* 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.