Stefan Margita

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.

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.