Near the close of Das Rheingold, the earth goddess, Erda, rises from beneath the ground to warn Wotan of the curse of the Ring. It is an incredibly thrilling moment at the War Memorial Opera House, thanks to the wonderful performance of mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, in a signature role. Erda’s warning is one of the greatest arias ever written for a mezzo-soprano, and Miller’s performance is rich in dramatic interpretation, sheer stage presence, and the warmth of a sunrise.
There are many other musical highlights to treasure. The expanded Opera orchestra (92 musicians in all) is all nuance and high drama, a convocation of virtuosos. And Štefan Margita sings spectacularly well as Loge, a role he debuted in San Francisco in 2008 and has sung many times since, including at the Metropolitan Opera.
But the first thing to understand in attending a performance of an opera by Wagner is his goal of Gesamtkunstwerk, to successfully incorporate poetry, music, setting, and drama—all the arts—into a single whole. His vision was so all-encompassing that he even designed his own theatre to stage the operas just as he envisioned. Contemporaries thought he was an overly-ambitious madman (which he may have been), but he was also a genius (some say the greatest artistic visionary in history).
Given the lofty ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk, it is no wonder that SF Opera General Director states that: “If there is one artistic undertaking that demonstrates the complete mettle of an opera company it is Wagner’s Ring.”
The current production is a revival of director Francesca Zambello’s original production from 2011, which she has personally supervised.
Musically, it hits all the marks, but much of the staging is strangely static, with performers having little to do when not singing, and not enough care given to what action there is. For example, in the underworld of the Niberlungen, the miners appear to be swinging their arms meaninglessly at the walls, rather than engaged in any real activity.
This general lack of specificity in the acting reduces the overall dramatic effect, and results in a performance that is less satisfying then it ought to be. There are exceptions, especially Falk Struckman as Alberich, the dwarf who renounces love for gold. Stuckman’s acting is as fine as his singing. In aiming for Gesamtkunstwerk, great singing, orchestration and stage design are not quite enough to take it over the top.
The second of SF Opera’s performances of the entire Ring Cycle continues this week through Sunday, June 24th with “Die Walkurie,” “Siegfried,” and “Gotterdammerung.” The entire cycle is repeated next week, beginning with “Das Reingold” on June 26th.
Rating: *** (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.
‘Das Reingold’ by Richard Wagner. Produced by SF Opera. Conductor: Donald Runnicles. Director: Francesca Zambello. Associate Director and Choreographer: Denni Sayers. Set Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber. Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough. Original Projections Designed by Jan Hartley. New Projections Designed and Remounted by S. Katy Tucker. Co-Choregrapher and Dance Master: Lawrence Pech. Fight Directdor: Dave Maier.
Woglinde: Stacey Tappan. Wellgunde: Lauren McNeese.Flosshilde: Renée Tatum. Alberich: Falk Struckmann. Loge: Štefan Margita. Wotan: Greer Grimsley. Donner: Brian Mulligan. Froh: Brandon Jovanovich. Fricka: Jamie Barton: Fricka. Freia: Julie Adams. Fasolt: Andrea Silvestrelli: Fafner: Raymond Aceto. Mime: David Cangelosi. Erda: Ronnita Miller.