Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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


June 25, 2018

Andrea Silvestrelli as Hagen, Daniel Brenna as Siegfried, and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera 2018

On Sunday, the San Francisco Opera closed the second of three performances of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with a thoroughly enjoyable performance of Götterdammerung. It’s a satisfying performance to be sure if not necessarily a great one. Zambello’s pastiche of themes pulls into the arguable “feminist” phase of the cycle with a focus on the women in the cast – Rheinmaidens, Gutrune and Bünnhilde - gathering together to do what is right. They bring an end to the morally bankrupt order of the gods by returning the gold to its rightful place and offing the likes of Hagen who is suffocated with a bag instead of drowning in the Rhein. All of this is certainly fair game artistically and feminist themes, like the elements of class struggle and the role of environmentalism that permeate Zambello’s production, are interesting, worthwhile interpretative ideas. What’s missing, though, and really what keeps this production from being great in the end, is how painfully spelled out it all is for the audience. Zambello’s direction is often broad and so on-the-nose that there is little room for bewilderment or mystery. Take Act II in this case where the Gibichung men en masse physically assault their wives when the women show support and concern for the wronged and defiant Brünnhilde. It does help set up the role these same women will play in the finale, but it’s also rather labored in its efforts to get the point across. A great production, one that bears viewing over and over, is one that pulls you in but never entirely reveals itself to you. One that always leaves you looking and wondering. One that yields something new on each viewing.

And just as the production fully reveals itself in these final five hours, the musical performance does as well. Donald Runnicles has conducted beautiful performances all week without a doubt. Performances of the Ring have been his hallmark with this company throughout his long association with them. But Sunday, and all of the Ring performances this week, also revealed some changes. His conducting was far less urgent than previously and often more relaxed and methodical. It certainly was an approach that made room for the vocalists on stage, and Irene Theorin continued to deliver real excitement on stage. At times her sound would drift away in the middle range getting lost in the orchestra, but there was never any doubt who was at the center of it all. Daniel Brenna continued to be an energetic and clear Siegfried, and Andrea Silvestrelli was an able Hagen. Perhaps even more important than ideas in an opera production, though, is chemistry. And if the measure is how well all of these artists spurred each other on in a performance is any gauge of success, San Francisco has remounted a Ring cycle that any company should envy.

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