Gordon Hawkins, Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese, and Renée Tatum Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO 2011
I’m not one to get worked up about the whole booing thing. I don’t typically care whether or not people boo at the opera. I suppose if enough people do it at a particular performance, I find it rather exciting on some level in that everyone is worked up about something, or at least pretending to be worked up about something. But I have to admit on Tuesday when San Francisco Opera opened up its full performances of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen
with Das Rheingold
, I was somewhat put off by a sole and quite loud booer during the curtain calls. The targets were specific vocal performers – Melissa Citro who sang the role of Freia and Gordon Hawkins who sang Alberich. What bothered me is how random and strange it was that they were singled out for scorn. Sure, I wasn’t blown away by either performance and would agree Hawkins left a lot to be desired both vocally and otherwise, but did it really rise to the level of such a public spectacle of distaste? I mean, neither was a crime against music, and, frankly, mediocrity hardly seems like an excuse to boo someone. And booing Freia is like chewing out the busboy at an expensive restaurant for not removing your finished plate quickly enough. It’s Freia, people. All she’s got to do (at least in Francesca Zambello’s world) is throw her hands around and lie on the ground while bags of gold are piled on top of her. For heaven’s sake, Zambello’s production is still the worst thing about this Rheingold
and even that doesn’t come close to deserving booing.Das Rheingold
is the oldest of the four productions Zambello created for this Ring and the one most closely tied to the American history subtext originally floated for this co-production with the Washington National Opera where it received its premiere. The costumes reference late 19th- and early 20th-century American upper classes for the gods with Alberich and the Nibelungen approximating laborers of the period for a dash of class warfare. And while the video imagery for the production appears to be markedly upgraded, the live action of Das Rheingold
looked more cheap and barren to me this time around compared to its prior Summer 2008 outing
. The opening scene with Alberich and the Rheinmaidens was accompanied by dramatic video of raging waters and mist that was eye catching. But simultaneously, the live action was bathed in so much stage fog that the vocalists frequently disappeared below the haze unintentionally creating the effect that they were not waving, but drowning. The slaying of Fasolt by Fafner looks unintentionally comical—as it always does—and as usual this was abetted by the struggle to make the vocalists resemble giants in some way. There are still overly choreographed bits as well, as when all of the gods grab onto Donner's croquet mallet-cum-hammer in turn to the beats in the music. One wants to change the channel until one realizes that this, in fact, is not television. But all this being said, there are some moments that work well and the minimalism of the final scenes can be very striking.
What I've written thus far may make the show seem less exciting than it was. The opening night was the most excited and full I've seen an opera audience here in San Francisco for a while. And in many ways their excitement was justified considering the overall quality of the performance. Donald Runnicles and the orchestra started out with what sounded to me like a bit of nerves, but soon settled into a robust and well paced performance. The star of the show onstage was tenor Stefan Margita as Loge. Just as he was in 2008, Margita crafted an equally menacing and sympathetic Loge and cut through the huge orchestra like the greatest of Wagnerians. I found myself wishing he had more to sing as the evening went on he was so enjoyable to listen to. Mark Delavan sang Wotan with clarity and much more emotion than many of his contemporaries who prefer to go the stoic king of the gods route. Elizabeth Bishop was a bright and clear Fricka, without being overly cloying. David Cangelosi has returned with his completely satisfying and well sung Mime for the cycles here as well. Overall the evening works and works quite well. It's engaging, and most importantly it makes you excited to come back for the next installment of the story, which is really what Das Rheingold
should do. Even in its weakest and most predictable moments the staging kept moving and the two-and-a-half hours flies by as if it were far shorter. And that is nothing to boo about.
Labels: SF Opera 10/11