Wagner’s “Ring” universe darkens further in Francesca Zambello’s ingenious SFO “Siegfried”

San Francisco, Saturday June 25, 2011

Full review by David Gregson pending

San Francisco being such a unique and interesting place can present certain problems — not the least of which is the infamous scarcity of taxicabs when you really need them!

Last night it was hellzapoppin’ with Beethoven and Wagner vying for attention literally across the street from one another, a Giants game going on at AT&T Park, and the Castro district packed with celebrants visiting here for Gay Pride. And the latter are merely building up steam for tomorrow’s Gay Pride Parade which will jam up traffic just about everywhere whilst steadfast Wagnerians will walk or try to hitch a ride anyway they can to "Götterdämmerung," a full Sunday afternoon commitment and the last installment of Ring Cycle Number Two.

Meanwhile, your humble scribe (as I believe Martin Bernheimer is fond of saying), is distracted from his reviewing duties by "Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris" for which I have a "timed entry" at 11.a.m. this morning at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and by Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Beethoven’s "Missa Solemnis" later tonight in Louise M. Davies Hall, not to mention a visit to the Taj Campton Place restaurant with its one-star rating from Michelin. My favorite distraction so far has been the "The Steins Collect," a terrific Gertrude and Leo Stein exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art

But I radically digress. This was all by way of saying I do not have time right now to review last night’s "Siegfried" in any detail.

What I can say (with clear reference to my previous two reviews of "Das Rheingold" and "Die Walküre" on this site) is that Zambello’s view of things has darkened considerably. One might fairly say that the mise en scène (designed by Michael Yeargan) already looks post-apocalyptic. One wonders how things can get worse when everything burns up this coming Sunday afternoon.

In "Rheingold" I felt the front screen projections were a tad pretty and kitschy, but I can see now where Zambello has been going with this. By "Siegfried" Nature is pretty well fucked up. High tension wires and industrial blight mar everything. The dwarf Mime (brilliantly sung and acted by David Cangelosi, possibly the greatest Mime ever) is living with his "adopted" son, Siegfried, in the shell of a small trailer. A wasteland of trash lies about. Alberich (the excellent Gordon Hawkins) is homeless and pushing round a supermarket shopping cart. Even Wotan, now The Wanderer (the superb Mark Delavan, now my favorite Wotan), looks like he’s been sleeping on the streets.

Fafner (the impressive Daniel Sumegi) has turned into a trash compactor — or that is to say, he lives in one — and a scary "Transformers" looking one at that. Siegfried (the almost-but-not-quite-a-Heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris) cuts Fafner’s oil pipes. And then our hero is off to the blasted battlement where we all last saw Brünnhilde (the superlative Nina Stemme).

The hysterical final duet went well despite the fact that Morris and Stemme are mismatched vocal powers. Morris, in many ways the most attractive Siegmund to watch and even to listen to, lacks some of the vocal size one would like to hear in this part. So Stemme pretty much runs away with the opera at the close.

A friend has told me he is not fond of Zambello’s idea for the pastoral forest scene. Well, there’s no pastoral forest left by this point in the scheme of things, so Siegfried meditates with a green scarf covering his eyes. The Forest Bird (attractively embodied by more than just a voice by Stacey Tappen) comes though the soot a grime, and only eventually does a dream forest appear. Shades of "Soylent Green" in which, to the strains of Beethoven’s "Pastoral Symphony," Edgar G. Robinson watches a movie of the once beautiful Earth.

I have more praise for the excellent Erda of Ronnita Miller. A truly wonderful sound.

When all is said and one, conductor Donald Runnicles carries the day with his unflaggingly thrilling conducting.

I plan to return to this blog/review later, but the thrills of the City beckon.

San Francisco Opera

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