Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013

American baritone Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom has her San Francisco Opera debut as Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013.  The production underwent a dramatic scenic overhaul with the last minute firing of its director/set designer and features bold video projections of turbulent waves, leaping flames and a myriad of abstract images.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

American baritone Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom has her San Francisco Opera debut as Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013. The production underwent a dramatic scenic overhaul with the last minute firing of its director/set designer and features bold video projections of turbulent waves, leaping flames and a myriad of abstract images. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

In Richard Wagner’s early opera “Der Fliegende Holländer” (“The Flying Dutchman”), a ship’s captain is satanically cursed to roam the seas for centuries and is allotted just one chance every seven years to dock and come ashore and find redemption through the love of a woman.  San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) production, intended to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth, features lyrical music and beautiful singing but the over-abundance of video projections in constant churning motion detract from the music’s splendor.  Aside from this, last Sunday’s matinee performance featuring American bass baritone Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman and American soprano Lise Lindstrom as in her SF Opera debut as Senta, with Patrick Summers conducting and Ian Robertson at the helm of the chorus, was highly enjoyable.Behind the scenes, the waves had been quite choppy at SFO before the Dutchman opened. Petrika Ionesco, the original director and set designer of this co-production with Belgium’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie, was sacked by SFO General Director David Gockley just one week before the SFO premiere, with Glockley citing artistic differences.  A written statement from Gockley in our press kit mentions eliminating 40% of Ionesco’s scenic pieces, simplifying the staging, cutting down the use of supernumeraries, and providing more clarity.  Assistant Director Elkhanah Pulitzer stepped in and did the best she could.  Production designer S. Katy Tucker worked rapidly to refine and expand the video projections.

The production starts out quite promising.  While the orchestra’s lush Overture poetically conjures the turbulence of the tossing sea, captivating projections of surging waves fill the screens. In another early scene, Senta, who will become the focus of the Dutchman’s salvation, is by the sea with a toy boat and a lovely impressionist mood is evoked with. This scene foretells her sacrifice.  But very soon, it becomes too much. Coming from all sides of the stage; the projections are bold, immense, colorful, dizzying and far from simple.  Except maybe the color coding—red waves signified the Dutchman and his deathly realm while gray ones the bleak real world.  In Act I, we witness these projections whipping a violent storm and clouds while Daland (Kristinn Sigmundsson) stands in front of the chorus of roughly 25 sailors who are singing and swaying from left to right while the Steersman above them grips the ship’s wheel —I chose to close my eyes and just listen!  How far we’ve come though.  We used to complain about how static the sets were.  Now, with so much technical infrastructure at our disposal, it’s easy to get carried away.

The Dutchman, Wagner’s second opera, is full of lush passages and its dramatic music anticipates his future works. His leitmotifs are all introduced in the overture and it’s fun to listen for them as the performance progresses. Patrick Summers drew excellent playing from his orchestra throughout but, on Sunday, there were some occasional balance problems where singers were overpowered by orchestral sound.

Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and Lise Lindstrom is Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013.  This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Greer Grimsley is the Dutchman and Lise Lindstrom is Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at San Francisco Opera through November 15, 2013. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Strapping Wagnerian Greer Grimsley sang the title role with passion.  He made his mesmerizing entrance in a tight black t-shirt with his long hair slicked back and sported a huge dangling pendant and provided most of the energy in the performance.  From his Act I duet with Daland/Sigmundsson, “Wie? Hör’ ich recht?” (where the treasure/daughter exchange is made), to his duets with Senta/Lindstrom, his voice reflected anguish, tenderness, power and clarity.  At intermission, I met a couple who had travelled from Seattle just to hear him sing again.  Originally from Hamburg, they remarked that his German pronunciation was impeccable.

Kristinn Sigmundsson’s strong bass as Daland is the first voice we hear.  Bold, deep and gravelly, it projected the maturity and evil-edged nature of his character—a father who is supposed to be protecting his daughter but instead sells her off to a stranger for a trunk of treasures.  Tenor and Adler Fellow, AJ Glueckert, as his Steersman, had a lovely lyrical tenor.  We’ll get a chance to hear more of Glueckert on November 27, when the current crop of Adler Fellows perform their always spectacular “The Future is Now” concert of opera’s greatest hits.

Tenor Ian Storey sung passionately as Erik, a lone hunter amongst a community of sailors, who is devoted to Senta and who tries to woo her at every turn.  Storey made his SFO debut in the Company’s 2011 Ring cycle as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung.  On Sunday, not only was his singing impeccable, he came across as a young man sincerely in love.

Ian Storey is Eric, the huntsman, who is jilted by Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013.   Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Ian Storey is Eric, the huntsman, who is jilted by Senta in Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” at SFO through November 15, 2013. Photo: Cory Weaver, SFO

Lise Lindstrom’s SFO debut as idealistic Senta, was strong in the singing and so-so in the acting.  On Sunday, she sang Senta’s ballad with vibrancy and her voice exhibited a lovely range.  As a young woman who is psychologically obsessed with an idealized love, and experiencing inner turmoil, she was wanting though.  As the opera’s lynchpin, her character has to channel those conflicting core emotions that drive the drama to her final sacrifice.  In this regard, she was flat as was her dramatic jump off the cliff into the icy waters, which was more of a hop.

Saturday, November 9, is Open House at SFO—SFO will host its second Community Open House at the War Memorial Opera House this Saturday, November 9, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Free to the public, this special community event is structured for individuals and families who are interested in learning more about the world of opera, including production and artistic elements.  Children are welcome.

The 2013 Open House will feature onstage musical demonstrations including highlights from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” with the SFO Orchestra conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi and vocal selections (sung in English) featuring Adler Fellows Laura Krumm and Joo Won Kang.  The SFO Chorus, led by Chorus Director Ian Robertson, is also featured in an onstage musical demonstration.

Other activities include sing-alongs with the SFO Chorus and Adler Fellows; stage combat workshops; costume, wig and makeup demonstrations; a costume photo booth; an opportunity to meet SFO General Director David Gockley; and hands-on family activities throughout the opera house.  Costumes will also be on display.  Attendees can enter to win tickets to SFO’s “The Barber of Seville” (11.13.2013 – 12.1.2013) or “The Barber of Seville for Families” (11.24.2013 and 11.30.2013).

Details:  There are three remaining performances of The Flying Dutchman—Thursday 11/7 at 7:30 PM*; Tuesday 11/12 at 7:30 PM* and Friday 11.15 at 8 PM (* OperaVision performance: HD video projection screens in the balcony).  Tickets range from $30 (Balcony) to $385 (Box) and may be purchased at , at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, or by phone at (415) 864-3330.  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

 For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, including Falstaff, visit

Free Pre-Opera Talks:  55 minutes prior to curtain time, music educators give 25-minute overviews of the opera.  These informative talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the Orchestra section with open seating.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute delay on Highway 101 South due to ongoing road expansion work.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up, especially when the San Francisco Symphony is performing on the same day.  Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block) (Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the eve of twlight—SF Opera premieres Götterdämmerung with a new Siegfried, as its Ring Cycle continues this Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Götterdämmerung’s prologue, Brünnhilde (Nine Stemme) and Siegfried (Ian Storey) emerge from their cave and sing a rapturous duet and then Brünnhilde sends Siegfried off to perform more heroic deeds. He leaves her the ring as a sign of his faithfulness and she gives him her horse, Grane. Photo: Cory Weaver

I can’t wait for Sunday’s premiere of Götterdämmerung, (literally “Twilight of the Gods”), part of  San Francisco Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which will run through July 3, 2011 and feature  three complete cycles of the four-opera cycle.  This is where it all comes together—over 5 hours with two short intermissions—in a highly anticipated finale by acclaimed stage director Francesca Zambello.  Naturally, the actual production details are a secret but based on last Sunday’s premiere of Siegfried, the third Ring opera, we know that Zambello is making a bold statement about environmentalism, global stewardship and loss of values with an American emphasis. Brünnhilde’s evolution into a true hero in her own right is also emphasized as part of a strong story arch emphasizing the power of the feminine.  Most notably the opera will feature Swedish powerhouse Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, probably the best Wagner soprano working these days.  Tenor Ian Storey as Siegfried takes over the role from tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who sung Siegfried without fanfare in last weekend’s premiere of  Siegfried.   I am hopeful that Storey will inject some energy into this final drama and that there’s passion and naughty heat between him and Stemme which is what makes this all credible.  From what I’ve heard…there’s a lot to look forward to–  

“It’s the Sistine Chapel of music.  We’ve got Runnacles, the Wagner conductor, and Nina Stemme, the Brünnhilde—it’s an extraordinary triumph,” said Kristina Flanagan, a former Petaluma resident and one of the one of the three chairpersons of the SFOpera Ring committee that raised the $24 million for the production.  Flanagan has sat in on most of the rehearsals for Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and knows all the details about the delights to come.  “This production is so to the point.  The final scene in Götterdämmerung… I will not spoil it now… but there will not be a dry eye in the house.  It will slay you.”

“You’re looking at the pursuit of power over love and straight at the power of the spiritual feminine to pull us through,” said Flanagan who will be speaking at the Commonweal Gallery in Bolinas on June 12 with Jean Shinoda Bolen and Francesca Zambello about Goddess-Archetypes in the Ring Cycle and in us.  “This production was conceived 5 or 6 years ago–before the crash, before the tsunami’s, before the tornado devastation and before the real solid evidence of the consequences of the Wotan in all of us.  I think that’s the way this must be taken—every character describes some force within us as human beings.  I think of American human beings in particular.  One could say that we have really lost our stature in the world as a result of the exact dynamic that Albrecht and Wotan are developing.  One could also say that this is a dynamic that is traditionally associated with the male.”  

With the fall of heroes, gods and the entire world, Götterdämmerung brings the cycle to the very cataclysmic end that our beloved planet Earth is fast-tracking.   And then there’s the music.  While still composing the Ring, Wagner took a twelve year break from Siegfried during which he completed Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  When he returned to complete the third act of Siegfried and to write the music of Götterdämmerung, he had undergone a tremendous change in his musical thinking and compositional style and all of Götterdämmerung is written in this advanced style which is breathtaking by comparison.

The Ring Up Until Now…

Renouncing love, the dwarf Alberich – chief of Nibeluns – stole the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens, and had his brother Mime fashion it into a ring which gives its owner supreme power.  Wotan, the chief god, stole the ring from Alberich to pay-off two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, for building his fortress Valhalla.  Alberich cursed the ring and Wotan yielded it over to the giants; Fafner immediately killed Fasolt, then took the form of a dragon in order to guard it.

Wotan sired human (mortal) twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who committed incest, leading Fricka (Wotan’s wife and goddess of marriage) to demand retribution. Wotan presided over Siegmund’s death. Sieglinde died in childbirth and their son Siegfried was left as an orphan and raised by Mime, who was let down by love and has his own scheme for world domination.

Siegfried reforged his father’s sword, killed Mime and then Fafner, and acquired the ring, though he was unaware of its value. Wotan had also fathered nine warrior-daughters, the Valkyries.  Brünnhilde, his favorite, disobeyed him, and as a punishment, she was put to sleep, surrounded by fire.  Siegfried broke through the fire, awoke her with a kiss, and persuaded her that their love was of more value than her being a goddess.

Götterdämmerung: 5 hours 15 minutes, includes two intermissions, German with English supertitles

Lead Roles:  Swedish soprano Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde; Wagnerian tenor Ian Storey as Siegfried.  (In April, due to health issues, Storey slated to sing Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, relinquished the role of Siegfried in Siegfried.) Italian bass Andrea Silvestrellli as Hagen. 

History:  Premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring.  The title “Twilight of the Gods” is a translation into German of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology refers to a prophesied war of the gods that brings about the end of the world.

Götterdämmerung is the fourth drama in the Ring but Wagner actually composed the dramatic texts with Götterdämmerung first (in 1848) and then kept embellishing the story, following with Siegfried, Die Walküre, and then Das Reingold.  The musical compositions followed much later beginning with Das Reingold in 1854, then Die Walküre, Siegfried and ending with Götterdämmerung in 1874.  

Story: Hagen (Andrea Silvestrelli), Alberich’s (Gordon Hawkins) son, uses a potion and entraps Siegfried (Ian Storey), who betrays Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme) and is killed.

Important Moments:

Prologue:  Siegfried’s Rhine Journey:  At dawn, Siegfried leaves Brünnhilde and travels down from the mountain to seek adventure and heroic deeds.  This extended orchestral piece is often played separately.

Act II:  “Schläfst du, Hagen, mein Sohn?” (Are you sleeping my son Hagen?)  Manipulative Alberich enters the subconscious of his son Hagen who is sleeping and deeply disturbed. 

Spear Oath:  Siegfried swears on a spear that he has not dishonored Brünnhilde and dedicates the spear to his death if he is lying. Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunter also swear on the same spear that that they will get rid of Siegfried.  

Act III: Siegfried’s Funeral March: Siegfried’s final words to Brünnhilde and he is then carried off to the strains of a march.

Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene “Starke schiete” ‘Let great logs be brought to the bank and heaped in a mighty pile. Let the flames…consume the noble corpse of this first of all men.’ Brünnhilde sings in the spectacular end not only to Götterdämmerung, but the entire Ring cycle. Wagner must not only fulfill the premise of his great drama, but close off one the largest harmonic structures in the history of western music.  As Brünnhilde rides her horse into the fire, Wagner reviews some of the cycles important leitmotifs in a tone poem that depicts the burning down of Valhalla, the flooding of the Rhine, the curse motif, and as the floodwaters recede, the Rhinemaidens taking possession of the ring, combined with the melody that Sieglinde has sung when first discovered she was pregnant with Siegfried.   

Ring Educational events:  An array of cultural and educational institutions have partnered with San Francisco Opera to present lectures, symposia, exhibits, musical performances and film screenings throughout the Bay Area for audiences who want to connect with Wagner and the Ring cycle in new and compelling ways.  Visit and select “Ring Festival Event” from the “All Events” dropdown menu to explore upcoming events by month. 

Wagner and his music can be explored in from angles as diverse as the intersection of science and the environment in the Ring (California Academy of Sciences); psychological, political and spiritual parallels found in the Ring (New School Commonweal); and Buddhist influences evident in the Ring (Asian Art Museum). Upcoming musical performances range from an orchestral concert of music from the Ring (San Francisco Conservatory) and organ transcriptions of Wagner’s music (St. Mary’s Cathedral) to the lighthearted operetta The Merry Nibelungs by Oscar Straus (Opera Frontier).  The San Francisco Opera is also partnering with the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Contemporary Jewish Museum to explore the Wagner’s anti-Semitism and the political impact of his music throughout history.

Half-day Ring Symposiums:  San Francisco Opera offers a half-day Ring Symposium on the Tuesday of each Cycle that includes a general introduction to Wagner and the Ring’s story, characters and music, and an exploration of the unique aspects of this new production’s distinctly American setting and its approach to issues relating to feminism and environmentalism. Members of San Francisco Opera’s music staff will discuss Wagner’s music and explore this production. Members of the creative team and production staff will share images of the sets, costumes, video projections and lighting and discuss how they collaborated with director Zambello. June 14, 21 and 28, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Herbst Theatre, Veterans Building. 401 Van Ness Ave.

Ring Preview Lecture: Sonoma Chapter SF Opera Guild:  The Sonoma Opera Guild’s Ring Preview Lectures will feature Cori Ellison, dramaturg, New York City Opera, offering an in-depth look into the Ring cycle operas.  Thursday, June 9, 2011, 10:30am, Kenwood Depot, 314 Warm Springs Road, Kenwood, CA. Admission is $10 at the door.  For more information, contact Pat Clothier at (707) 538-2549 or Neva Turer at (707) 539-1220.

Details: Single tickets for Sunday’s performance of Götterdämmerung are still available. Götterdämmerung also plays: June 19, June 26, and July 3, 2011.  San Francisco Opera’s May 29 to July 3 presentation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen are priced from $95 to $360.  Symposia tickets are $40 (plus a $9 registration fee). All tickets are available online at , or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., or by phone at (415) 864-3330.  

Schedule:  The Ring of the Nibelung

Premiere of new productions for “Siegfried,” May 29, 2011 “Götterdämmerung,” June 5, 2011
Cycle 1: June 14, June 15, June 17, June 19
Cycle 2: June 21, June 22, June 24, June 26
Cycle 3: June 28, June 29, July 1, July 3

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment