Friday, June 11, 2010

Die Walküre

Unlike the common prejudice, women singing Wagner don't always wear horns!

A few years ago, the Mariinsky Opera company (formerly Kirov) from St. Petersburg performed the Wagner's Ring cycle at the Met in NYC. I scored a last minute ticket to Rheingold, and while waiting outside, my friend and I admired the many audience members wearing horns and similar accoutrement.  So one could say that the horns now migrated to the audience. 

At yesterday's opening night of Die Walküre (San Francisco Opera), I didn't notice any audience members wearing horns. That was quite disappointing, but maybe due to the fact, that we didn't hang out before the show, due to rush hour traffic on the Bay Bridge.

The opera was a memorable success. The production (Francesca Zambello) was quite wonderful. The mortals were in the forest or in a dump underneath a highway (with real dogs running accross the stage), Wotan looking like a CEO overlooking the skyline of a big city, the Valkyries were jumping from the sky in parachutes (great effect, even it these were supers and not the actual singers). A fair amount of pyromania and a bunch of lively singers guaranteed an entertaining night.

Now to the music: Donald Runnicles, the former Music Director of SFOpera was back for this production. Whenever he came out into the pit, he was greeted with ovations by the audience, and rightly so. The orchestra sounded fabulous, an pit and stage were harmonious.

The musical star of the evening was in my opinion Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde. Her clear substantial voice has a wonderful golden timbre, and she was very believable in her characterization. Additionally, I could understand her words very well.

Nina Stemme, in her debut as Brünnhilde, sang very well, sounded appropriate, and was also a very engaging actor. I'd have preferred a Brünnhilde with a little bit more oompf, but she certainly lived up to the role.

I was looking forward to hearing Mark Delavan ever since he was interviewed in the Classical Singers Magazine,  describing his difficult journey of his career. He sang very well, and portrayed Wotan in a very likable way. Unfortunately, he sounded tired and exhausted in the third act, and only just recovered for the ending.

The valkyries were impressive, especially one of them, who was significantly louder than all the others, with a wonderfully warm timbre. I don't know the opera well enough to know, which one it was, but it was somebody to look out for.

The evening ended quite dramatically, with fire all around the stage, much like the fire operas at the Crucible in Oakland. The railings probably got hot. Wotan put on gloves before climbing down the back of the stage. After nearly 5 hours, this was welcome entertainment!

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