Wagner in San Francisco


(c) Earl Love 2000

Bayreuth Festspeilhaus


June 17, 2011


This week I am attending my first annual meeting with the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) in San Francisco, where San Francisco Opera is staging a new Ring cycle.


Monday night's Das Rheingold (June 14) was a dud. Dead on arrival. The singing overall was barely adequate, and the music, under the direction (that's going too far—I'd have to say lurching "beat") of Donald Runnicles was even less so. There was no colour, no nuance, no rhythm, no attention to detail, no imagination, and no passion—literally nothing to engage the listener. It never got off the ground. I cannot understand why Runnicles is so popular out here. A local critic even crowed to me before the performance about his outstanding abilities. Standards have sunk so low that audiences think that anything that's played loud is a success. You should have heard the cheers for Stefan Margita as Loge who shouted through his performance. At least Gordon Hawkins was booed for his ragged Alberich. Melissa Citro as Freia and Ronnita Miller held their own, and Andrea Silvestrelli was good as Fasolt (why wasn’t he cast as Fafner?). But that was about it. The sets for the four scenes were a hodge podge of various styles (supposedly set in the 19th-century Californian gold rush), with heavy reliance on video projection (including the serpent) and liquid nitrogen. Only the mine in scene three offered any visual delights (the workers picking crude nuggets off a high wall that recalled those indoor cliff-climbing surfaces one sees in mega-malls). This is the worse production of Rheingold that I've seen live, just below Chicago’s in 1996.


Tuesday’s Die Walküre (June 15) offered little improvement. Mark Delvan as Wotan doesn’t have the heft or the authority for the role. He tires easily and shows no enthusiasm—he seems bored with the part. Brandon Jovanovich as Siegmund, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde and Daniel Sumegi as Hunding offered passionate interpretations but their voices were strained, and like the orchestra, lacked that secure lyrical line. The orchestra at times even lacked confidence, especially the horns and brass, which sometimes seemed afraid to step up to the plate. (So far for this Ring—7 production, 6 singing and 4 music.)


Last night’s Seigfried (June 17) had a little more to offer—solid singing and acting from David Cangelosi as Mime and a vibrant, riveting performance by the Swede Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde who singlehandedly saved the last act. (I felt she was a little strident in Walküre but she was spot on last night.) Jay Hunter Morris, a light lyric tenor, is woefully miscast (no doubt chosen for his blond hair and blue eyes) and again, Mark Delavan seemed to want to be anywhere else but on this stage. There was a moment of hope, however, for the orchestra. In Scene One of Act Two, Runnicles miraculously achieved that warm, rhythmic pacing that is the most vital ingredient for interpreting Wagner. Alas, it was not to last.