Thursday, June 16, 2011

Part 2, Die Walküre - Premiere of Wagner's Ring Cycle at San Francisco Opera

Last night was the second installment of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle. This particular production was staged in San Francisco Opera last year with a wonderful cast, including excellent principals:

Sieglinde - Eva-Maria Westbroek
Siegmund - Christopher Ventris
Hunding - Raymond Aceto
Wotan - Mark Delavan
Brünnhilde - Nina Stemme
Fricka - Janina Baechle

Of these, only Mark Delavan and Nina Stemme returned. 

The new cast members for Die Walküre in these three cycles are:

Brünnhilde Nina Stemme
Wotan Mark Delavan
Sieglinde Anja Kampe  June 15, 22
Sieglinde Heidi Melton June 29
Siegmund Brandon Jovanovich
Fricka Elizabeth Bishop
Hunding Daniel Sumegi
Gerhilde Sara Gartland
Helmwige Tamara Wapinsky
Ortlinde Melissa Citro
Waltraute Daveda Karanas
Rossweisse Lauren McNeese
Siegrune Maya Lahyani
Grimgerde Renée Tatum
Schwertleite Cybele Gouverneur

Kampe made her SFO debut with this performance and comparing to the amazing Westbroek, she was really good, except for some labored high notes.  I'm afraid the standard set by Westbroek was hard to met.  I really wanted to hear Melton's Sieglinda but I don't have the stamina to do two cycles as I overheard in the theater of such plan by someone behind me.  A woman bought Cycle 1 and 3 in order to hear both Kampe and Melton, and the gentleman next to her had purchased all three cycles.  He said that over thirty years' span, he had seen all four operas of the Ring Cycle in theater but this would be his first Ring Cycle in its entirety.  I guess he is one of the late bloomer of "Ring Nuts".

Ventris was a wonderful singer and I'd heard him as Parsifal, Erik (in Wagner's Dutchman, opposite Nina Stemme), and Boris (in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich), and I am not prepared to be win over by Jovanovich, whose capable outing the previous night as Froh did not impress me much, perhaps due to the nature of that role.

Jovanovich was a rare tenor sounding Wagner tenor - not the kind we hear often who built up their voice from middle and often sounded like a baritone.  It was extremely pleasant to hear the shining voice of Jovanovich's.  His voice was sweet, bright and supple and effortlessly fill up the large auditorium.  Curiously, he was slimmer than the strapping Ventris, but moved less comfortably on stage.  It has been reported that he will come back next fall for Lohengrin, opposite debutant Camilla Nylund.  I had been hoping for Jonas Kaufmann or Klaus Florian Vogt, both excellent Lohengrins and none had sung on SFO's stage.  I guess I should be satisfied with Jovanovich's outing as Lohengrin, however regrettable not to see Vogt or Kaufmann in this role.

Bishop as Fricka had more to sing than last night and she sang wonderfully, and her demeanor was less irritating this time but I still prefer a more dignified approach.  Zambello apparently didn't agree.  Baechle sang as well or better last year with similar characterization I thought was wrong.

Delavan paced him well - last year, by the last scene, he had run out of steam but last night he did well - except a tiny bit of sagging of energy before he recovered immediately just before conjuring up Loge to protect sleeping Brünnhilde with mighty fire.

Nina Stemme shone like a real goddess and her sisters sang lustily and however I have reservation about their Amelia Earhart garbs, I cannot deny that they looked good in them and they were an exciting bunch.

Perhaps not 100% warmed up, Stemme's Hojotoho war cry was somewhat not very free and even labored but once that past, she was in stunning form and that beginning effort hardly mattered in this long evening.

I still don't like the video projection by the production team led by Francesca Zambello and once again the absolute hero of the night was conductor Donald Runncles, who won the biggest ovation of the evening.

Now, to the staging.

Act I commenced in front of Sieglinde and Hunding's house - atmospheric and semi abstract facade with printed shadow of a tree.  Some unintentional comic touches by the director was questionable.  When Sieglinde offered Siegmund a drink, on cue, a small fire jump up and lighting changed.  A reference to Tristan und Isolde?  People laughed.

When they entered the house, the front panel of the house was lifted and revealed a strangely detailed interior of a rural American home.  It was cluttered with deer head, a water fowl and an owl, along with other trinkets on the walls.  It clashed strongly with the semi-abstract sets everywhere else.  I really think a less detailed approach would be more proper, considering the vague time and local of the story.  It looked hideous as well.

More comic affairs.  When Siegmund started to look for weapon, suddenly the sword materialized on the trunk of the ash tree inside the house.  When the libretto mentioned the gleam of the sword, the light changes on cue as well.  More laughter.

When Siegmund and Sieglinde embraced each other, the other walls of the house fell apart and revealed a perfumed blue sky and huge moon.  It was just too literal and lazy presentation.

Act two, Scene 1 was in Valhalla, a corporate conference room overlooking skyscrapers which was darkly foreboding but too static and lackluster.  The back drop was mostly very static and became boring to look at.  It did provide a good projection panel for the sound.  After it was lifted, it quickly revealed the next scene - Todesverkundigung, Brünnhilde's announcement of Siegmund's death.  It took place underneath an deliciously ugly overpasses but once again was ruined by soldier zombies carrying square portrait of them when Brünnhilde told Siegmund that he would be welcomed by fallen warriors in Valhalla - distracting and literal.  Also, the two dogs ran across the stage in chase was still cheerful snickering inciting.  Can we banish animals on stage once for all?

When Wotan shattered the sword, Notung, and Siegmund was killed by Hunding, and Wotan killed Hunding in turn, Brünnhilde carried Sieglinde away, without the fragments of Notung.  It was curious to realize that the producer Zambello made them hide near by and when Wotan had set up to chase them - they should had run far away already - they sneaked back and picked up the fragments.  This last few bars' time, should belong to the anguished and raging Wotan but usurped by these two women.  It was also illogical - which direction did we think Wotan was flying to?  Not a good choice.  

At the beginning of Act 3, the Ride of the Valkyries was rendered energetically and some people applauded heartily when the valkyries started to descend like paratroopers.  I guess it was a good thing the Ring Cycle was treated as living dramas other than sacred pieces.  But using large photos of dead warriors the Valkyries held was still not a convincing solution.  Another curious things was when they discussed the fallen heroes they collected, they put the pictures on several towers and after they were chased off stage by raging Wotan, they left those pictures to be walled in by fire with Brünnhilde.  Brünnhilde's Rock become Brünnhilde and her Warriors's Rock.  I didn't notice this last year but did last night.  Perhaps, Zambello should come up with a way to solve this issue as well.

Last scene, when Wotan renounced his daughter and called fire god Loge to protect Brünnhilde, the scenery was just  exciting enough but not more.  The fire could have been higher and the rhythms of the fire dance on the scrim should be more energetic.

That said, the long final scene between Wotan and his rebellious favorite daughter Brünnhilde was the most wrenching and poignant experiences I had in a live theater.  Last year, it was good; this year, it was astonishing.  Perhaps, the improvement of Mark Delavan's Wotan helped.  The wrath of Wotan was the most terrifying thing I witness on any stage - not gory but the sound from the pit and stage just awed me.  The words spit out of the tip of Dalavan's tongue or the long legato anguish doled out of the depth of his throat was hard to forget and one hardly needed any title to understand what he was trying to convey.  Stemme met him word by word, emotion by emotion.  It was extremely talky and long but never tedious, due to the miraculous performances by these two stars.  When Brünnhilde lay down on the rock to accept her fate and the grief stricken Wotan put her munition bag as her pillow, and covered her with his coat and munition belt, Brünnhilde smiled a daddy's little girl smile, very satisfied.  It was the moment brought tears to people's eyes.  Wagner could have used some heavy editing here or there, for example, the long scene between Siegmund and Sieglinde, but not here.  We treasured and was moved by every second of this most intense operatic scene.  

One thing Zambello got right was treating this opera as an intimate drama and focused on relationship of various people, instead of a circus show, as the new Ring Cycle being developed for the more glamorous Metropolitan Opera in New York.

I enjoyed this evening very much and am looking forward to see Part III and Part IV, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, which I have not seen before. 

I do thing these four operas seen separately or consecutively could be quite different.  I was much more aware of the leitmotifs used by Wagner which was helpful but can be irritating, like receiving same business cards repeatedly.  When I saw Part I and II in different years, the leitmotifs conjured up vague and tentative memories which was strangely more appropriate.  Here, Wagner became the slave of his own will.

Below are some visual records of the evening.

When I walked by Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, I saw huge crowd waiting to get in for a performance by Motley Crue, Poison and New York Dolls.  While it was a calm oasis in front of the opera house.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if people clamoring in front of the opera house, trying to get in?  No such sight, alas.

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3506
Crowds waiting to enter Bill Graham Civic Auditorium - Motley Crue, Poison and New York Dolls at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Wednesday, June 15, in contrast to the calmness in front of San Francisco Opera House:

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3514
Poster for Die Walküre featuring Mark Delavan as Wotan

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3513
Balcony before the show

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3515
Gilded Lobby

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3540
Auditorium before the show (see from balcony)

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3568
Auditorium during intermission

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3551
Lobby during intermission

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3547
Fist Intermission

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3549
Biergarten during the first intermission

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3548
Food from the Biergarten

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3563
Second Intermission

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3565
Second Intermission

San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle  2011 Die Walküre _ 3560
Second Intermission

Related articles:
Part 4, Götterdämmerung - Premiere of Wagner's Ring Cycle at San Francisco Opera
Part 3, Siegfried - Premiere of Wagner's Ring Cycle at San Francisco Opera
Part 1, Das Rheingold - Premiere of Wagner's Ring Cycle at San Francisco Opera
My Experiences with Wagner's Operas

No comments:

Post a Comment