Sunday, June 20, 2010

SFO: Walküre

Die Walküre
San Francisco Opera

Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Director: Francesca Zambello

Brünnhilde: Nina Stemme
Wotan: Mark Delavan
Sieglinde: Eva-Maria Westbroek
Siegmund: Christopher Ventris
Fricka: Janina Baechle
Hunding: Raymond Aceto
Ortlinde: Molly Fillmore
Schwertleite: Suzanne Hendrix
Waltraute: Daveda Karanas
Gerhilde: Wendy Bryn Harmer
Helmwige: Tamara Wapinsky
Siegrune: Maya Lahyani
Grimgerde: Pamela Dillard
Rossweise: Priti Gandhi

Sat Jun 19 2010 7pm

PhotobucketIn order to be in the opera house the same night as an out of town friend, I attended this performance of Die Walküre in standing room. After the house lights came down, David Gockley stepped on stage & announced that Nina Stemme was suffering from a viral infection but would go on anyway. I certainly could not tell that she was in any way indisposed. Though of small stature, she is a powerhouse. Her Brunnhilde is spunky & girlish, hopping onto Wotan for a piggy-back ride in her 1st scene. Her voice is unexpectedly large, with an even tone throughout her range. She gave a thoroughly lovable performance. The rest of the cast was equally fine. Christopher Ventris & Eva-Maria Westbroek as the lovers were well-matched & both sang with a lyricism that my opera companion aptly described as "Italianate". In fact, this was the most beautifully sung Walküre I have ever heard, & it reminded me that Wagner really did have the sound of Italian opera in his head when composing.

I liked Raymond Aceto's clean, focused singing & alpha male strutting as Hunding. Mark Delavan has a warm, light voice, & his Wotan is more vulnerable human than war God. Janina Baechle has a grounded mezzo sound, & her Fricka is an unyielding woman with a mission. The production has her onstage overseeing the death of Siegmund. The Valkyrie sisters projected enormous vocal energy, & the audience applauded their entrance by parachute.

Maestro Donald Runnicles was greeted with cheers each time he entered the pit, & the orchestra played gorgeously for him. There was both great precision & a wonderful ebb & flow. In the 3rd act there were incredible moments when all the strings swelled together. Walküre is already my favorite Ring opera, but this performance made me love it even more.

I only partially got the thread of this "American" Ring. Hunding, his house filled with hunting trophies, could be a militiaman or survivalist. Wotan works out of a 1930's corporate board room, while Siegmund & Sieglinde take refuge beneath a freeway. The Valkyries are Amelia Earhart clones. The production looks like it was designed under severe budgetary constraints, though the real flames surrounding Brunnhilde's rock are a spectacle.

When the lights came up for the 1st intermission, I was delighted to discover that The Opera Tattler had snuck into upstairs standing room in time for the closing minutes of Act I. She was not dressed as a character from the Ring, but she looking fetching nonetheless, clutching a bulky copy of Walküre's score.


David Lasson said...

As the unnamed "out of town guest" mentioned in this entry, I feel obliged to thank my host and the Opera Tattler for adding to my enjoyment of this terrific performance by their delightful intermission insights and banter.

From my point of view, the evening belonged to Runnicles, who not only looks like the quintessential maestro of old, but acts like one, too: he was able to get all the orchestral players and singers to perform with absolute lyricism; using Wagner's own word, the performance was governed by "melos," the composer's adopted term from the Greek meaning "song." All was sung, nothing declaimed, and the model here was Bellini, whose lyrical melodic line spins out further than any opera composer whose music was known to Wagner. The cumulative effect of this kind of playing and conducting is that entire acts take on a continuous musical and theatrical unfolding unencumbered by differing singing styles and bumpy transitions, of which there were none. Only an accomplished maestro steeped in the knowledge of what Wagner wanted, coupled with the ability to convince his performers to follow his lead, could have created such a marvelous evening of electrifying and lyrical gesamtkunstwerk.

Axel Feldheim said...

No argument here. I especially appreciated that everything was sung, something that does not always happen in this repertoire. It does make me optimistic about next summer's Ring cycle.