Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Mortgage Crisis -
Wagner style

June 23, 2008

Jennifer Larmore as Fricka and Mark Delavan as Wotan
Photo : Terrence McCarthy/SFO 2008

It just goes to show that even gods can get involved with mortgages they can't afford. Who would have thought that with all the big name talent on tap at this “Italian singer’s” house, that the best production this summer at San Francisco Opera would be a Francesca Zambello-directed Das Rheingold? But so it was when I caught the penultimate performance on Sunday of this first installment of the new “American” Ring cycle developed in conjunction with Washington National Opera and now arriving in San Francisco. It’s a conceit that works surprisingly well tapping into both class distinctions and the Industrial Revolution in America. The turn-of-the-century country club gods find that Wotan must deal with Alberich and his working-class Nibelungen to pay off the now exceedingly high-cost mortgage on their new home. These provide excellent metaphors for elements of Wagner’s masterpiece where the world undergoes the death of one order and the birth of another. It looks very good and involves a minimal amount of clutter on stage. Zambello makes liberal use of video elements here as well, that is both beautiful and subtle. I've been somewhat ambivalent about her productions in the past, but found this quite effective.

Das Rheingold is not devoid of talent either and contains a number of excellent performances. My favorite has to be Stefan Margita’s Loge who is the perfect combination of world-weary and icky. He commands the stage and provides a nice balance to Mark Delavan’s driven and troubled Wotan. Richard Paul Fink is also excellent as Alberich not overplaying the character’s pathetic qualities. On the women’s side Jennifer Larmore was the able Fricka and Jill Grove captivates in her brief but pivotal appearance as Erda. Really strong vocals across the board were helped along by Donald Runnicles doing what he does best. The orchestra received the biggest ovation most deservingly. This is quite a good start for San Francisco’s new Ring and if they can keep this up, it will be one not to miss when the complete cycles come to town in a few years. There is one more performance of Das Rheingold this week and if I were in town I'd see it again.

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