Friday, June 29, 2018

San Francisco Opera continues remarkable Ring with “Die Walküre”

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
The opening scene of San Francisco Opera’s production of “Die Walküre” swirled about with vivid projections of water flowing from the Rhine River, reminding the audience at the at the War memorial Opera House (June 13) of the natural beauty left behind in “Das Rheingold.” Supported by a thrilling performance from the orchestra, the imagery gave way to a chase scene with Siegmund quickly moving through a forest before arriving at the house where Sieglinde lived. The gripping opening scene was a foretaste of the strong production, directed by Francesca Zambello, that featured an evening of outstanding performances.

Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) and Sieglinde (Karita Mattila) convincingly showed their mutual attraction. Sieglinde’s husband, Hunding (Raymond Aceto), pawed Sieglinde and treated her roughly, which raised a palpable sympathy from the audience for her. Brandishing his rifle, Hunding frisked Siegmund before tying him to the Ash tree.

Jovanovich sang with a lovely and resonant voice, and his “Walsas” emphatically filled the hall. Mattila equaled his stentorian volume but her tone got a bit fuzzy. After drugging her husband into a deep sleep, Sieglinde assisted Siegmund in pulling the sword out of the tree, and they ran away together with a full moon in the background.

From his lofty home, Wotan (Greer Grimsley) sat one end of a long, executive table, overlooking a downtown in the distance that suggested San Francisco. Grimsley’s Wotan spared intensively with Jamie Barton’s Fricka. She won over the audience with her defense of marriage against the incestuous love of the siblings, forcefully dismissing Wotan’s arguments, and disdainfully tearing the photo Siegmund in half. Barton’s clear, powerfully emotional voice and acting set a new standard for Fricka interpreters.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The scene in which Siegmund dies took place under a deserted freeway overpass. Before that happened, soldiers paced slowly across the stage, carrying large photos of heroes destined for Valhalla. They were followed by two of Hundung’s dogs, which sprinted across the stage. After Hundung kills Siegmund, he saluted Fricka, and then he is dispatched by Wotan.

Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin, a late replacement for German soprano Evelyn Herlitzius, filled the role of Brünnhilde with spunk and verve. Theorin’s voice easily went the distance, but now and then her vibrato threatened to go out of bounds.

The Valkyries (Julie Adams, Melissa Citro, Renée Tatum, Nicole Birkland, Sarah Cambidge, Laura Krumm, Renée Rapier, and Lauren McNeese) parachuted in before making their famous welcoming cries. But they lined up fearfully after a wrathful Wotan arrived in pursuit of Brünnhilde. Grimsley’s voice had a few erratic moments whenever he punched above the din of the orchestra.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The orchestra, under Donald Runnicles, was firing on all cylindars. The sound when Wotan arrived at Valhalla was absolutely urgent and thrilling. Kudos especially to the horns who were spot on throughout the evening.

The fire that surrounded Brünnhilde was one of the largest conflagrations I have ever seen on stage. It was a relief to know that the fire marshal was in the house just in case. The image of Brünnhilde on the rock, surrounded by fire while the orchestra played, is one that I will not forget for a long time.

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

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