Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Always Believe in Gold
June 20, 2018
Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen has returned to San Francisco this June. It’s a welcome return with an excellent cast that I got the chance to catch this week during the second cycle which started last night with Das Rheingold. Wagner is always timely of course so there’s never really a wrong time to reconsider any of his work. And as director Francesca Zambello argues with all the negative going on in the world right now this cornerstone experience of Western art is particularly inviting with its themes of rebirth and redemption. For those of you just now joining the story, Zambello’s Ring was originally a co-production between Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera and was dubbed the “American Ring” in its early development. Of course the original roll out hit a sizable bump in the road following the economic crash of 2008, which nearly finished off WNO, leaving SFO to complete the developmental process on its own halfway through the four premieres. When the completed full version of the work hit the stage in 2011, much had changed and the original American theme had been abandoned half-way through for a more environmentally conscious and concerned one. Still somewhat of a thematic hybrid, the show was a success and eventually arrived in Washington in 2016 to positive reviews and eventually Zambello herself took the artistic helm of that company.
Now, two years later, Zambello’s Ring returns of San Francisco with some tweaking for another run. Das Rheingold more than any other of the operas in this production, still clings to that original “American” conceit. The gods are still dressed like robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century in contrast to the giants who are clearly denim clad steelworkers invoking a sort of industrial age class warfare. It’s not a radically new concept of course and Zambello does try to even out the thematic issues by crafting some new water and fire video imagery this time around for Rheingold to display during the overture. There are still some issues, however, with overly broad acting and busy stage business between the gods that makes too little of their dignified and regal nature. Still this creakiness doesn’t overwhelm the many great things this Rheingold has going for it and the overall effect still works.
Perhaps the biggest of these is the return of Stefan Margita as Loge. Margita has made this role his all over the world and he has again returned to San Francisco for it. He has mastered the perfect combination of menace, craftiness, and humor to make Loge the central character in this ensemble. Perhaps the other most welcomed return was that of former SFO Music director, Donald Runnicles who conducted the SFO orchestra with real warmth and palpable excitement. Meanwhile familiar faces and voices abounded in the cast with Andrea Silvestrelli, David Cangelosi, Ronnita Miller, Raymond Aceto, Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese and Renee Tatum all returning from eight years ago.
Of the relative newcomers, the Alberich here, Falk Struckmann was a little slow hitting his vocal stride out of the gate, but by the time he and the others arrived in Nibelheim, he was creepy and powerfully on target. Greer Grimsley, as Wotan, and Jamie Barton, as Fricka, have also joined the cast and did an excellent job of laying the necessary groundwork for the heavy lifting awaiting them in Die Walkure. In the end it was a promising kick off to a reassuringly good production. And isn’t it nice to have something to count on these days?