Donald Runnicles
San Francisco Opera Orchestra
June 2018
War Memorial Opera House San Francisco
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedDaniel Brenna
MimeDavid Cangelosi
WotanGreer Grimsley
AlberichFalk Struckmann
FafnerRaymond Aceto
ErdaRonnita Miller
BrünnhildeIréne Theorin
WaldvogelStacey Tappan
Stage directorFrancesca Zambello (2011)
Set designerMichael Yeargan
TV director?

A gritty Siegfried continues the San Francisco Opera Ring

In the decades between Die Walküre and Siegfried, the world of San Francisco Opera’s Ring has crumbled. Brünnhilde’s rock lies in ruins. Stumps and barren, charred trunks form the forest. Mime and Siegfried usually live in a hut in the woods; here, they inhabit a broken trailer on a trash heap. Their quest to find Fafner takes them to an abandoned warehouse, where the survivalist Alberich hunkers down with night-vision goggles and homemade bombs. Siegfried must battle a huge trash compactor to claim the Niebelung gold. (A minor textual quibble: Fafner is his usual giant self within this machine, which goes against the libretto’s assertion that he used the Tarnhelm to change his shape.)

If this all sounds rather ugly, it is… but it’s also enormously impressive. The technical demands of the Ring’s epic story have been well met this entire cycle, but Siegfried surpasses its prequels. The use of steam effects, a glowing orange screen, and many prop swords (as well as Siegfried’s deft handling of all the latter) make for a wonderfully detailed and realistic forging scene. Siegfried doesn’t just stab the dragon-machine; they engage in a pitched battle where it shoots smoke, and sparks fly whenever Siegfried’s sword scrapes the machine’s shell. (Appropriately, he defeats it by stabbing its electronic control box.) When Siegfried breaks Wotan’s spear (again, after a struggle), there is a blinding flash as the whole stage changes color and both combatants are thrown apart and to the ground.

Special effects don’t make a great opera (though they don’t hurt!); music and drama do. Francesca Zambello’s dramatic take is as grim as her setting. Siegfried lacks a single redeeming characteristic. He is not just a petulant teenager in spiked hair mocking Mime’s repetitive speeches and twitching face. He is also a sociopath who drowns Mime to make him talk, and who is tempted to light his victims’ corpses on fire. (Only the Forest Bird’s frantic interference stops him.) Daniel Brenna acted the role with frightening credibility and sang in a rough, resounding tenor. His voice didn’t always carry clearly above the music – the forging song, for instance, felt underpowered – but that is partly because the staging didn’t sufficiently account for the acoustic challenges of the house.

David Cangelosi’s Mime was pathetic and despicable, a cringing coward who hid, trembling, behind his own apron when he discovered Wotan’s identity. Cangelosi threw himself into the part with infectious glee, dancing and turning cartwheels when he thought his schemes were succeeding. Conversational delivery of his text and bone-dry low notes made for an unusual, expressive sound. As his brother Alberich, Falk Struckmann conveyed an air of dark menace, delivering thudding hammer blows with his voice. Greer Grimsley’s Wotan-as-Wanderer seemed perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with his hollow laughter and self-destructive choices. Without being huge or heroic, Grimsley’s full sound had a steel core the cut through the orchestra.

After two hours of nothing but men’s voices, Stacey Tappan’s bright, chirpy Forest Bird in Act 2 was a welcome change. This bird was onstage and very human – a girl in multicolored (c. 1960s) trousers who was intrigued by Siegfried and decided to help him. The concept fit Zambello’s forest-less world, even if the character wasn’t quite coherent. (Why could she speak sometimes but not always? How did she know the uses of the Tarnhelm and Ring, and how did she know about Brünnhilde? Was she afraid of Siegfried, or drawn to him?) Ronnita Miller made a brief but arresting appearance as Erda, singing in a deeply rooted voice that rumbled like thunder. In the last part of the third act, Siegfried finally awakened Brünnhilde, who gave us the most glorious singing of the whole opera. Soaring high notes on “Heil dir” are a requirement for a good Brünnhilde, and Iréne Theorin did not disappoint. Where she astonished, though, was the honeyed, floating sound she spun for “Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich…” The aching beauty of her sudden, quiet sweetness caused gasps in the audience around me.

Rumor has it that conductor Donald Runnicles was under the weather on Friday night. It didn’t show in the orchestra’s playing. Tempi were blessedly fast. (Siegfried has a tendency to drag, but Runnicles paced it well.) Musical highlights included ominous drums near the end of the second act (as Siegfried pondered burning the bodies) and house-shaking blasts in the Act 3 prelude. Special mention goes to Laura Griffiths for comically sour notes on the English horn in Siegfried’s reed scene and to Kevin Rivard for perfect French horn solos.

Ilana Walder-Biesanz | 23 Juni 2018

A gritty Siegfried continues the San Francisco Opera Ring

San Francisco Opera’s revival of Francesca Zambello’s production of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelung”, continued with the third opera, “Siegfried”. Six of the opera’s eight characters (and the artists singing those roles) had been introduced in the preceding “Ring” operas. The evening’s newcomers were the cocky, fearless mortal, Siegfried and his avian friend, the Forest Bird.

Daniel Brenna’s Siegfried

Wisconsin tenor Daniel Brenna was an arresting Siegfried, with a masterful performance. Siegfried is Brenna’s signature role (singing Siegfried in Dijon, France; Stuttgart, Germany and in the Zambello 2016 performance of the “Ring” in Washington DC.)

Brenna’s youthful stage appearance and acting style lends visual plausibility to his portrayal of the boyish hero. One does not have to suspend belief that we are seeing an adolescent of extraordinary strength and courage performing heroic acts.

The role of Siegfried requires a powerful heldentenor voice and physical endurance. A tenor singing Siegfried needs vocal stamina to be able to sing most of the evening in one of the longest operas in the standard repertory (almost five hours). Brenna also is scheduled to sing with only a day’s rest in “Götterdämmerung” (an opera that exceeds five hours.)

Brenna has the requisite voice and endurance. He is in his late 40s, an age when one expects a heldentenor voice to have gained the power that artist needs to sing these weighty roles.

I have been fortunate to have seen several great Siegfrieds – South Dakota’s Jess Thomas and Germany’s René Kollo in the past – and Texas’ Jay Hunter Morris among current singers – have been personal favorites. I’m adding Brenna to that distinguished list.

Iréne Theorin’s Brünnhilde

The Brünnhilde, Iréne Theorin, appears in two acts of “Die Walküre” and all three acts of “Götterdämmerung”, but appears only in the final act of “Siegfried, being awakened like Sleeping Beauty by the hero Siegfried.

That awakening is triumphant. Brünnhilde’s hail to the sun on awakening and her love music she expresses for that hero is among the most beautiful music ever composed. Theorin was visually stunning and vocally impressive, her love duet with Brenna profoundly moving.

David Cangelosi’s Mime

The second longest role in the opera, after the title character, is the dwarf Mime. Character tenor, David Cangelosi, has made the role a specialty, performed both the “Rheingold” and “Siegfried” Mimes in the 2011 and 2018 San Francisco Opera “Rings”.

Cangelosi’s Mime has raised Siegfried from infancy with the expectation that he will become his operative in obtaining the Nibelung Ring. When things go awry for Mime – being confronted by Wotan disguised as a Wanderer, failing to get his way with dangerous Siegfried, fighting with his brother Alberich – Cangelosi resorts to neurotic nattering or explosive outbursts.

Cangelosi separates himself from other Mimes by his extraordinary athleticism, doing multiple cartwheels and somersaults, including gymnastic feats on top of the trailer in which he and Siegfried reside.

Greer Grimsley’s Wanderer

Louisiana heldenbariton Greer Grimsley was a vocally secure, dramatically effective Wotan.

This is the third time that I have experienced a complete “RIng” in which Grimsley sings the role of Wotan. Previously he took part in Stephen Wadsworth’s Seattle “RIng”, whose principal thrust was to follow Wagner’s explicit stage directions in the mythical settings he Wagner intended.

Grimsley the actor, whose skills have benefited from intelligent, sensitive stage direction from both Wadsworth and Zambello, has portrayed Wotan role, demonstrating intelligence and sensitivity in portraying a character whose flaws have universal consequences.

Stacey Tappan’s Forest Bird

Soprano Stacey Tappan is one of three Rhinemaidens (river maidens in this production) in the first and fourth “Ring” operas. In “Siegfried”, the third opera, she appears as the lone Forest Bird, who is able to communicate with Siegfried after he has slain a dragon.

Tappan’s luminous lyric coloratura soprano voice was beautifully accompanied by Wagner’s melodious flute passages. Her birdlike head movements and striking costume reinforced her image as a spirit from nature.

(The Forest Bird’s memorable melody will have consequences in the final “Ring” opera, when Siegfried remembrance of it leads to his death.)

Raymond Aceto’s Fafner

Ohio bass Raymond Aceto, who had impressed me earlier this cycle as the “Rheingold” Fafner and as the “Walküre” Hunding, was the transformed “Siegfried” Fafner, in Zambello’s version, a machine. Aceto’s sonorous bass, amplified as the “dragon machine”, was appropriately menacing.

Aceto’s fearsome beast, struck by Siegfried’s sword, gained Siegfried’s sympathy (and ours). In a brilliant Zambello touch, Aceto’s Fafner re-appears out the machine costumed as the “Rheingold” Giant in his construction clothes. As Fafner lies on the floor dying, he bonds with Brenna’s young hero.

Falk Struckmann’s Alberich and Ronnita Miller’s Erda

German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann continued to impress vocally and dramatically as Alberich. Struckmann’s Alberich has two dramatically powerful second act confrontations, sparring with his arch-enemy Wotan, whose disguise as the Wanderer doesn’t fool Alberich. Then he gets into a nasty fight with his outraged brother Mime.

In Zambello’s interpretation Struckmann’s Alberich is costumed as a homeless person with his possessions in a grocery shopping cart (and night vision goggles). He has stood guard at Fafner’s cave for countless years, only to see the Nibelung treasure, ring and tarnhelm he covets won by Siegfried.

The eighth member of the Siegfried cast, Florida mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, continued her praiseworthy performances in the role of the earth goddess, Erda. Miller’s large voice and formidable power in her lower register has assured that many opera managements check on her availability whenever this role is being cast.

Maestro Donald Runnicles and the Musical Performance

Scottish Maestro Donald Runnicles led the 89 person San Francisco Opera Orchestra in a profoundly moving performance.

The orchestra’s musicians gave dramatic sweep to the sombre scenes of Nibelungs and dragons, the majestic force of the Siegfried’s sword-forging scene, the enchanting forest murmurs interspersed with the Forest Bird’s calls, and the luxurious melodies of the final love duet.

Director Francesca Zambello’s Production

Francesca Zambello’s production of the “Ring of the Nibelungs” is her most ambitious dramatic effort to date. It is one of the most imaginative productions in the “Ring’s”, that has relevance for the 21st century, without departing in any significant way from the story that Wagner intended to be told.


I enthusiastically recommend the Francesca Zambello production of “Siegfried”, both for the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.

William | June 25, 2018

We discover the child of incestuous love, we ponder a god’s confusion, we anticipate an awakening. Most of all we marvel at genius of the composer and admire the canny story telling of the Zambello production.

Though dubbed the “American” Ring there is nothing specifically American about this Siegfried except maybe the Siegfried — Wisconsin born Daniel Brenna, a veteran of the Washington D.C. Ring who has sung Siegfried in Budapest, Karlsruhe and Dijon as well.

In this Ring we relate to Wagner’s greedy dwarfs Alberich and his brother Mime perhaps as gypsies more than anything else, though for San Franciscans they might also be the classic, wily homeless (not unlike some of those on my block). They were Wagner’s Jews.

Mime’s dilapidated caravan (a gypsy image) is in a truly desolate setting, thus we know Mime is a loner, all the better to protect Siegfried, his ticket to the gold he covets. The Mime of American tenor David Cangelosi is slinking, garrulous and bubbling over with deceit — just perfect.

Mime’s bleak landscape is the only nature in the Zambello Ring beyond a few video references. There are no horses, there are no ravens, no forest bird, but there is Siegfried’s bear who playfully gallops onstage chased by his playmate Siegfried. The two creatures epitomize Wagner’s vision of unspoiled nature, and for Zambello tenor Brenner embodies a perfect portrait of wide and bright-eyed American innocence.

 Of youthful visage and fine young voice tenor Brenna well embodied Wagner’s ideal of pure and indeed powerful nature. This innocence served him well through his almost joyful murders of Fafner and Mime and prepared him for his monumentally guileless encounters with the god Wotan and Wotan’s once immortal daughter Brünnhilde.

 Bass baritone Greer Grimsley’s heroic Wotan wanders through Siegfried’s industrially littered world in search of its and his destiny, the outcome he himself has willed to Siegfried. He encounters Siegfried’s protector Mime, and he encounters his arch rival Alberich, known to us since the initial moments of Das Rheingold in the personnage of Falk Struckmann, an imposing German bass baritone who is also known as a Wotan. As Alberich Mr. Struckmann’s currency is gold, Wotan’s contracts forgotten.

Wotan encounters Brunnhilde’s mother Erde in a scene where he completely loses his cool, and finally Wotan encounters Siegfried who shatters his creator’s spear into which is imbued all social order. In all these encounters Grimsley’s Wotan exploits a humanity that is profoundly tragic and richly heroic, knowing finally that he himself has willed his destruction. And tenor Brenna musters the magnitude of innocent force to equal Grimsley’s resigned humanity in this spellbinding scene created by these two gifted actors.

 The Forest Bird is no bird but rather a simple human creature who normally might have been Siegfried’s first love. Destiny however leads Siegfried to Brünnhilde. This final scene of the opera is spellbinding as well, playing on the youthful and direct voice of Siegfried in contrast to the powerful, mature voice of Wotan’s fallen daughter Brünnhilde, Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin. If at first the disparity of vocal production in this climactic scene is musically jarring, upon reflection it brilliantly sets up the tensions that will obsess us for the last, lengthy installment of the Ring.

A Ring given truly rich life by conductor Donald Runnicles and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

Michael Milenski | 23 Jun 2018

Musicologists have noted that the four opera Ring cycle might be considered analogous to a traditional Classical symphony: the first (“Das Rheingold”) being an exposition of themes, the second (“Die Walkure”) a traditionally slow movement, the third (“Siegfried”) a light scherzo movement, and the last (“Gotterdammerrung”) a grand dramatic finale. The point is that “Siegfried” might be considered the lightest of the four, often comical, and therefore a lesser work.

Well, anybody who asserts that “Siegfried” is lightweight must not have seen its current incarnation at SF Opera.

From the moment the orchestra begins the prologue, this performance is one engaging delight after another. On leaving the theatre, the most overheard comment was along these lines: “Could that have been four hours? It flew by!”

Each of the eight singers is a Wagnerian expert in peak form; the excellence is uniform and no voice stands above the others. The high mark is the entire three acts: everything rings the bell. The company also achieves an amazing rarity: the acting, throughout, is as fine as the singing. About half way through the first act, I realized I was no longer dividing my attention between the stage and the projected English translation. I dont understand a word of German, but the emotional and narrative clarity of the performances, along with Francesca Zambello’s chrystalline staging, was sufficient to render everything perfectly understandable.

Making his San Francisco Opera debut as Siegfried, Daniel Brenna is every bit the heroic tenor. His unfaltering vocal stamina and emotional veritas are wonderful. Although one might quibble with the occasional note, and wonder if every musical jot and tittle is fully realized, taking the performance a whole, there is nothing here to complain about. Brenna’s voice has strength and beauty in every moment, and the characterization is supported by a physical grace that successfully conveys Siegfried’s youth and vigor. As an actor, Brenna displays a wide emotional range, capturing Siegfried’s cruelty and immaturity, as well as his open heart and innocence. The arc of his character’s development from foolish boy to maturing lover is clearly defined.

David Cangelosi makes of Mime a comic masterpiece. Moving continuously, he not only sings the role but dances it. Rarely is a villainous character played with such zest! At one point, Cangelosi actually turns cartwheels and somersaults. In the hands of most opera singers, this would be a gimmick. But Cangelosi makes all of his morments fully motivated by character and never seems to be showing off.

As The Wanderer (who is actualy the god Wotan in disguise) Greer Grimsley carries the weight of an almost unbelivable reputation. He has been compared to the great George London. “Tour de force” and “phenomenal” are epithets peppering many of his reviews. He lives up to every expectation as singer and actor.

I have previously noted the excellence of Falk Struckmann’s Alberich in my review of “Das Reingold.” But I must make special mention of Raymond Aceto’s death aria as the giant, Fafner. Although Fafner is presented as a ridiculous and unlikable character, he is given a final aria about the death of the race of giants that is both beautiful and emotionally touching. Aceto wrings every bit of pathos from this remarkable moment with his thrilling bass.

As the Forest Bird who mysteriously advises Siegfried, Stacey Tappan (who also plays a Rhine Maiden in the first and fourth operas of the cycle) is delightful. Wonderfully vivacious, she sings with exceptional clarity and precision.

What can be said of Ronnita Miller’s Erda beyond “Brava!” As she demonstrated in Das Reingold, she is a true Wagnerian great and undoubtedly one of the finest mezzos of our time.

As Brünnhilde, Iréne Theorin awakens to sing with an astonishing pianissimo, throbbing with emotion, that manages to soar over the huge orchestra. A miracle!

As a theatre and opera reviewer, I expect to see many operas in the coming years, but I doubt I’ll see anything to surpass this “Siegfried.”

Charles Kruger | June 26, 2018

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 3.7 Mbit/s, 6.0 GByte (MPEG-4)
Webstream (SFO)
Possible dates: 15, 22, 29 June 2018
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.