SF Opera: Götterdämmerung - Review Summary. Brünnhilde redeems both the world and San Francisco

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 10 June 2011 | 5:11:00 pm

Keeping up my new, um,  "tradition" -  and in anticipation of the start of the entire San Francisco Ring Cycle next week -  a summary of the reviews, so far, of this weeks Götterdämmerung premier.

Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde

To me, the "hero" of the Ring is Brunnhilde. It is after all she who first, - and repeatedly -  defies Wotan, it is she that leads to Siegfried's safe birth and ultimately his death. And it is finally she who overturns the old order. With that in mind, what-ever else the critics had to say about this new production of Gotterdammerung,  they are all in agreement that a new Brunnhilde seems to have been born in the form of Nina Stemme (Indeed, so great is their praise I have just put on the Domingo/Stemme/Pappano T&I to re-evaluate her Isolde. And as I have been inseparable from the Klieber for the past few weeks this is not the easy task it might seem).

Says the FT: "Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde triumphantly strides the littered landscape of the San Francisco Opera’s just completed Ring des Nibelungen, as if she alone possesses the life blood that will infuse the Wagner tetralogy with the authority and grandeur that must irradiate this obsessive work" And SF Gate:"Stemme's Brünnhilde, a memorable linchpin in "Die Walküre" and "Siegfried," became nothing less than a triumph here. Singing with a combination of tonal heft and laser-like precision, Stemme brought the character to vibrant life, from the love-besotted rapture of the opening to the gleaming final moments of redemption". So impressed was Out West Arts they discribe this as "Stemme's Ring!" And on it goes:
"It was a magnificent portrayal. The entire race of the gods had burned to ashes by the opera’s end. Yet when Stemme reappeared alone onstage, the collective cheers from a standing audience affirmed her status as a living Wagnerian goddess." SF Classical Voice.

Ian Storey's Siegfried

It has of course been a difficult time for Storey, taking into account his illness and the small preparation time this gave him for tonight's performance. It is perhaps thus surprising, espcially at this early a stage, to find the OWT: commenting "Perhaps the biggest vocal surprise of the show was tenor Ian Storey as Siegfried. He’s proven to be a somewhat controversial Tristan, and when he backed out of the Siegfried performances he had originally committed to last month due to inadequate preparation time stemming from a prior illness, eyebrows were raised. He delivers in Götterdämmerung without strain or warble anywhere. His voice is lighter than one might expect, with more a head than chest quality, but also has an athletic ease. He was well paired with Stemme, and they had good stage chemistry, even in some of his more buffoonish moments on stage." SF-G while perhaps not as enthusiastic found positives" "Tenor Ian Storey, in his role debut as Siegfried, sang with hooded tone and lacked the ringing top notes for the character's most heroic passages. But there was a certain bluff, muscular appeal to his performance". SF-CV found Storey in finer form: "His voice has a ringing, penetrating quality, mollified by a slightly darkening, throaty quality. He sings a strong line, with conviction." 

Donald Runnicles and San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

Perhaps given Runnicles Wagnerian reputation - and SF Opera Orchestra's overall reputation -  the response is to be expected and that they gained the sort of praise given to Stemme should perhaps be unsurprising - even the FT broke a sweat for a moment:
"... Donald Runnicles, the opera’s former music director, who led his erstwhile orchestra in readings notable for lyrical expansion and incisive detail. A few moments faltered, but it was the Ring that introduced the conductor here 21 years ago and he remains an inspiring force in Wagner-mad San Francisco" FT
"In the pit, former Music Director Donald Runnicles led a performance of majestic power and sweep, eliciting thrillingly great playing from the tireless Opera Orchestra." SF-G
"The orchestra, under Donald Runnicle’s masterful conducting of this dramatic symphony, deserves full praise. The orchestral melody shapes, structures, characterizes, drives, and carries this epic. It was finely integrated with the stage, making the singers part of the orchestra, which in turn was the acting force, the narrator. While the strings have the most difficult and consuming music, the winds (especially horns and brass) skate on the thinnest of ice: One blooped note, and the drama plunges into cold water. (There were none.) Thanks to the musicians, instrumental as well as vocal, the experience was of a complete work of art." SF-CV

The Rest Of The Cast.

Götterdämmerung is of course about much else than just Brunnhilde and Siegfried:

But oh dear, while not the worse it said, it does seem the FT did not have a good night. Perhaps those investments are not doing so well?
Mark Delavan’s Wanderer finds his bass-baritone receding at climaxes. Another role debutant, Andrea Silvestrelli, summons an incisively wiry bass for Hagen’s plotting. David Cangelosi whines and cackles marvellously as Mime. Gordon Hawkins broods ominously as Alberich. FT
The rest of the press was far more positive:
"Stemme was not the only artist making a role debut. Tenor Ian Storey (Siegfried), bass Andrea Silvestrelli (Hagen), soprano Melissa Citro (Gutrune), mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas (Second Norn and Waltraute), alto Ronnita Miller (First Norn), soprano Heidi Melton (Third Norn), and mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum (Flosshilde) all excelled in first outings of their respective roles. Together with bass-baritone Gerd Grochowski (Gunther), baritone Gordon Hawkins (Alberich), soprano Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), and mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), they made for one of the strongest casts that General Manager David Gockley has brought us". SF-CV
"Silvestrelli, singing Hagen, reaffirmed his status as a vocal giant. The three mellifluous Rhinemaidens (Tappan, McNeese, and Tatum), who were perfectly matched in volume and vibrato, provided a distinct contrast with the more individual sounds of the three Norns (Melton, Karanas, and Miller). Melton’s voice seems to have grown in size; with darker tones on top, she gave promise of a thrilling Sieglinde in the third cycle Die Walküre. Miller was steadier than her Erda of last week, the voice rich beyond belief. Although Karanas seemed a mite underpowered for this duo, her beautifully sung Waltraute displayed her finest and most convincing acting to date". SF-CV
"There were many other notable performances including the large voiced Andrea Silvestrelli as Hagen and Melissa Citro as a vamped-up, man-hungry Gutrune." OWA
Production:

It's rare for critics to like staging of any opera - never mind the Ring, but SF Gate (SF-G) was suitably impressed saying, "In the final opera of Wagner's epic tetralogy, director Francesca Zambello brought her vision of gradual ecological ruin to a persuasive conclusion, while remaining true to the human dimensions of her story - and "Götterdämmerung" is the most keenly human chapter of the "Ring.". SF Classical Voice (SF - CV) was not initially as impressed over-all, but felt the musicality on show managed to over-ride the whole "seen it, done it" that they found: "The interpretation of “The Twilight of the Gods” as signifying the decline of capitalism and the industrial world is pretty much old hat, yet that aspect of the San Francisco Opera’s new production of Wagner’sGötterdämmerung didn’t and couldn’t distract from the consuming power of Sunday afternoon’s performance. " However, there was nevertheless, some begrudged praise: "Also, some imaginative touches in Francesca Zambello’s direction counted." The FT seemed to just hate everything (but that's the FT for you): "Possibly indebted to earlier Ring ruminations by Shaw and Chéreau, Zambello’s cleverness wearies; she seems to have found ingenious solutions to production problems rather than devising an organic concept. The tone sometimes misfires. Farce reigns when the intoxicated Siegfried tumbles head over heels in the presence of Gutrune, who has metamorphosed into a knowing blonde sexpot. A hastily appliquéd feminist “Immolation Scene” and a technically inert denouement compromise the final moments". Finally Out West Arts (OWA) thought that Zambello was simply trying to fit in "to much": At times, this Götterdämmerung comes off as an amalgamation of every directorial idea floated for a Ring cycle in the last 30 years. Zambello’s vision is a standard post-Chereau approach and is simultaneously presented as a number of things including an environmental ring and a feminist ring and others. Wagner's opera are certainly big enough for holding a whole world's worth of ideas. But in the home stretch Zambello's vision is muddled and indecisive

Finally, I just loved this from SFCV:
"Director Zambello applied some delightful and entertaining touches. When departing from Brünnhilde in Act 1, Siegfried was still wearing his security blanket: the green scarf he inherited from his mother, Sieglinde (he apparently loses it during his fall from grace). At the opening of Act 2, Gutrune and her brother Hagen are discovered on an emperor-size bed watching TV (in the audience’s direction), the screen denoted by a projection of TV snow."

The full reviews can be found below (titles playing on themes of the end of the world not assured)

NB: By the way, a comment to reviewers, if I haven't included your review it's most likely because I haven't read/noticed it. Don't sulk, (I don't get paid for this and it takes time) send me a mail with a link. Contact form at the top of the page.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/06/06/DDS21JQ89F.DTL
http://outwestarts.blogspot.com/2011/06/conduit-for-sale.html
http://www.sfcv.org/reviews/san-francisco-opera/sf-operas-gotterdammerung-a-complete-work-of-art
http://www.sfcv.org/reviews/san-francisco-opera/out-of-the-ashes-a-goddess-emerges
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/4ee9dbbe-91e6-11e0-b8c1-00144feab49a.html#axzz1Ok7znmXt