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SF Opera: Siegfried - Review Summery.

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 31 May 2011 | 8:40:00 pm

I love opera reviews, less for what they say about the production and more for what they say about the reviewers - and human perception in general. It would be easy to think that when we go to the opera we all see and hear roughly  the same things - allowing for  aging eyesight,  hearing, tiredness and alcohol consumption of course. But opera reviews (and indeed reviews of any medium) would suggest otherwise - but you know that already. It's for this reason that I very rarely take much notice of them - at least as far as deciding whether to see a particular performance. However,  if there is any "truth" out there and if that truth can be found amongst a number of different people, it will be when all of them find certain commonalities. With that in mind:

Over all, it would be fair to say the reviews have provided high praise overall (not that common with Ring Cycles and Siegfried especially). Common to all was praise for both Donald Runnicles and the  SF Opera Orchestra.

"The glory of the performance was the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, led by Donald Runnicles, who made his debut here 21 years ago with the “Ring.”
Wagner’s music is both big and intricately nuanced. Runnicles covered the extremes and everything between, leading near-perfect orchestral playing. For five hours, the strings were silk-smooth and together, the woodwinds sang freely and the brass impeccable". Janos Gereben - SF Examiner.(JG - SFE)
"...a powerhouse contribution from the pit from former music director Donald Runnicles, whose mastery of Wagner's music remains a thing of wonder and admiration".Joshua  Kosman - SF Gate (JK - SFG)
"Splendors of SFO’s Orchestra. .Runnicles may not be the most rapturous of conductors. Yet when he went for the gold in the final act, and unleashed the orchestra to convey the full glories of Wagner’s mature, post-Tristan und Isolde writing, the results were irresistible" SF Classical Voice - Jason Victor Serinus (SFCV - JVS)
"The orchestra played excellently under Runnicles’ sure and dramatic guidance, Wagner’s music portraying the story and unfolding in as eloquent and enveloping fashion as can be wanted. Altogether it was first class" SF Classical Voice - Robert P Commandy. (SFVC - RPC)
Of Jay Hunter Morris' Siegfried (WNO Tristan in 2012) there was a difference of opinion. Although none of it could be described as being  in anyway in the "negative', "size of voice" was noted. 

"Tenor Jay Hunter Morris, undertaking the title role for the first time, was adequate but never quite electrifying, his singing tender and thoughtful but one or two sizes too small for the task". said SF Gate, but went on to say, "What Morris did accomplish, though, was to inject a welcome note of humanity into a character who can too often seem thuggish and crude". However, SF Classical Voice said: "Morris sang a fine Siegfried, his voice focused and clear, softly burnished and, though not the strongest or most penetrating in the Heldentenor business, still consistently musical, expressive, and spirited".  This was repeated by the SF Examiner: "In the title role, Jay Hunter Morris has the best qualities of a heldentenor, with a forward sound, edge and natural high notes. He had a good day, in spite of what was lacking: a voice big enough to be both heroic and able to cut through the orchestra at all time".  It should be noted that with regards to comments about Morris shear vocal power, the SFCV reminded us that he is a very late replacement for Ian Storey and sang through the role in rehearsal for the first time only 1 week ago! As SFVC says"Yet his youthful physical buoyancy, near-heroic posture, and convincing naivete amid brutality (how American!) were a delight. Perhaps by the time he essays the role a second time on June 17, in the first of SFO’s three complete traversals of the Ring, he will have found the means to forge his sword with the power of a hero."

There was similar  praise, concerns,and disagreement (do these people attend the same performances?) - about Mark Delavan's Wotan: SFCV - JVC (Yes, SFCV sent two reviewers!) "While Delavan continues to display a winning gravitas, his power came more from emotional depth than sheer decibels". On the other hand SFCV's other reviewer found the opposite: "Delavan’s bass-baritone seems richer, darker, and larger than ever, and he sang commandingly, delivering a strong, dominating performance. He is also physically bigger, with his commodious outer coat heightening the impression. SF Gate found: Mark Delavan, who after a commanding "Walküre" Wotan seemed vocally hazy and physically ill-at-ease as The Wanderer (Wotan's undercover identity). Even for a moribund god, this was a less than authoritative showing" And yet The Examiner said that while  Delavan’s Wotan seemed: "... vocally restrained, but his musicality and superb diction came through again. His duet with Gordon Hawkins’ Alberich provided a rare baritone summit".

Far different was the unanimous praise for David Cangelosi's Mime (central to Siegfried in my opinion and a good or bad Mime really can make or break a performance. Get this right in the first act and your "in" get it wrong and it takes a long time to recover.):

"David Cangelosi, as the malevolent Mime, to dominate the first half of the opera, which he did with a dark, fluid and vividly imagined performance" - SF Gate.
"...the sensational Mime of tenor David Cangelosi..." SFCV
"David Cangelosi’s bright, penetrating tenor projected the highly characterized singing of the Mime part well. Playing the troll, he compensates for his height by crouching and bending, and tumbled and hopped about acrobatically." SFVC

And what of  Francesca Zambello's production? You have seen Ring productions? You know, including yoursel, that people never agree what is a "good" staging/"concept" - right? Well, that would make this Ring no different to the rest:

SF Gate, helpfully fills us in with some background - should we not have noticed during the first two parts of the Ring staged: "The overarching theme in director Francesca Zambello's conception is American history seen through an ecological lens; this is a "Ring," to put it too simply, about the management and mismanagement of natural resources." ""Siegfried" arrives in a contemporary world of oil refineries, scrap metal and natural despoliation - a combination of the worst of New Jersey and East Texas. Projected images during the Act 1 prelude set the scene with gently roiling clouds that morph into toxic fumes". SFCV , tells us a little more - and lets us know what they thought about it: "On Michael Yeargan’s opening set, Siegfried and Mime’s home looks like the post-holocaust ruins of a trailer park, while Jan Hartley and S. Katy Tucker’s projections during the orchestral interludes are choked with the refuse of humankind’s destruction of the natural world. If Zambello’s vision is so stark as to make Wagner’s apocalyptic Twilight of the Gods (Götterdämmerung) seem like an afterthought, the overwhelming impact of Wagner’s music nevertheless makes us eager to return for more." The SF Examiner found the whole thing just a little "tiring" but at least not "Eurotrash" : "Zambello’s “decaying American landscape” and “world ravaged by greed and neglect” — on Michael Yeargan’s sets with piles of garbage, polluted water and smoke-belching chimneys — is OK, given that the production remains focused on the music. The staging is not outrageous, compared to some European excesses, but it is tiresome" . Well, there you go. And SFCV's other reviewer? "..the best aspects of Francesca Zambello’s direction that more than compensated for elements of the Modern-Times-in-a-Desolate-America production that stretched to Make a Statement (Zambello’s Achilles’ heel).Zambello’s best work focused on the crucial confrontations in Siegfried, searching out the dynamics of the relationships and interactions, building the final climax to the most powerful of these."

And now to those late appearing female roles in Siegfried.  We have seen variance in a opinion with many aspects of this production but this is not, generally, reflected with it's female performers. Indeed, the SFVC says - in bold and large font: "Thank Goddess for the Women". Of especial note is the gushing praise from all, for Stemme's Brünnhilde. Some examples below. Should you want to find out who-wrote-what, I have included the links to the original reviews at the bottom of this post.

Here at last was the combination of assured, muscular vocalism and focused theatrical vibrancy that Wagner's music dramas require. As the rebellious Valkyrie roused at last from her magical slumber, Stemme unleashed a stream of potent, silvery sound that pierced the orchestral texture without a hint of strain.
Stemme sounded marvelous, being in even better form than when she debuted as Brünnhilde in SFO’s Walkürelast June (while suffering from a sinus infection). Possessing the biggest voice onstage, she easily negotiated her character’s huge range. She also summoned forth multiple colors to make believable her character’s wide range of human emotions. With Flagstad, Nilsson, and Varnay no longer with us, we Wagnerites can rejoice that we have another great Brünnhilde to maintain the tradition.