Tuesday, June 07, 2011

SFO: Götterdämmerung

This Sunday afternoon I attended the premiere of San Francisco Opera's Götterdämmerung. There are no weak singers in this cast. The performance began with the powerful, all-out singing of 3 goggle-wearing Norns, who live inside the 1980s version of Tron & trace computer cables instead of weaving ropes. Ian Storey, our Siegfried, had a meaty sound & was consistent throughout. He was good at imitating a baritone at the end of act I. His Siegfried is mature rather than boyish, & the production does not disguise that fact that he is often a jerk. Nina Stemme was a phenomenon as Brünnhilde. Her sound was warm, robust & healthy, & she rode a wave of energy that lasted the entire opera. In the Immolation Scene her high notes continued to ring out while her "Ruhe, du Gott" was low, soft & rich. Her performance was simply overwhelming.

Andrea Silvestrelli's snarling, predatory & subterranean voice made for a perfectly evil Hagen. I found him thrilling. Gerd Grochowski is a strong singer & tasteful actor. His Gunther is ambitious & feckless but not wimpy. Gutrune resembles Paris Hilton, & her teenage mannerisms & humorous stage business provoked genuine laughter. She is a knowing co-conspirator in the seduction of Siegfried, which goes against the text & her music. It was weird to see her & Hagen watching TV together at the beginning of Act II. The Waltraute scene is a difficult hump for me to get over, but Daveda Karanas's urgent & focused singing forced me to pay attention to her character's pleading.

Under Donald Runnicles, the orchestra played with a seamless ebb & flow. The ensemble was not always tight, & there were several brass bloopers, but I did not perceive these as faults. The overall sound was luminous. Maestro Runnicles was probably fast, but the music never felt pushed or rushed. Indeed, it often sounded expansive. Climaxes unfolded organically rather than popping out like highlights. The heaving Funeral Music made me feel weak in the chest.

The staging of the cycle's final scene was frankly disappointing. When Brünnhilde began "Starke Scheite" on an empty stage, I figured that director Francesca Zambello had some big coup up her sleeve, but instead I watched women throw away trash. After Siegfried's body was unceremoniously dumped off the back of the stage, those of us in the balcony could see Mr. Storey get up & scamper away. Brünnhilde had a real torch, but unfortunately it went out before she had a chance to light the pyre. In the final moments a little girl comes on stage & plants a sapling.

Nina Stemme received a loud & extended ovation, & the production crew & orchestra were on stage for the final curtain call. After the house lights came up, we could hear them cheering. I attended in upstairs standing room, between the Opera Tattler & SFMike. The performance rendered me useless for the rest of the evening, & I am still hearing Ring music in my head. The first of 3 cycles starts June 14th.

Conductor - Donald Runnicles
Director - Francesca Zambello

First Norn - Ronnita Miller
Second Norn - Daveda Karanas
Third Norn - Heidi Melton
Brünnhilde - Nina Stemme
Siegfried - Ian Storey
Gunther - Gerd Grochowski
Gutrune - Melissa Citro
Waltraute - Daveda Karanas
Alberich - Gordon Hawkins
Woglinde - Stacey Tappan
Wellgunde - Lauren McNeese
Flosshilde - Renée Tatum

San Francisco War Memorial Opera House
Sun 06/5/11 1:00pm


Robin said...

Yes.... I was there, sitting on a wee bench behind you and "OT"..
I agree (for the most part) with you... in any "Ring" and particularly with Götterdämmerung...it how YOU are affected at the end.....and I am still reeling from all of it. This is my 7th "Ring" - (this includes two in Bayreuth) - and I can say wholeheartidly - the 2nd best I have ever seen. (First best was MY first - SFO's 1985 GLORIOUS and Traditional production.) But, I loved our 2011 one....the singing, the acting, the maestro, the music... this constitutes what a "Ring" SHOULD be. We are so lucky. If your readers can go - they should....

♥ Robin ♥

Axel Feldheim said...

Yes, this is one of the most musically satisfying performances I have ever heard. People tried to speak with me afterward, but I was left inarticulate. My brief post does not do it justice. I really appreciated that everything was actually sung, which does not always happen at Bayreuth.

I have yet to find much coherence in Zambello's concept. It seemed like she ran out of time, money or ideas at the end.

But above all else, I really to want to hear this again. I plan to sit on that bench at up-coming performances myself!

Civic Center said...

"People tried to speak with me afterward, but I was left inarticulate."

As one of those people who tried to speak to you, let's just say that your reaction, which seemed to be Visibly Vibrating and Glowing with Music, was one of the most memorable parts of the day for me. Though I was completely absorbed throughout the whole performance, Wagner's music doesn't really speak to me the way some other composers do (Britten, Janacek, Mozart, Verdi, for instance). But it certainly spoke to YOU, and it was an honor standing at the same balcony rail for five-plus hours.

And of course Nina Stemme was god, so there was that too.

Axel Feldheim said...

It was very special for me to share this experience with such good company in standing room. & I think you are right that in years to come we will brag that we heard Nina's 1st Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde. I will have to come back to hear how she holds up. She certainly sounds ready for 3 Rings!

David Lasson said...

As a consummate man of the theater, Wagner would have appreciated--indeed, counted on--that exalted communal psychic space that members of an audience inhabit during a great performance. Not only does this enrich the experience for themselves, but their shared engagement is somehow telegraphed back to the performers, which, in turn, encourages them to give even more. The resultant transfer of energy creates a kind of highly-charged feedback-loop that is a bit awkward to explain, but is unmistakably felt on those rare occasions when it does occur. The conductor Klaus Tennstedt referred to this phenomenon as a Sternstude; in Wagnerian terms, it's what's required to make any performed kunstwerk truly gesamt.

Axel Feldheim said...

"Sternstude" is a new one, though I've seen "Sternstunde," a moment of greatness.

David Lasson said...

Yes, that was a typo on my part; if you can, please locate that wayward 'n' and place it in its proper place withing my comment.

Axel Feldheim said...

David: Hmmm, Blogger lets me delete an entire comment but not edit its contents. I suppose this is meant to keep us honest. My German was not good enough to recognize your typo, so I gave you the benefit of a doubt. Besides, I am loath to remove any of your ornate language from this blog.