* 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.