Der Ring des Nibelungen

Donald Runnicles
San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra
June 2011 (R), June 2011 (W)
June 2011 (S), June 2011 (G)
War Memorial Opera House San Francisco
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre


Chicago Tribune

Wagner’s mighty ‘Ring’ comes full cycle in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera is the latest American company to weigh in on the vast, convoluted, stirring, monumental, four-opera, 17-hour masterpiece, a hugely demanding and expensive undertaking for any opera company. Lyric Opera last staged a “Ring” cycle in 2005; the Metropolitan Opera is opening its new (and problematic) Robert LePage production piecemeal through next season; Seattle Opera is readying a revival of its eco-centric “green Ring” in 2013.

So the field was open for yet another domestic interpretation of the mighty saga of greed and redemption, especially one as thoughtful, arresting and visually spectacular as the “American Ring” by director Francesca Zambello, a co-production with the Washington National Opera. This marks the San Francisco company’s first complete “Ring” cycle since 1999. (The company mounted “Das Rheingold” in 2008, “Die Walkure” in 2010.) I caught the second cycle; the third and final cycle plays through Sunday at the War Memorial Opera House.

Those who deplored the failure of Lyric’s “Ring” to venture beyond superficial storytelling should admire Zambello’s serious, visually and dramatically compelling attempt to relate the decline and fall of Wagner’s gods and mortals to the decline and fall of the American empire. The director’s primary theme is the despoiling of the natural world by industrialization and corporate lust for profit, with sets and video projections of distinctly Western landscapes to drive home her ecological concerns.

While no single directorial view can possibly encompass the huge scope and complexity of Wagner’s conception, this “Ring” works as well as any I have seen over the last several decades. Never in my experience has video been so well-integrated into the overall design. In a thrice, you are whisked from a Valkyries’ ride through the cloud-swirled heavens, to the red glow of subterranean Nibelheim, to (in the later operas) forests and streams befouled by smoke-belching power plants and trash heaps filled with plastic bottles and rusting auto parts.

Zambello keeps the intertwined human dramas in tight focus, and there is no shortage of visual wit and imagination.The Valkyries, wearing goggles and boots, parachute onto a landing strip atop a rocky battlement adorned with the photos of actual soldiers killed in actual American wars. The incestuous lovers Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) and Sieglinde (Anja Kampe) seek refuge from the wife-abusing Hunding (Daniel Sumegi) beneath the overpass of a California freeway.

Although the rest of the singing was uneven, Swedish soprano Nina Stemme enjoyed an unalloyed triumph as Brunnhilde, the warrior-maiden whose self-sacrifice lifts the curse from the ring and brings about a new world order, purified by fire and water. Stemme made Wotan’s favorite daughter the true hero of the saga: spirited as a young Valkyrie, radiant as a mortal woman deeply in love, raging as a wife cruelly betrayed. Stemme is the Brunnhilde we “Ringheads” have been waiting a long time to hear. Lyric Opera simply must engage her.

Casting even an acceptable Siegfried – the most cruelly demanding tenor role in the repertory — these days poses an almost insurmountable challenge for opera producers. San Francisco came up with not one but two would-be heldentenors: Jay Hunter Morris as the brash young hero of “Siegfried”; and Ian Storey as the older, albeit not much wiser, dupe of Hagen in “Gotterdammerung.”

Storey reportedly sang under vocal distress in the first cycle. In the “Gotterdammerung” I heard, he seemed to have recovered but the sound was constricted in the hero’s first-act duet with his bride Brunnhilde. He mustered adequate heft and stamina for the rest of the opera, cutting a credibly heroic figure in the bargain. Morris also threw himself gamely into his acting, but his tight, unbeautiful singing left a gaping hole at the center of “Siegfried.”

This “Ring” was cast with singers familiar to Lyric audiences: Mark Delavan, firmly in character, though not always in vocal control, as Wotan, who disguises himself as the scraggly Wanderer in “Siegfried”; David Cangelosi, wonderfully oily and athletic as the conniving dwarf Mime; Andrea Silvestrelli, booming powerfully as the giant Fasolt and villainous Hagen; Stacey Tappan as a sweetly chirping Forest Bird and Woglinde; and Lauren McNeese as her Rhinemaiden sister, Wellgunde.

Wotan’s argument with wife Fricka (imperiously taken by Elizabeth Bishop) over his son Siegmund’s fate was one of the most gripping in my experience. Also impressive was the incisive Loge of Czech tenor Stefan Margita. Both Jovanovich and Kampe sounded pushed as Siegmund and Sieglinde. Ronnita Miller introduced a luscious-voiced Erda. There were vocally patchy trios of Rhinemaidens and Norns, and a rather shrill octet of Valkyries.

The conducting of music director emeritus Donald Runnicles grew in strength, cohesion and confidence in the course of the four operas, as did the quality of orchestral playing, complete with suitably heroic solos from the principal horn player. Runnicles, the orchestra and Stemme came in for the longest, loudest ovations, deservedly so. They made this a “Ring” to remember.

John von Rhein | Jun 28, 2011

Los Angeles Times

San Francisco Opera presents a new ‘Ring’ Cycle

When San Francisco Opera completed its new “Ring” cycle with “Götterdämmerung” on Sunday at War Memorial Opera house, the Swedish soprano Nina Stemme’s exhilarating Brünnhilde got a huge ovation. Francesca Zambello, the first American woman to direct Wagner’s macho four-opera epic, was loudly cheered (if also booed by a handful).

The other notable moment during Sunday’s curtain call was when conductor Donald Runnicles hugged a despondent-looking tenor, Ian Storey, clearly trying to buck him up. This Siegfried had had a bad day vocally.

In fact, all the men, in one or another, appear to have nothing but bad days in this woman’s “Ring,” Unlike Achim Freyer’s fanciful, echt-German Los Angeles Opera “Ring” last year, Zambello’s production is a mirror to America, magnifying the mess big business moguls and particularly rapacious oil men have gotten us into.

Developed jointly for Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera, Zambello’s “Ring” began with “Das Rheingold” in Washington in 2006, but that company has been unable to finance a full cycle. “Rheingold” reached the Bay Area in 2008 and “Die Walküre” last summer. “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung,” which I saw Friday night and Sunday afternoon, were saved for this year’s complete cycle.

Zambello’s transference of Wagner’s German and Nordic mythical sources across the Atlantic is surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) effortless. Gold at the bottom of any river is a problem. The Rhine’s gold is the same metal the 49ers fought over. In “Walküre,” the treasure becomes the source of wealth that built the 1930s skyscraper where Wotan, the king of the gods, has his office. When we catch up with “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung,” we’ve reached our own time. Mime, the dwarf who raises Siegfried with hopes of getting him to steal the hoard, works out of a trailer in the shadow of a power plant.

“Siegfried” is a nature opera, but nature has almost been banished from the industrial wasteland. The dragon is a tank-like vehicle. The rock Brünnhilde has been exiled to is a bunker.

In “Götterdämmerung,” Gunther and Hagen are brothers who head a big oil firms. We see the huge refinery outside the windows of their fancy high-floor apartment. They have their own private militia. Their sister, Gutrune, with long blond hair, seductively lounges on a sofa, bored with their ruler-of-the-universe ways, plainly sick of men. I give away nothing by reporting that Brünnhilde torches the refinery at the end. It is the only option.

Zambello’s strength is in her focus on personal relationships and her sense of humor. She does show the despoiling of the environment — the Rhine maidens clean up a polluted river. But what she mainly reveals is how women are left to clean up the mess the men make of the world.

It can hardly be a coincidence that the women are more strongly cast in the production. Stemme, the bold and frisky Brünnhilde, went through two Siegfrieds. Storey, who was problematical in an L.A. Opera “Otello” in 2008, dropped out of the title role of “Siegfried” when he arrived in San Francisco for rehearsals, devoting himself only to the heroic role in “Götterdämmerung.”

He is an effective actor, but the strain on his voice was too much halfway through the second act. He returned to finish the opera, after an announcement that he had had a vocal indisposition and had been treated by the company’s doctor at intermission.

Jay Hunter Morris, who took over “Siegfried,” has a likably light voice, fine for the small moments but a nuisance to a soaring soprano having to scale back. In fact, the strongest male singer over the weekend was David Cangelosi, an athletic and funny Mime, the most emasculated character in the cycle. Mark Delavan was a wan Wanderer, the pathetic character Wotan turns into.

Runnicles may have showed his masculinity with the big climaxes the company’s former music director likes to produce, but otherwise even he seemed to go with the flow, getting atmospheric and slightly sodden results from the orchestra.

On the female side, Ronnita Miller was an impressively earthy Erda and Stacy Tappan, a nimble Forest Bird. Melissa Citro’s Gutrune was so effective that it became next to impossible to take her ineffectual brother Gunther or her nasty half brother Hagen seriously (although a sexual electricity between Gutrune and Hagen made for an interesting twist).

Wagner gets ever grander and more cinematic in the progress of his “Ring.” Zambello got less so. Perhaps this was the result of a diminishing budget, but it also seemed one more instance of deflating the composer’s capacious male ego. Michael Yeargan’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s costumes followed suit by being more effective when presenting real characters than mythical ones. The theatrical special effects were left to misty film projections by Jan Hartley.

MARK SWED | Jun 20, 2011

The End of the World by the Bay

Francesca Zambello’s idea of an “American” Ring has been unfolding for more than five years, since the Das Rheingold installment premiered at Washington National Opera in March 2006. Walküre followed there a season later, but budget constraints delayed Siegfried until the spring of 2009 and limited the presentation of Götterdämmerung to just two concert performances that fall. There are no current plans to perform the complete tetralogy there. It has fallen to the San Francisco Opera, which co-produced Wagner’s epic with Washington, to finish the staging and present the first complete cycles of all four operas this summer. Much fanfare preceded the event. Six weeks of lectures, musical events, and public discussions prepared the mood in a scholarly tone. A launch party at the St. Regis Hotel fueled sponsors with a buffet whimsically called “Fafner’s Feast.” And of course, an international audience assembled from all corners of the globe to display the outré eccentricities of devout Wagnerian spectators.

Staging a new Ring is undoubtedly the most difficult feat in the world of opera. The tetralogy’s sheer length and scale are daunting enough, but its deep philosophical meditations on the nature of power, love, hate, envy, and redemption demand a sophisticated conceptual interpretation. Only superb artists of enormous talent and great stamina can address its massive musical demands fully. Zambello’s “American” interpretation follows the trend in other stagings that develop the plot in linear time over a recognizably recent past. Rheingold opens in a 1920s milieu with gods who resemble F. Scott Fitzgerald characters preparing to move into a skyscraper Valhalla. Their immediate nemeses, the giants Fasolt and Fafner, who demand payment for building the gods’ castle, are cartoonish construction workers who make their entrance on a lowered beam. Alberich, the greater existential threat, whose theft of the Rhine gold sets the whole bloody tale in motion, is a prospector in a river bed setting that evokes the California gold rush. Walküre takes the action forward a generation, to a kind of 1940s or 1950s blossoming of American industrial capitalism. Wotan is now styled as the chief executive of a vast manufacturing concern, presiding over his empire from a sky-high office that looks down over a gray city silhouette. His Valkyries are clad as aviatrixes who cleverly parachute in during their famous “Ride.” Hunding is a cabin-dwelling backwoodsman whose life is brutalized by the developments around him. Siegmund and Sieglinde play out their scene of doom beneath the construction site of a highway overpass. Valhalla’s heroes are depicted in black and white photo slides of actual American soldiers killed in the country’s great wars. In Siegfried we find a decaying industrial idiom that evokes the malaise of the 1970s. Mime inhabits a broken down trailer in a squalid trash dump by a power station that ominously emits green smoke. Fafner’s transformation into a dragon is explained by the character’s operation of an armored vehicle that looks like a cross between a tank and a trash compactor. He dies when its vital power cords are severed. Siegfried liberates Brünnhilde in surroundings that look bleaker than those in which Wotan had left her in the previous opera. By the time we enter the gloomy universe of Götterdämmerung, environmental despoliation and social atomization are complete. The Norns, whose rope of fate contains all the knowledge of the world, are antiseptic technicians who tend cables inside a vast computer motherboard. Where else is our knowledge stored today, if not in computer servers? The obliteration of their wisdom by spiraling fate results in a hardware crash. The Rhinemaidens are reduced to bag ladies who desperately try to clear the garbage from their Aquarian abode. They ultimately kill Hagen by snuffing him out – tastelessly in my opinion – with a yellow garbage bag. Gunther, Gutrune, and their evil half-brother Hagen appear in louchely decorated digs within a glass and steel structure that could have been designed by Philippe Starck. Their realm is a black zone of hopelessness tended by a gruff private army of wage slaves. The only weak suggestion of the tetralogy’s redemption theme comes in the form of a child planting a sapling ash tree – the source of the world’s blossoming wisdom before Wotan corrupted it – for the amusement of the blasé denizens of Gunther’s realm.

No one can accuse Zambello of lacking imagination, though I did wonder what provocations this Ring made that Patrice Chéreau missed in his centennial production in Bayreuth 35 years ago, based as it was on the destructive evolution of industrial society. Günter Krämer’s recently completed Paris production of the Ring also embeds the work deeply in the pitfalls of industrial modernity. The impressive technical execution of Zambellos’s effort relied on innovative video projections to convey landscapes – from the flowing Rhine to the mountain heights to blighted urban districts. Old fashioned smoke and mirrors – aided by ample amounts of liquid nitrogen – gestured toward magic. It seemed incongruous to include these elements, however, when the production’s bleak idiom suggests a thorough de-mythologizing of the work. If we are meant to see the Ring as an all too human progression from hubris to ruin, then who needs divinity or enchantment? The larger philosophical suggestion seems to be that there is none. With imaginative power thus undermined, a natural and pervasive tension evolves between what the tetralogy really is and what Zambello wants it to be. I am uncertain she succeeded in resolving it. To take a central example from her development of the characters, her presentation of the vitally important role of Brünnhilde rises on the stated idea that Brünnhilde is herself the hero Wotan needs to restore harmony to the world. But for as well as Nina Stemme sang the role, the dramatic interpretation suggested nothing more than a rambunctious preteen who jumps on Wotan’s back in her first scene, reacts as though she is being grounded when Wotan decrees her divine punishment for disobeying him, and succumbs to puppy love when Siegfried awakens her. Her morphing into a vicious wronged woman in Götterdämmerung implies a level of emotional sophistication she simply does not have; this Brünnhilde should be crying herself to sleep rather than plotting murderous revenge. And nowhere does the progressively bleak production allow her or anyone else to emerge as heroic. The Immolation Scene, in which Brünnhilde reveals her newly acquired knowledge of the world and appreciation for what is needed for its redemption, is eviscerated by a soapy reconciliation with the hapless Gutrune (who ever cared about her?) and the Rhinemaidens, who make an unscripted appearance to lead the action as the end nears (again in questionable taste by dousing Siegfried’s funeral pyre with gasoline). If this immature Brünnhilde is really so heroic, why is she not the dramatic center?

Excellent voices can imbue even the most troubled production concepts with aesthetic appeal, but despite all the fanfare only two of the principals rose to the challenge. Stemme, who sang her first Brünnhilde only last year, made an exciting debut in her first full Cycle performance of the role. Her cool Scandinavian tones recall the best efforts of her Swedish countrywomen Birgit Nilsson and Astrid Varnay two generations ago. The technique is at its best in the middle register, where creamily delivered Bs and Gs polinated the score with a delicious musicality one can only savor. Her top notes were not perfect – the final “Heil” in the prologue of Götterdämmerung warbled and she sang a touch sharp in the Immolation Scene – but this is a Brünnhilde the world needs and will long remember. Another star ascended in Brandon Jovanovich’s excellent Siegmund. The voice’s fine baritonal coloring conveyed the part with an uncommon union of nobility and power. These dynamic performances overshadowed the other principals. Mark Delavan has the necessary legato and vocal color for Wotan, but in all three incarnations of the role he more often than not sounded underpowered. Act III of Walküre and his scenes in Siegfried were the only places suggesting the effulgence readily encountered in other performers of the role today. Anja Kampe’s Sieglinde showed flashes of power, but the voice rests too high for the part and missed its important lower tones. The role of Siegfried was divided between Jay Hunter Morris and Ian Storey. Morris was the more severely parted. In Act I of Siegfried he at times lapsed into inaudibility. Although the voice possesses a fine lyrical quality, it is simply – and obviously – not right for a Heldentenor role. Storey fared rather better in Götterdämmerung, though the voice’s throaty qualities made the hero sound more gravelly than the brilliant music needs to soar. A “vocal indisposition,” moreover, caused his singing to collapse late in Act II. After treatment during intermission he continued through Act III with noticeable caution. Gordon Hawkins’s Alberich made a stir when he first sang the role in Washington five years ago, but this time the voice betrayed a curiously listless quality through much of the role and only fluttered decision in the delivery of the curse in Rheingold. Andrea Silvestrelli blustered through Hagen’s malevolent music and the lesser part of Fasolt. The Italianate basso was not unappealing but seemed out of place, especially when accompanied by a mischievous dimension that we rarely encounter in this grim role. It was nevertheless a clever touch to put him in bed with Gutrune at the spectral opening of Act II of Götterdämmerung. Daniel Sumegi’s Fafner and Hunding both emerged with rough edges. The supporting cast offered few standouts. David Cangelosi’s energetic Mime – complete with cartwheels – captured the character’s vices and in vocal terms even rivaled Morris’s unfortunate Siegfried in power. Stefan Margita’s Loge and Ronnita Miller’s Erda were skillfully executed. Gerd Grochowski, who sang Donner and Gunther, sounded serviceable if not more. Melissa Citro’s Freia and Gutrune were rather weak, though her slutty interpretation of the latter role enlivened this usually dull part.

San Francisco’s former music director Donald Runnicles returned to the podium for the Ring Festival. Not a distinguished Wagner conductor, he led a pedestrian orchestral effort. While efficient and technically correct, it disappointed listeners intrigued by the score’s great subtlety and possibilities for deeper exploration. Although Runnicles’s rendering of Götterdämmerung occasionally reached with some insight into that realm, too many of the great moments lacked emotional charge and dramatic power.

There will be two more Cycles, with the last concluding on July 3. Zambello’s effort leaves the impression of a work in progress. More careful casting decisions and a refinement of the production concept could make this Ring worth hearing again.

Paul du Quenoy | June 2011

Der Ring des Nibelungen in San Francisco

Some of the experts said it was the best Ring ever, others merely said it was one of the best (these were lecturers at a Wagner Society symposium).

The final curtain down at last on the second cycle, the audience leapt to its feet and roared. What was all the fuss about?

The delights of the San Francisco Ring were myriad. The cycle played out over a mere six days during which Wagner’s drama did not seem to stop. It was an immersion Ring rather than episodic one as the Freyer Ring in L.A. seemed over its ten long days, not to mention the Berlin Philharmonic Ring in Aix-en-Provence that was spread over four years.

Conductor Donald Runnicles slid into the initial E flat pedal tone and relentlessly sustained Wagner’s orchestral deliberation for its seventeen hour duration. The maestro drove an orchestral continuum that was imperceptibly fleet (it was actually fast), its speed though was calibrated to the careful articulation of Wagner’s score, the conductor knowing that Wotan’s plight and designs give rise to riveting music only when they are musically exploited to the maximum.

Mo. Runnicles achieved a rare transparency of orchestral sound in the War Memorial, the percolating inner voices of the continuum often shining brilliantly in the vast space of the hall as they can never do in the recordings we use to learn and casually listen to the Ring. And too the vast spaces of the War Memorial allowed huge fortes to roll forth, immersing the hall in mighty sound, Even the quirks of the hall contributed, its “golden horseshoe” overhang magnifying the eight horns and double timpani for those of us seated on the right side of the orchestra.

The careful musical exposition was subject to the largest arc of Wagner’s myth, the orchestral climax of the entire Ring occurring about sixteen hours into it, only at the end of the second act of Götterdämmerung when Mo. Runnicles unleashed it all for Brünnhilde’s pact with Hagen to murder Siegfried. This Ring was bigger than its pieces, and we understood that the usual frenzy we missed at the conception of Siegfried was measured against the hugely complex dilemma of his death.

It is futile to discuss the concept of the production, San Francisco Opera touting it as “an American Ring.” There were indeed vibrant American images, like redwood trees. like American industrial wastelands, but the Gibichung headquarters was well beyond the 1930’s American skyscrapers director Francesca Zambello cites in her program book apology, and much more on the scale of Austrian expressionist Fritz Lang’s immense Metropolis of his 1927 film. And too the light green behind Brünnhilde’s fire seemed more like a weird color choice that an evocation of escaping industrial gases.

All these specific images however quietly dissolved into the careful storytelling that was the hallmark of the Zambello production. Not a musical motive was left without a corresponding movement on the stage, no musical interludes were left on an abstract imaginative level but accompanied by moving projections — clouds, water, trains, fire, more clouds, etc. It was a fully illustrated Ring (take it or leave it) that (if you took it, and that took a while) eased you, even gracefully, inside the Ring’s musical universe.

It was an easy, engaging Ring that deflated Wagnerian philosophical pomposity at every turn with surprising, sometimes funny twists — Alberich attached to his homeless supermarket cart searched for Faftner with infrared binoculars, the forlorn Rhine maidens hopelessly picked up plastic bottles from a dried up river bed, beer guzzling buddies who were actually sworn enemies downed cases. Not to mention the purely comic book, utterly delightful visuals for Fafner and Fasolt, or the Valkyries parachuting onto the rocks of Valhalla (this image said to have been borrowed from a Swedish commercial for a detergent powder).

Finally the Zambello Ring maybe even arrived at tongue-in-cheek with the black covered Arab-esque women cowering in the wake of their men, black uniformed fascistic soldiers of Hagen’s evil army. Not to intimate that Mme. Zambello did not somehow make all this bring Wagner alive. She did.

San Francisco Opera promoted a number of seminars to accompany its Ring, Anti-Semitism was a big topic, though it was put in succinct perspective by the Mime of the production, David Cangelosi who rhetorically asked “haven’t we turned the page on all that?” Distinguished lecturers examined the Ring in Schopenhauerian terms, a former Buddhist monk delineated the Ring’s roots in Buddhism. The most convincing of the philosophical analogies described the Ring in purely Sartrean Existential terms. (I might also mention a concert of Wagner transcriptions on the 5000-pipe organ of St. Mary’s Cathedral — the Ride of the Valkyries executed by four hands and four feet and those 5000 pipes).

Well, none of that for the San Francisco Ring. While there were two real dogs portraying wolves, a bear played by a real man and a number of fantastic and dead animals involved, there was no horse at all for Brunnhilde to ride into the flames. The flames were fed by the downtrodden Gibichung women and the Rhine maidens throwing the plastic bottles picked up from the riverbed (tossed there by males in the context of this production). Gutrune, a male-victimized “moll” embraced Brünnhilde and we understood that she was redeemed. Photographs of the fallen heros rescued by the Valkyries showered down and at last a young girl planted a tree. Mo. Runnicles had had his fun with the murder pact, the usually spectacular ending instead was musically rather resigned.

This was not a minimal Ring created by veteran opera designer Michael Yeargan. There were four superimposed prosceniums and a sentient floor (lighted from underneath) that served as the stage mechanism for the Wagner mega-drama, with full stage screens flying in and out at all depths of the stage to capture the inexhaustible catalogue of projections developed by Jan Hartley and her associates. If the freeway interchange under which Wotan saw Siegmund die and where he murdered Hunding was not life size it seemed so. Hunding’s mountain cabin was as good as real as was Mime’s wrecked Airstream trailer.

What, you may ask, held all this together. It was the Brünnhilde of Swedish soprano Nina Stimme who brought bonafide Teutonic style to rock solid vocal production and muscular physicality to her indefatigably energetic Valkyrie. This Ring was Brünnhilde’s personal story, placed in even higher relief by the pallid portrayal of Wotan by American bass Mark Delavan, a performance that effaced the Wagnerian complexities and emotional stature of this human father cum transcendent being. The suspicion lurks that this was the intention of Zambello, a suspicion founded on the portrayal of Siegfried as one step above the village idiot, charmingly rendered by Jay Hunter Morris in Siegfried, and less vividly but vocally far more convincing by English tenor Ian Storey in Götterdämmerung.

There were several performances that stood out among the universally good performances of the entire cast. The Siegmund of American tenor Brandon Jovanovich was disarmingly charismatic and Italian basso Andrea Silvestrelli created Zambello’s arch villain Hagen with supreme testosterone gusto. American tenor David Cangelosi as Zambello’s creepy hobo Mime succeeded in making the first two acts of Siegfried high points (well, among many) of the entire cycle.

San Francisco Opera does not seem to have been a competitor in who-can-spend-the-most-for-a-Ring contest. Still, there went a pile of gold. One assumes costumer Catherine Zuber was well rewarded for what was an heroic and immensely successful effort, as was the complex lighting of Mark McCullough — both seasoned opera pros, like Zambello and Yeargan and their supporting teams.

It was not a prestigious Ring, like the Aix Ring with the Berlin Philharmonic in the pit (by the way with the six harps Wagner requires — San Francisco made do with two) with its elegant, minimalist staging by Stéphane Braunschweig. It was not an arty Ring imagined in a rarefied visual language like the splendid L.A. Achim Freyer Ring, nor was it a big, international house Ring with proven big name interpreters and the flavor-of-the-day producer (by the way that would be the Robert Lepage Ring at the Met).

The San Francisco Ring was a good Ring, if a wacky one that seemed at times like it might even be a spoof. It was however, perhaps therefore absolutely understandable. The experts may debate how it betrayed or illuminated Wagner’s musico-philosophic treatise, but they too will admit that those seventeen hours in the War Memorial Opera House were full of fun and richly rewarding.

Michael Milenski | 06 Jul 2011

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192 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.2 GByte (MP3)
A production by Francesca Zambello
Possible dates:
• Rheingold: 14, 21, 28 June 2011
• Walküre: 15, 22, 29 June 2011
• Siegfried: 29 May, 17, 24 June, 1 July 2011
• Götterdämmerung: 5, 19, 26 June, 3 July 2011