me of the set for Seattle's Lohengrin, similarly flat and linear. Thomas Lynch designed both, no surprise there at all.

Also, the Walküre threw around the various body parts of fallen heroes during that first scene. For some reason, this struck me as slightly tacky, something out of a horror movie. Another trivial point, it might have been nicer if the rest of the Walküre had been a little more substantial physically, since Jane Eaglen may well be around 300 pounds. This visual contrast was slightly bizarre.

The most notable flaw in this performance was having the singers be percussionists. One would never force the singer of Siegfried to play the famous horn call, why should a singer then, be forced to be a percussionist? Thomas Harper (Mime) was more confident of his playing, but still was off at times, and Alan Woodrow's playing was just painful to watch, and more importantly, hear. It was too bad, since he made a nice enough Siegfried otherwise, singing adequate, and his acting was charming. He does petulant and boyish well. They also pulled off the bear part at Siegfried's first entrance, the bear suit donned by tenor Steven Goldstein.

Surprisingly, the Act II scenes with Fafner as a dragon were also done well. The puppet was suitably grand. However, the Waldvogel part came off less well. A stuffed bird was illuminated in the trees, but it was very difficult to see. Wendy Hill's voice sounded very pleasing, and it might have been better if we could have heard her from the stage.

Act III Scene 1 was definitely the best part because of Podleś. The Act III love scene was slightly painful, Eaglen waddles, and when she spun around in delight at Siegfried, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The beginning Norn scene was impressive, Podleś and Stephanie Blythe have such big voices, Wray is full but not as hefty. Gidon Saks (Hagen) was ill and his voice was quiet and strained. Woodrow's singing in Act III Scene 2 as Siegfried dying was especially good, not flawless, but very beautiful. Eaglen put everything she had into the Immolation scene, it was transcendent, her voice gleaming.

As for the staging and set, the Halle der Gibichungen was very dull, it was in no danger of being a distraction. Act III Scene 1 with the Rheintöchter down from their harnesses was charming, though the arm choreography didn't much make sense, it looked like they were flapping. The last scene was utter madness, the scrim came down with fire projected on it, the gods all reappeared on a platform, and the Rheintöchter reappeared to catch the ring that Brünnhilde throws up into the air. Somehow this all came together.

Overall, it certainly was ambitious. Robert Spano did not seem to have any exquisite control over the orchestra, nor was his conducting particularly fiery. The traditionalist approach to the stage direction makes it obvious how difficult it is to stage something so fantastical without being kitschy. One begins to understand why all those bizarre contemporary stagings exist, they are a sort of distraction.

Wallala weiala weia!

Bsorheingold4My friends, I have made a disturbing discovery of late. After some years of listening to operas, I finally went to hear a Wagner opera, Das Rheingold, last Wednesday. The music was sublime. In general, I do not like music past Beethoven, and my favorite opera composer is undoubtedly Mozart. So I was surprised I found Das Rheingold engaging. The lack of recitative was nice, the lack of chorus was a bit odd. I enjoy Wagner's use of percussion.

Zubin Mehta conducted admirably, the orchestra and singers seemed more synchronized than usual at any rate. The singing was consistent, John Tomlinson was especially good Wotan and Franz-Josef Kapellmann as Alberich also had a strong voice. The Rhine maidens (Margarita De Arellano, Ann-Katrin Naidu, and Hana Minutillo) were a bit shrill taken apart, but sounded just lovely together.

The production was by the late Herbert Wernicke, and he was in charge of the staging and costumes as well. The stage was a theatre, the seats raked, boxes in the back, Corinthian columns stage left to suggest the outside architecture of the building. The stage looks more or less the same throughout the four scenes, which made the transitions exceedingly smooth, and there was no intermission. The main part of the stage, where most of the singing happened, was a platform of 18 feet just downstage.

The Rhine was suggested by an aquarium, complete with three goldfish, in the opening scene. Alberich would try to catch the fish when actually trying to catch the Rhine maidens, who staggered about around him in high heels and sequined evening gowns. When he steals the Rhine gold, he actually puts his left foot in the aquarium. There is an audience on stage, people in evening dress, and Erda is in the box to the left, with a large book. Erda stays there throughout, until she sings in Scene IV. The costumes throughout the production is more or less contemporary, only Erda has a costume that is somewhat theatrical, a black satin dress with a full skirt and an elaborate glittery head dress.

Scene II was the only one that took any time at all to set up, because they had to put the Greco-Roman styled model of Valhalla on to the seats near the back. The audience is gone, except for Erda. I was very confused that Valhalla involved a peristyle. But I realized later that Valhalla was actually a model of the Nationaltheater, where the opera itself took place. The furniture of the Gods exactly matched the decor of the opera house as well, white painted wood with pink velvet.

Scene III used a screen on which they projected black and white footage of mines, and later a dragon and a toad. Also, a ladder was placed in the center from which Wotan and Loge make their descent into Nibelheim. The audience has returned, and while Mime talks to the Gods, Alberich steals jewelry from the audience members.

Scene IV is just like Scene II, with the audience gone again. As the Gods go to Valhalla, various moving men take the furnishings up, including paintings of opera singers and busts of composers. The screen comes back down again and footage of opera goers entering the Nationaltheater is played. The symbolism is quite obvious.