Die Walküre

Donald Runnicles
San Francisco Opera Orchestra
June 2018
War Memorial Opera House San Francisco
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundBrandon Jovanovich
HundingRaymond Aceto
WotanGreer Grimsley
SieglindeKarita Mattila
BrünnhildeIréne Theorin
FrickaJamie Barton
HelmwigeMelissa Citro
GerhildeJulie Adams
OrtlindeSarah Cambidge
WaltrauteRenée Tatum
SiegruneLaura Krumm
GrimgerdeRenée Rapier
SchwertleiteNicole Birkland
RoßweißeLauren McNeese
Stage directorFrancesca Zambello (2010)
Set designerMichael Yeargan
TV director?

Valkyries parachute into San Francisco

Wave projections before the beginning of San Francisco Opera’s Die Walküre continued the water theme from Rheingold, but the first act failed to maintain Rheingold’s excitement. Urgent playing from the orchestra and shaky video racing through the woods made for an electrifying start. Francesca Zambello’s staging, however, fell flat. Hunding’s hut featured an oddly two-dimensional tree, which sprouted a sword from its trunk at a nonsensical moment. Siegmund and Sieglinde built wonderful romantic chemistry with small glances and gestures, but on a larger scale their blocking involved singing to the front and aimless frolicking. Mark McCullogh’s lighting, however, deserves nothing but praise, especially the gradual but striking nightfall.

Brandon Jovanovich made a strapping Siegmund with lots of heroic ring to his sound. He balanced a gruffness that suited his character with smooth legato and told his woeful origin story with heart-breaking expression. Karita Mattila was miscast as Sieglinde. Her rich tone and impeccable artistry shone, but her voice had frayed edges, and both sound and posture betrayed obvious effort at the top. Raymond Aceto proved a crackly-voiced, cruel Hunding. His brutality towards both of the twins was so over-the-top it made him a caricature – even his assertion of sacred hospitality was undercut by sneers and threatening gestures.

There’s a whispered tradition among Ring nuts of skipping the long second act of Die Walküre and grabbing dinner instead, but anyone who did so on Wednesday missed out. This is where the production took flight. We were whisked up a skyscraper into Wotan’s marble Art Deco office. As Fricka, Jamie Barton berated Wotan with cutting sound and crunchy low notes. Greer Grimsley delivered Wotan’s desperate monologue in a powerful voice with droning tone at the bottom and an explosive “Das Ende!”. He gazed longingly at the hand that once wore the ring, hungry for power even during this family crisis. Iréne Theorin’s Brünnhilde tossed off playful, crystalline “Hojotoho”s at first, then showed quiet intensity when responding to Wotan’s grief.

The second half of the act took place amid piles of junk beneath a freeway overpass. Mattila’s tension served Sieglinde’s near-insanity here. Jovanovich sang a warm, sweet lullaby over his sleeping sister. Theorin revealed even more colors in her astonishing voice, which shimmered silver as she warned Siegmund of his coming death. Hunding and his comrades arrived preceded by two beautiful Belgian Shepherds (named Finn and Fubar). The fight between Siegmund and Hunding, by fight director Dave Maier, was among the best I’ve seen on the opera stage for both storytelling and technical execution.

The third act opened with a crowd-pleaser: Valkyrie body doubles “parachuting” towards stage. The eight Valkyries then appeared in aviatrix gear, parachutes in tow, shouting their rousing cries. Some of their solo singing was lost in the orchestral din, but they thrilled as an ensemble. Brünnhilde’s and Wotan’s farewell scene was touchingly intimate (though too long – but Wagner’s the one to blame for that). Wotan summoned a large wall of real fire to protect his daughter, an impressive special effect. (The flashes that accompanied Alberich’s transformations in Rheingold wowed too; this cycle is good at pyrotechnics.)

Throughout the opera, Donald Runnicles and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra produced intricate tapestries of sound, from the lush flows of the Act 1 love duet to the intense crashing brass signaling Wotan’s approach. The pacing felt a tad slow, but the orchestra’s precise and energetic rendering of Wagner’s complex score never bored. The final chimes of the score sparkled, giving way to instant, thunderous applause.

Ilana Walder-Biesanz | 21 Juni 2018


The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

This was an evening of almost unbearable tension, the age old torment of love vs. duty taken to the summit of nineteenth century operatic accomplishment — and into the higher reaches of twenty-first century staging accomplishment, from the fleeting video image of a wolf to Hunding’s Appalachian cabin, from Valhalla’s sweeping vista of a crumbling black and white world to its monumental cementic bowels, and finally to the Zambello Walküre’s signature image, the valkyries parachute arrival onto a mountain peak, a peak that then burst into a circle of actual, live flame.

Far more than about its timely concepts (the “American” Ring, American environmental destruction, the abuse and subjugation of women), last night’s Walküre was about opera. It fully exposed the current artistic and technical resources that allow twenty-first century opera to transcend mere theater and operatic tradition itself to transport us to ever rarer states and durations of artistic understanding.

American bass-baritone Greer Grimsley’s Wotan, no longer the confident deal maker of Das Rheingold, was the sleek executive whose world began disintegrating when he took on its administration. Mr. Grimsley had hugely difficult encounters — with his wife Fricka, with his daughter Brünnhilde, and with himself when he learns that is daughter is, in fact, an extension of himself. Mr. Grimsley survived each encounter in magnificent voice, articulately humbling himself step-by-step to his very human and quite understandable and inescapable torment.

Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin, the valkyrie Brünnhilde burst onto the stage in a torrent of magnificent sounds that put to rest any regrets we may have harbored about the cast change (Evelyn Herlitzius cancelled at the last minute). Mme. Theorin brought the fiercely thrilling high notes of an Amazon warrior together with a richly warm, very feminine lower voice. With her significant use of piano and pianissimo tones this richness distilled her determined devotion to her father. But never far away were the forte’s of an emotional strength to be reckoned with.

The Fricka of American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton eschewed the dignity that becomes the protector of basic family law not to mention protector of basic dynastic rights. Mlle. Barton continued her contemptuous, comedic Das Rheingold Fricka, thereby eviscerating the sanctity and solidity of the social contracts that bedevil Die Walküre’s Wotan. There is no question that Mlle. Barton is a fine singer, that she created a significant Die Walküre Fricka is another question.

There is no question that Finnish soprano Karita Mattila created a Sieglinde of requisite magnitude for the Zambello Walküre. The magnetic presence of this esteemed artist found the youth and the postures of an abused woman, her marital guilts and finally her pride as the wife of her brother and the mother of his child. It was a portrayal teetering on the edge of, somehow not surpassing, credibility — no small task for her adultery and incest. That Mme. Mattila could vocally create Sieglinde is another question.

American tenor Brandon Jovanovich brought perfection to his Siegmund, finding and exploiting the subtleties of the Wagnerian vocal line that gave immense, and new pleasures. Siegmund is a romantic hero with stories to tell. Jovanovich has the purity of voice to exploit the emotional innocence of Siegmund’s adventures, and to fall victim to his hopeless love and to die for this love. With conductor Runnicles, Jovanovich and la Mattila brought the Act 1 love duet to its intended magical conclusion.

American bass Raymond Aceto created the Hollywood male predator, oozing masculinity and brute force, and doing all this in beautiful, intelligent voice while groping his wife Sieglinde. Entirely absent was a sympathy one might extend to this husband whose wife elopes with a stranger who stops by for the night.

Finally though this evening belonged to the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and its conductor Donald Runnicles whose presence was acutely and profoundly felt through the often exquisite performances on stage, and the staging itself which was expectedly masterful.

Michael Milenski | 14 Jun 2018


Francesca Zambello’s Iconic “Walküre”

The San Francisco Opera’s presentation of Francesca Zambello’s production of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs” continued with “Die Walküre”, the second of the four-opera cycle.

This review will concentrate on this season’s cast, as this is my fifth time reviewing the Zambello “Walküre”. Most of my observations and commentaries on the production contained in the previous reviews (each hyperlinked at the end of this review) continue to be relevant.

Greer Grimsley’s Wotan

Louisiana bass-baritone Greer Grimsley projected a forceful presence as Wotan, king of the gods. Of the three “Ring” operas in which his character appears, it is “Die Walküre” that contains Wotan’s best known passages.

Grimsley was vocally replendent in Wotan’s farewell to his daughter Brünnhilde. He was equally impressive when summoning the Magic Fire to protect Brünnhilde during the decades she will be asleep.

An alumnus of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Grimsley has had long experience in plumbing Wotan’s psychological depths. Notably, Grimsley was Wotan in the 2005, 2009 and 2013 cycles of Stephen Wadsworth’s esteemed “Ring” for the Seattle Opera [Seattle Opera’s Memorable “Walküre” Revival – August 10, 2009].

Grimsley has been a strong advocate for seeking a deeper understanding the character relationships in Wagner’s “Ring”, as one would seek to understand the characters in classical Greek drama.

Iréne Theorin’s Brünnhilde

Swedish dramatic soprano Iréne Theorin, who had appeared at the San Francisco Opera previously as an ice princess [Luisotti Leads Superb “Turandot” Cast In David Hockney’s Treasured Production – San Francisco Opera, September 9, 2011] was afire as Wotan’s favorite daughter and chief operative, Brünnhilde.

Theorin was a vocally expressive Brünnhilde. She had the power and vocal weight that is a prerequisite to the role. She was outstanding in the lyrical passages that frame the Todesverkundigung, telling Siegmund he will die in battle the next morning.

Especially effective (and affecting) is the slow march of uniformed soldiers across the stage, each carrying the portrait of an American serviceman who died in combat, as Brünnhilde announces Siegmund’s fate.

In her San Francisco Opera engagement, Theorin has demonstrated the endurance required for singing the role of Brünnhilde in a “six day Ring”. Brünnhilde appears in three consecutive operas (“Walküre” on day two, “Siegfried” on day four and “Gotterdammerung” on day six) requiring her to perform three times in a five day period with only a day of rest between each opera.

Theorin had finished that feat three days prior to this evening’s performance, now beginning the second of these successive marathons (with another scheduled “six day Ring” in the following week).

Brandon Jovanovich’s Siegmund

Montana tenor Brandon Jovanovich brought heroic bearing and a bright spinto tenor to the role of Siegmund.

A skilled actor, whose innate dramatic instincts prosper under Zambello’s direction, Jovanovich masterfully portrayed the conflicted character, raised in a wild forest.

Great Siegmunds are judged by their delivery of Wagner’s melodic Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond and the Todesverkundigung, the powerful second act scene in which Siegmund refuses to follow Brünnhilde to Valhalla. Jovanovich performed Winterstürme passionately and the second reverentially.

Jovanovich has been an audience favorite at the War Memorial Opera House for over a decade [see Rising Stars: An Interview with Brandon Jovanovich], and it is here that Jovanovich’s career turn into Wagnerian opera took place, including four jugendlicher role debuts.

Beginning with the characters of Froh in “Rheingold” and Siegmund in “Walküre” in San Francisco Opera’s 2011 “Ring”, Jovanovich’s role debuts include Lohengrin [Jovanovich is a Joy in Luisotti’s Luminous “Lohengrin” – San Francisco Opera, October 20, 2012] and Walther [Review: McVicar’s Magical, Masterful “Meistersinger” – San Francisco Opera, November 18, 2015].

After these San Francisco role debuts, he has performed Walther at the Opéra National de Paris, Lohengrin at the Zurich Oper, Lohengrin and Walther at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Siegmund at the Lyric Opera of Chicago [Review: Chicago’s Imaginative New “Walküre”: Goerke, Owens, Jovanovich, Strid Excel – Lyric Opera, November 30, 2017].

Karita Mattila’s Sieglinde

Finnish soprano Karita Mattila’s expansive, dramatic voice and keen theatrical sense were employed for a sympathetic portrayal of Siegmund’s twin sister Sieglinde.

Throughout the Zambello “Ring”, shifting scenes from Wagner’s vaguely mythical setting in Europe’s Dark Ages to contemporary situations heightens the dramatic force of the story for 21st century audiences.

Mattila delivered a emotional performance that helped realize Zambello’s concept for the opera’s first act, in which Sieglinde’s husband Hunding is an Appalachian backwoodsman. Sieglinde keeps a tidy house and over the years seems to have accommodated to a man who is both a steady provider and controlling.

The affection Mattila brought to Sieglinde’s first act Du bist der Lenz, the dramatic poignancy to Sieglinde’s second act expressions of grief as her husband and brother prepare for battle, and the joy proclaimed in the third act O hehrstes wunder remind us of the importance of having a great artist as Sieglinde, the only character to appear in all three “Walküre” acts.

Mattila is one of the most sought after of artists performing this role [See Review: Houston “Walküre” Showcases Christine Goerke’s Astonishing Brünnhilde, Karita Mattila’s Stunning Sieglinde – Houston Grand Opera, April 25, 2015]. The addition of Mattila to the San Francisco “Ring’s” already distinguished cast excited international interest.

Jamie Barton’s Fricka

Georgia mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was another welcome addition to the stellar cast as Fricka, the character who, taking a stand on principal, completely changes the course of the story. The “Ring” story works best, when Fricka in “Walkure” is dramatically persuasive. I found Barton’s portrayal to be completely convincing.

I described Barton’s “lusciously rich, warm voice” in my review of her “Rheingold” Fricka, a woman (albeit a goddess) not yet sure of her place in the world of the gods.

As the “Walküre” Fricka, Barton’s rich, warm voice portrays a woman who has gained self-confidence and who asserts her power. Barton’s Fricka plays with the emotions of Grimsley’s Wotan, exuding a combination of charm, anger and logic to derail Wotan’s long-term plans for recovering the cursed Nibelung Ring.

Over a dozen years I’ve seen, four different artists sing the Fricka role. Barton, hands down, is my favorite.

Raymond Aceto’s Siegmund

Ohio bass Raymond Aceto plays the brutish hunter Hunding.

Zambello’s change of locale from Wagner’s European Dark Ages to 20th century Appalachia resulted in a deeper complexity for the Hunding character and its potential analogy to contemporary society.

Aceto does not appear as a barbarian in animal furs, as a traditional Hunding might. He portrays a man who is a member of a community and a provider to his wife, but who is controlling and potentially abusive.

Aceto’s elegant bass voice and impressive acting skills make him a superb choice for the “Modern Hunding” role.

Brünnhilde’s Eight Valkyrie Sisters

The most striking image in the entire Zambello “Ring” is the first scene of the “Walküre” third act, in which eight valkyries, adorned in paratrooper outfits, rapidly enter the stage, most appearing to parachute in.

The valkyries sort out the dead heroes they are retrieving from the battlefield who will become Wotan’s soldiers, stationed in Valhalla.

Illinois soprano Melissa Citro (who performs the role of Gutrune in “Götterdämmerung”) is the valkyr Helmwige, California soprano Julie Adams (who performs the role of Freia in “Das Rheingold”) is Gerhilde; Oklahoma mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese (who performs the role of the Rhinemaiden Wellgunde in “Das Rheingold” and “Götterdämmerung”) is Rossweisse; Califonria mezzo-soprano Renee Tatum (who performs the role of the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde in “Das Rheingold”) is Waltraute; Canadian soprano Sarah Cambridge (who is also the Third Norn in “Götterdämmerung” is Ortlinde.

Iowa mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm is Siegrune; Iowa mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier is Grimgerde and Iowa soprano Nicole Birkland os Schwertleite.

The collective performance of the eight artists portraying the valkyries was another of the highlights of the Zambello “Ring”.

Maestro Donald Runnicles and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra has over the decades become one of the world’s great opera orchestras, and a portion of the credit for their success should be shared with Maestro Donald Runnicles, who was the San Francisco Opera music director in the decades ending the 20th century and beginning the 21st.

The Orchestra, performing under Runnicles’ inspired conducting, produced the brilliant “wall of sound” that makes the War Memorial Opera House such a felicitous place to enjoy Wagnerian opera.

Francesca Zambello’s Production, Michael Yeargan’s Sets and Jan Hartley’s and S. Katy Tucker’s Projections

Among the many features that make the Zambello “Ring” production such a satisfactory experience are Zambello’s inventive choices for setting each scene, enhanced by clever set designs realized by veteran designer Michael Yeargan.

There are four scenes in “Walküre”. Zambello places Act I in an Appalachian cottage.

Act II Scene 1 in the luxurious penthouse offices of what must be Valhalla, Inc., Act II Scene 2 is in the littered surroundings at the base of a freeway overpass.

Act III is an industrial factory space that serves as Brunnhilde’s Rock, the meeting place for valkyries (and for Brunnhilde’s imposed years of sleep).

Florida projection designer Jan Hartley’s projections were a distinctive feature of the first operas of the Zambello “Ring”, that premiered at the Washington National Opera and whose “Rheingold” and “Walküre” were seen in San Francisco in 2009 and 2010. Hartley designed the “Siegfried” projections as well.

The projections for the “Götterdämmerung” projections, that debuted in San Francisco in 2011 (as part of the first complete Zambello “Ring”), were created by Kentucky projection designer S. Katy Tucker.

The projections, all of which are displayed concurrently with the swirling music that provide interludes between changing scenes, are stunning and spectacular. They add immeasurably to one’s enjoyment of the Zambello “Ring”.


I enthusiastically recommend the Francesca Zambello production of Wagner’s “Die Walkure” both for the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.

William | June 22, 2018


Donald Runnicles dirige ‘La valquiria’ de Wagner en la Ópera de San Francisco

Die Walküre es la opera más popular de la tetralogía wagneriana y tiene una historia especialmente ilustre en la San Francisco Opera, que la ha representado en unas 20 temporadas desde los años 30. El primer reparto (durante el Anillo completo de 1935) incluyó a Kirsten Flagstad y Lauritz Melchior. En los años 1950, la monumental War Memorial Opera House fue testigo de importantes debuts norteamericanos en torno a esta ópera: el de Birgit Nilsson, quien cantó Brünnhilde, y el de Georg Solti, dirigiendo Elektra, Tristan und Isolde y Walküre. En tiempos más recientes, algunas de las más notables Brünnhildes y Siegliendes –como Stemme, Behrens, Rysanek o Westbroek– han pasado por esta ciudad. Este Anillo de 2018 ha presentado una fuerte candidatura para unirse a esta tradición, con una Valquiria que ha supuesto un salto de calidad desde el ya notable Oro del día anterior. Más que por alguna gran interpretación suelta, la función se ha destacado por lograr mantener un alto nivel uniforme en todo el reparto.

Francesca Zambello nos presenta ahora un mundo en decadencia, devastado, oscuro. Los secuaces de Hunding parecen guerrilleros (o terroristas) de algún conflicto contemporáneo, Siegmund muere debajo del paso elevado de una autopista de aspecto destartalado y la peña en la que Brünnhilde se duerme evoca un escenario devastado por la guerra. En contraste, Wotan aparece en el segundo acto en la cima de su poder, en una majestuoso edificio art decó y con aspecto y maneras de un industrialista sin escrúpulos, un robber baron. Su lanza, más tosca en Rheingold, ha evolucionado y ahora tiene incluso un asta plateada. Si en el prólogo tuve algún reparo con la propuesta de Zambello, en esta primera jornada todo ha funcionado mucho mejor. Una proyección desde el punto de vista de Siegmund nos pone rápidamente en situación durante la tormenta inicial, las caracterizaciones de los personajes están bien delineadas –aunque todavía con poca dirección actoral en ocasiones– y hay lugar para momentos efectistas. Entre estos destaca la llegada de las valquirias, que descienden en paracaídas diagonalmente sobre el escenario. El uso de especialistas y un buen control de la coreografía y los tiempos hacen que esta escena resulte vistosa sin distraer o interferir con la música. Todas las guerreras –aquí ataviadas de aviadoras de la Segunda Guerra Mundial– entran cuando deben y pueden cantar sus líneas claramente. También impactó la cortina de fuego real al final de la ópera.

Por su parte, el planteamiento de Donald Runnicle ha ido quedando más claro a medida que avanzamos en la tetralogía. Estamos, por supuesto, ante un veteranísimo y avezado director wagneriano, con gran intención detrás de cada movimiento. En una obra tan monumental como el Anillo, (casi) ningún director ha pretendido dedicar la misma atención a cada compás y es siempre interesante ver qué decide destacar cada uno. En el caso de Runnicles, no se busca un énfasis o densidad orquestal constante, sino más bien un cuidadoso control de los tiempos y una minuciosa atención al detalle. Su dirección, de nuevo excelentemente seguida por la orquesta, brilla en los momentos de acción y en los crescendos. En el debe, quizás en pasajes más expositivos la relajación es algo excesiva y se pierde un poco de tensión dramática.

Como comentaba al inicio, los miembros del reparto veteranos del Rheingold han ido a más en general y además las nuevas incorporaciones han rendido bien. Entre estas, tenemos en primer lugar a los volsungos. Brandon Jovanovich es, a día de hoy, una muy buena opción para Siegmund. Destaca en los momentos más heroicos y tiene incisividad y presencia, aunque quizás no la suficiente sutileza para los pasajes más líricos. Su melliza, la Sieglinde de Karita Mattila, ha sido para muchos la revelación de la noche. Sin duda la voz de esta veterana cantante está ya algo tocada y no tiene el sonido juvenil de antaño, con un agudo algo tasado. Pero lo compensa con creces con su gran musicalidad y entrega, además de con la mejor caracterización de la noche. Su narración resultó profundamente conmovedora. Un Hunding particularmente brutal y cruel por parte de Raymond Aceto nos ayudó a simpatizar con la oprimida Sieglinde. Aceto ha estado mucho más convincente en esta jornada que con su Fafner del día anterior.

Por supuesto, la gran pieza que faltaba en el puzzle es Brünnhilde. Inicialmente, la ópera de San Francisco había anunciado a Evelyn Herlitzius para el papel. El anuncio de su cancelación hizo disparar muchas alarmas, hasta que vimos que su sustituta iba a ser Iréne Theorin, quien ha cosechado ya grandes éxitos en el papel. Fiel a su buena reputación, la sueca ha estado exultante y ha recorrido el abanico de emociones de la valquiria con gran maestría. Desde la adolescente despreocupada del inicio, con juguetones y brillantes hojotohos, a la guerrera desafiante y la hija suplicante, todos los aspectos del personaje estuvieron bien cubiertos en una interpretación que hace esperar grandes cosas para el Ocaso.

Los dioses, en sus nuevos y lujosos aposentos, se han mostrado formidables. En mi reseña del Oro del Rin, apuntaba que la Fricka de Jamie Barton sería seguramente una fuerza de la naturaleza en La valquiria. Así ha sido, en una interpretación arrolladora, que afronta el papel con aparente facilidad y lustrosos graves. Viéndola queda más que claro por qué Wotan pierde la discusión… Sus últimas frases en «Das kann mein Gatte nicht wollen, die Göttin entweiht er nicht so!», en las que dice que su esposo no podría profanarla de ese modo (defendiendo a Siegmund), resultaron particularmente imponentes.

Frente a ella, hemos tenido un Wotan visiblemente reforzado, tanto en el plano escénico como en el vocal. Greer Grimsley puede en esta segunda ópera hacer lucir sus puntos fuertes: la amplitud y sonoridad. Alcanzó su momento álgido en su segunda escena con Brünnhilde, con unos estentóreos gritos de «das Ende!» que impactaron a todo el teatro. Al mismo tiempo, fue capaz de transmitir el amor paterno por su rebelde hija.

Grandes ovaciones por parte de un público que prácticamente llenaba las más de 3000 butacas de la War Memorial Opera House, hecho este último notable, dado que se están presentando tres ciclos completos, con precios muy elevados. Pero es que el Anillo, cuando está bien hecho, vale la pena.

David Yllanes Mosquera | 2 de julio de 2018

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 4.4 Mbit/s, 6.9 GByte (MPEG-4)
Webstream (SFO)
Possible dates: 13, 20, 27 June 2018
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.