Review: ‘Siegfried’ at SF Opera

by Charles Kruger

Daniel Brenna as Siegfried and Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s “Siegfried.”
Photo credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Musicologists have noted that the four opera Ring cycle might be considered analogous to a traditional Classical symphony: the first (“Das Rheingold”) being an exposition of themes, the second (“Die Walkure”) a traditionally slow movement, the third (“Siegfried”) a light scherzo movement, and the last (“Gotterdammerrung”) a grand dramatic finale. The point is that “Siegfried” might be considered the lightest of the four, often comical, and therefore a lesser work.

Well, anybody who asserts that “Siegfried” is lightweight must not have seen its current incarnation at SF Opera.

From the moment the orchestra begins the prologue, this performance is one engaging delight after another. On leaving the theatre, the most overheard comment was along these lines: “Could that have been four hours? It flew by!”

Each of the eight singers is a Wagnerian expert in peak form; the excellence is uniform and no voice stands above the others. The high mark is the entire three acts: everything rings the bell. The company also achieves an amazing rarity: the acting, throughout, is as fine as the singing. About half way through the first act, I realized I was no longer dividing my attention between the stage and the projected English translation. I dont understand a word of German, but the emotional and narrative clarity of the performances, along with Francesca Zambello’s chrystalline staging,  was sufficient to render everything perfectly understandable.

Making his San Francisco Opera debut as Siegfried, Daniel Brenna is every bit the heroic tenor. His unfaltering vocal stamina and emotional veritas are wonderful. Although one might quibble with the occasional note, and wonder if every musical jot and tittle is fully realized, taking the performance a whole, there is nothing here to complain about. Brenna’s voice has strength and beauty in every moment, and the characterization is supported by a physical grace that successfully conveys Siegfried’s youth and vigor. As an actor, Brenna displays a wide emotional range, capturing Siegfried’s cruelty and immaturity, as well as his open heart and innocence. The arc of his character’s development from foolish boy to maturing lover is clearly defined.

David Cangelosi makes of Mime a comic masterpiece. Moving continuously, he not only sings the role but dances it. Rarely is a villainous character played with such zest! At one point, Cangelosi actually turns cartwheels and somersaults. In the hands of most opera singers, this would be a gimmick. But Cangelosi makes all of his morments fully motivated by character and never seems to be showing off.

As The Wanderer (who is actualy the god Wotan in disguise) Greer Grimsley carries the weight of an almost unbelivable reputation. He has been compared to the great George London. “Tour de force” and “phenomenal” are epithets peppering many of his reviews. He lives up to every expectation as singer and actor.

I have previously noted the excellence of Falk Struckmann’s Alberich in my review of “Das Reingold.” But I must make special mention of Raymond Aceto’s death aria as the giant, Fafner. Although Fafner is presented as a ridiculous and unlikable character, he is given a final aria about the death of the race of giants that is both beautiful and emotionally touching. Aceto wrings every bit of pathos from this remarkable moment with his thrilling bass.

As the Forest Bird who mysteriously advises Siegfried, Stacey Tappan (who also plays a Rhine Maiden in the first and fourth operas of the cycle) is delightful. Wonderfully vivacious, she sings with exceptional clarity and precision.

What can be said of Ronnita Miller’s Erda beyond “Brava!” As she demonstrated in Das Reingold, she is a true Wagnerian great and undoubtedly one of the finest mezzos of our time.

As Brünnhilde, Iréne Theorin awakens to sing with an astonishing pianissimo, throbbing with emotion, that manages to soar over the huge orchestra. A miracle!

As a theatre and opera reviewer, I expect to see many operas in the coming years, but I doubt I’ll see anything to surpass this “Siegfried.”

The entire Ring Cycle will be repeated next week, beginning with “Das Reingold” on June 26th, and continuing with “Die Walküre” on June 27, “Siegfried” on June 29, and “Götterdämerung” on July 1st. 

For further information, click here.

Rating: ***** (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.

‘Siegried’ by Richard Wagner. Co-produced by SF Opera and Washington National 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. Remounted by S. Katy Tucker. Dance Master: Lawrence Pech. Fight Directdor: Dave Maier.


Mime: David Cangelosi.Siegfried: Daniel Brenna. The Wanderer (Wotan): Greer Grimsley. Alberich: Falk Struckmann. Fafner: Raymond Aceto. Forest Bird: Stacey Tappan. Erda: Ronnita Miller. Brünnhilde: Iréne Theorin.

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