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Geneva Anderson digs into art

“The Opera Hour” radio show kicks off Sunday, May 6, 8PM on Classical KDFC with co-hosts SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and KDFC President Bill Lueth

image: courtesy San Francisco Opera

This Sunday, May 6, at 8 p.m., Classical KDFC will launch “The Opera Hour,” a new opera showcase created by KDFC President Bill Lueth and co-hosted by Lueth and SFO (San Francisco Opera) General Director Matthew Shilvock.  The 60 minute program will air the first Sunday of each month.  It replaces broadcasts of complete SFO performances, celebrating the art form’s continuing vibrancy while reducing the station’s actual allocation of pure opera time.

With something for both longtime opera fans and hoping to draw in the opera curious, in each episode, Shilvock and Lueth will share new recordings of arias, duets and ensembles they are enjoying along with some of their favorites oldies, honoring singers of the past.  The hosts will also highlight opportunities to hear great singing around the Bay Area and dig into the treasure trove of archival SFO broadcasts.  Additionally, Shilvock will take listeners backstage at the War Memorial Opera House and, with special guests, share opera insights.

Details:  Classical KDFC’s The Opera Hour can be heard on the FM dial at 90.3 (San Francisco), 89.9 (Wine Country), 92.5 (Ukiah-Lakeport), 104.9 (Silicon Valley), 103.9 (Santa Cruz and Monterey); on Comcast Cable 981; or online at https://www.kdfc.com/

 

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May 5, 2018 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SF Opera’s Lyrical Lohengrin—singers, chorus and orchestra add up to music for the ages…meet Camilla Nylund this Sunday when she signs cds

Now in his 4th season with San Francisco Opera, Music Director Nicola Luisotti has proven many times over that when a production is theatrically flat, he will awaken it musically.  And that he did on Saturday, dazzling again, as he energetically tackled Wagner for the first time ever in San Francisco Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, which runs through Friday, November 9, 2012.  At Saturday’s premiere performance, the lush music coming from Luisotti’s orchestra directed the singers and Ian Robertson’s marvelous opera chorus as they filled the opera house with one of the most musically memorable Lohengrins ever.

But as divine as the music was, British theatre and opera director Daniel Slater’s production itself was disappointing.  Abandoning Wagner’s 10th century Belgium setting and, instead, taking  inspiration from the military and political contexts surrounding the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Slater’s update could have been interesting but failed to fly.  When combined with Robert Innes Hopkins’ dull sets and bland costumes, the result was a visually drab experience that made me wonder if this was the same opera company that had so delighted us this summer with its astoundingly visual Magic Flute, brought to life by artist Jun Kaneko.  With the advent of high-definition video via satellite (HD simulcast), which has become increasingly popular since its introduction in 2006, opera has reached a turning point.  Production values need to be as high as musical values, otherwise the result is major attrition from live local performances to the $23 (cheaper) and sometimes immensely more interesting HD broadcast offerings available at the local movie theatres.

Why see this production then?  Tenor Brandon Jovanovich is one reason.  The entire opera is anchored by his superb and consistently lyrical singing in the role of Lohengrin, the mysterious Knight of the Grail, who appears to defend the princess Elsa who has been accused wrongly of the murder of her brother.  Jovanovich, who delivered a vibrant Siegmund in SFO’s 2011 production of Die Walküre, was again mesmerizing and unfaltering all night long in the vocally grueling role.  While his most notable arias are in Act III— “In fernem Land” and Mein lieber Schwan—his singing throughout was big and yet expressively romantic.  His voice blended beautifully with Finnish soprano, Camilla Nylund, his love interest.  From the moment Jovanovich/Lohengrin came on stage to bid the swan farewell, there was no question that Elsa would agree to marry him and to never ask his name or history.  This tall and strapping stranger was in all ways heroic and the roaring ovation he received from the audience was well-deserved.

In her San Francisco Opera debut, the Finnish soprano, Camilla Nylund, captured the maiden Elsa’s dreamy nature and sung beautifully.  She’s a truly tragic heroine whose idealistic faith and trust are shattered.  She enters in Act I wrongfully accused of murder and spends most of Acts II and III in anxiety, as she is humiliated on her way to the altar.  She then breaks her martial vow and later collapses.  A particularly juicy moment came when Nylund unleashed her considerable vocal reserve on Petra’s Lang’s cunning, showing that she was not all milk toast.  Her voice blended well with Jovanovich, particularly in their Act III duet ‘Das süsse Lied verhallt’ (Love duet).

Mezzo Soprano Petra Lang, who made quite an impression in her 2007 SF Opera debut as the sizzling Venus in Tannhäuser, again brought a dramatic flair to her role that was on par with excellent singing.   As Ortrud, the old-world sorceress who really stirs the drama, Lang seemed to delight in vexing the vulnerable Elsa.  Dressed in a business suit that evoked the bright blue of the old two-stroke East German Trabbi (Trabant), synonymous with the communist bloc, the fiery redhead seemed completely at home in the role, despite the awful costume.  Lang has sung Ortrud in Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest, Vienna, Geneva, London and Edinburgh and will reprise the role later this season at the Bayreuth Festival.  On Saturday’s opening performance, her voice was bursting with energy and her performance far more compelling than Nylund’s.

German bass-baritone Gerd Grochowski was outstanding as Ortrud’s husband Friedrch von Telramund, who is duped into wrongly charging Elsa but takes great twisted pleasure in doing so.  Grochowski had his SF Opera debut in November 2010 beside the indefatigable Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as Jaroslav Prus in The Makropulos Case.

While there’s little point in dwelling on the mundane, the sets by Robert Innes Hopkins did nothing for the opera. The beginning action seemed to occur in a large drab room accentuated by shelves scantily filled with books.  The wedding suite was presented as a diorama and looked like a cheap hotel room.  Green garlands covered the wall seams and an oddly out-of- place colonial style lamp hung from the ceiling.

The costumes were worse.  The men of Brabant were in tan military duds and the women recalled droll DDR fashion.  Camilla Nylund, a large woman to begin with, spent most of the evening dressed in long storybook princess style flowing gowns that tended to emphasize her size.
Lohengrin is sung in German with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 4 hours, 20 minutes including two intermissions

Details: Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin is at War Memorial Opera House through Friday, November 9, 2012.   Remaining Performances: 10/28 (1p.m.), 10/31(7 p.m.), 11/3 (7 p.m.), 11/6 (7 p.m.) 11/9 (7 p.m.) Tickets: : $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or online at www.sfopera.com.  Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended garages near the opera house are the Performing Arts Garage and Civic Center Garage (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

October 26, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stealthy Soprano Nicole Cabell climbs a sink and balances on a wall in her debut at SF Opera’s “Capulets and Montagues,” through October 19, 2012

Singing on top of a sink means ditching your Christian Lacroix platforms and using those toes to grip. Nicole Cabell is the stealthy Giulietta in Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece, “The Capulets and the Montagues,” which opens SF Opera’s fall season. Photo by Cory Weaver.

SF Opera’s fall season opener is Bellini’s 1830 bel canto masterpiece, The Capulets and the Montagues (I Capuleti e i Montecchi)—the doomed love story of Romeo and Juliet, but not Shakespeare’s version.  And in this production, it is Giulietta, the stunning Nicole Cabell, who does all of the work literally.  The poised soprano, in her SF Opera debut, first climbs atop a sink mounted high on a wall and delivers a lush aria and later teeters on a narrow wall and delivers another…all in the name of love.  The object of her affection is opera’s white hot mezzo, Joyce DiDonato, her Romeo.  As this 1830 opera begins, Romeo and Juliet have already met and fallen in love and there isn’t a single uplifting moment for the two young lovers.  Romeo, a Monatgue, is a real rebel and he has killed Giulietta’s brother and is on the verge of war with the Capulets, while his Giulietta (a Capulet) is engaged to her cousin Tebaldo, who is based on the character Tybalt.  Tormented Giulietta, holed up in the Verona palace, refuses Romeo’s numerous longing pleas to run away with him, offering the excuse that she cannot desert her father.  It’s only in death that the lovers are joined.  In fact this isn’t much of a love story at all—it’s more a sad commentary on being caught up in the fervor of war and the vulnerability of first love.  Bellini’s beautiful music, composed when he was just 29, and played with affecting beauty by the SF Opera Orchestra, expresses deep tenderness and pathos in the two lovers’ passionate solos and contains bloodthirsty choral parts, meant to drive home the unstoppable momentum of the war machine itself.

SF Opera opens its fall season with Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece, “The Capulets and the Montagues” (“I Capuleti e i Montecchi”), the story of Romeo and Juliet sans Shakespeare. Joyce DiDonato (left) is Romeo and Nicole Cabell is Giulietta. Photo by Cory Weaver.

This Bavarian State Opera and San Francisco Opera co-production, directed by Vincent Boussard, had its world premiere at the Nationaltheatre in Munich in March 2011.  It features a sparse but confounding set design by Vincent Lemaire.  Minimalistic palace walls are illuminated with lovely Lascaux-like primitive drawings of running horses, the beauty of which is illuminated by Guido Levi’s skillful lighting but confounded by two dozen saddles awkwardly hanging down like pendant lamps over the Capulets.  These saddles, meant to remind us that battle is eminent, are much like the huge descending mirrors in Alessandro Cameo’s minimalistic set design for SF Opera’s 2011 Don Giovanni—they get very old very fast. The set also has an elegant shiny black floor which occasionally squeaked.  And then there’s the sink mounted high on one of the walls, a fixture that plays a heightened role as a platform for one of Cabell’s arias and seemed to work beautifully with minimalistic aspects of the set design.  Most confounding, to the point of annoying, was the interruption of the music and flow twice, both Act I and Act II, for changes in scenery.

The stylish costumes by Christian Lacroix, known for his use of vibant shades and textures, infused a palpabale visual energy into the angst-ridden vibe of the opera.  While it isn’t widely known outside the fashion world, Lacroix’s fashion house went into bankuptcy in 2009 and he subsequently lost the rights to design under his own name, so these gorgeous gowns, which look exceptional on the lythe bodied Cabell and supernunneries, are part of an bygone era of decadent couture that carries the name Chrstian Lacroix. (Now Lacroix, designing under the name “Monsieur C. Lacroix”, collaborates with the hihg-end Spanish chain, Desigual, known for using a kaleidoscope of colours.) The humorous Act II opening of the opera includes a scene that many men may find baffling but most women instinctively relate to—supernumeraries in confection-colored elegant Lacroix gowns slowly and somewhat noisily parade up steep metal bleachers in outrageously high Lacroix stilettos.  Just as the young lovers are hostage to doomed love, women are bewitched by stylish but impossibly cruel shoes.

What works magically is the singing and Cabell and DiDonato are very heart and soul of it.  Each is in top form, but the meshing of their voices, its exquisite tenderness, is what defines this production.   Cabell’s SF Opera debut will be long remembered. Her singing grew more sublime as the evening progressed, exemplifying what makes the bel canto repertory work: beautiful sound creatively embellished, driving home the emotion.  Her Act I aria, “Oh quante volte,” in which she longs for Romeo to return to her, was deeply melancholic.  And her acting—soulful, demented—delivered pathos in doses befitting a torn young woman.

From the minute she walked on stage, Joyce DiDonato, a former Merola participant, owned this trousers role.  She delivered an impassioned, idealistic, and highly impulsive young Romeo with an intoxicating sensuality and her expressive mezzo voice seemed capable of winning over every heart but hesitant Giulietta’s.

Here, Joyce DiDonato sings Romeo’s Act 1 aria from The Capulets and the Montagues (Paris, 2008).  Romeo has entered the palace in the guise of a Montague envoy and offers the guarantee of peace through the marriage of Romeo to Guilietta. He will leave distraught, knowing that he is an unwitting, inexorable part of the machinery of war that cannot be stopped.:

A strong supporting cast backed up the two soloists.  Albanian tenor Samir Pirgu seemed to struggle to find his sweet spot in his SF Opera debut as Tebaldo, Guilietta’s fiancé, but his singing improved as the evening progressed.  Chinese baritone and second-year Adler Fellow, Ao Li, made the most of his small role as Lorenzo, the doctor (not friar) of the Capuleti. American bass-baritone, Eric Owens was Capellio, leader of Capuleti and Guilietta’s father who, in an intense stand-off with Romeo, brashly refuses the young man’s offer to marry his daughter, setting the whole tragedy in motion.

In Vincent Lemaire’s sets for Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” at SF Opera through October 19, 2012, dozens of saddles hang over the Capulets who are waiting at the palace to avenge the death of their leader Capellio’s son, who was killed by Romeo. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Riccardo Frizza, who made his SF Opera debut conducting Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia last season, again led the SF Opera orchestra in an exciting performance that was greatly enhanced by the enchanting solos of Kevin Rivard (French horn), and José González Granero(clarinet).

Details:  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Remaining Performances:  Oct.11 (7:30 p.m.), Oct. 14 (2 p.m.), October 16 (8 p.m.), October 19 (8 p.m.) Tickets: : $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or online at www.sfopera.com. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended garages near the opera house are the Performing Arts Garage and Civic Center Garage (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

October 11, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: San Francisco Opera’s new “Don Giovanni” lacks that vital spark, runs through November 10, 2011

Lucas Meachem, a former Adler Fellow, plays Don Giovanni in San Francisco Opera’s new production of the Mozart classic. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Of all Mozart’s operas, Don Giovanni, holds a special place.  A fusion of tragic and comic impulses based on the legendary scoundrel Don Juan and set to breathtakingly gorgeous music, it never fails to entertain.  A new production of this masterpiece opened at San Francisco Opera last Saturday (October 15, 2011) and while enjoyable enough, it failed to ignite the passions.  Inconsistent singing and unconvincing acting were the main culprits.  The production is hinged on the all important title role filled by baritone Lucas Meachem, a former Adler Fellow, with a rich and glorious voice who has delivered several stunning performances at SF Opera.  He was vocally adequate but lacked the commanding presence─charisma, swagger and roguishness ─ to be utterly beguiling and magnetizing, which is essential to the rake’s part.  His chemistry with the ladies─Ellie Dehn as Donna Anna, Serena Farnocchia as Donna Elvira and Kate Lindsey as Zerlina─was plain flat, both when he was required to be sexy or violent.  He played Don straight, as a cold-hearted jerk, and wore aviator-style sunglasses throughout the performance and a stylish dark leather coat which gave the impression that, while he had wealth and power, he was basically a rich coward in hiding.  

Music director Nicola Luisotti, by contrast, was the life of the party, bursting with energy and passion and thoroughly engaged with his orchestra at all times.  As magnetizing as he was to watch though, he was not able to elicit the nuanced performance he pulled from his orchestra in Turandot, which opened SF Opera’s fall season.  At times on Saturday, the orchestra outpaced the singers.  For those who have been watching Maestro Nicola Luisottiwork his magic since he joined SF Opera as its music director in 2009, the choice of three Italians, who all have their U.S. debuts─director Gabriele Lavia, set designer Alessandro Camera, and costume designer Andrea Viotti─ seems evidence of his broadening influence at San Francisco Opera.   Despite his reputation in Italy as an acclaimed film

Alessandro Cameo’s minimalistic set design for SF Opera’s new production of “Don Giovanni” features 22 large 300 pound mirrors in ornate gilded frames that descend dramatically onto a stage that is virtually empty. Marco Vinco (Leporello) and Serena Farnocchia (Donna Elvira) in Act I. Photo by Cory Weaver.

director, Mr. Lavia’s production was not a particularly imaginative or fluid take on this musical masterpiece.  He placed the story in traditional period setting and there it decidedly sat with Don Giovanni as a brute. Andrea Viotti’s lush period costumes were executed in restrained hues with the exception of Don Giovanni, who wore a long leather coat and sunglasses.   

Most striking was Alessandro Cameo’s minimalistic set design.  As the opera opened, 22 large (6’ wide x 16’ tall) dark mirrors in ornate gilded frames descended dramatically onto a stage that was virtually empty stage, save for a few scattered Louis XV style chairs.  Coming fresh from Richard Serra’s drawing retrospectiveat SFMOMA, I was struck by how powerfully and elegantly geometric forms can define space.  As these mirrors descended, shifted, and settled in at different heights, they impacted the viewer’s sense of

In “Don Giovanni,” Lucas Meachem plays the lecherous Don Giovanni who tries to woo Zerlina, (Kate Lindsey) who is celebrating her wedding with Masetto. Photo by Cory Weaver.

mass and gravity, ushering in a dark and ominous presence, and making for an experience that was as visceral as it was visual.  (Click here to read about how these special polycarbonate mirrors were constructed backstage at SF Opera).  The program notes indicate that Lavia’s symbolic take on the mirrors–reflecting on the essence of man and witnessing his many sides.  That said, the initial brilliance of this grand entrance of the mirrors wore thin when it was repeated in the same fashion a few more times in subsequent acts. Aside from the mirrors, the stage remained quite empty, save for tombstones and mist in the cemetery scene and an elegantly set dinner table in the final scene where Don Giovanni’s feast is interrupted by the Commendatore who ushers his descent to Hell.  

Stand-outs: Italian bass Marco Vinco, making his United States debut as Leporello, Don Gioivanni’s discontented servant, who is actually on stage more than any other singer, delivered a thoroughly convincing, endearing and humorous performance.  Bass Morris Robinson, also making his SF Opera debut was exceptional in the role of the Commendatore. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsay, also debuting at SF Opera, as Zerlina, the young girl who catches Don Giovanni’s eye at her wedding party to Masetto, sang lyrically in her duet “Là ci darem la mano” “There we will be hand in hand “) but will be remembered for the way she suggestively spread her legs on stage.    

The epilogue was cut in this Luisotti-selected mix of Vienna and Prague versions of the opera.  All told, it is Mozart’s music that shines most in this production. 

Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni), Marco Vinco (Leporello) and Morris Robinson (The Commendatore) at an uncomfortable pre-dawn dinner just before Don Giovanni’s descent to Hell, Act II of “Don Giovanni” at SF Opera through November 10, 2011. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Performance Dates: Sung in Italian with English supertitles, there are seven remaining performances scheduled for October 21 (8 p.m.), October 23 (2 p.m.), October 26 (7:30 p.m.), October 29 (8 p.m.), November 2 (7:30 p.m.), November 5 (2 p.m.) and November 10 (7:30 p.m.), 2011.

Bruce Lamont Lectures:  All performances will feature an informative Opera Talk by educator and chorus director, Bruce Lamott. Talks begin 55 minutes before each performance in the orchestra section of the War Memorial Opera House and are free of charge to patrons with tickets for the corresponding performance.

Details: Tickets are priced from $21 to $330 and may be purchased at www.sfopera.com or through the San Francisco Opera Box Office [301 Van Ness Avenue (at Grove Street), or by phone at (415) 864-3330]. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.

The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, San Francisco. Casting, programs, schedules, and ticket prices are subject to change.  For further information: www.sfopera.com.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A to Z Concerts presents 8 virtuoso cellists and soprano Carrie Hennessey in “The V Concert” Saturday, September 10, 2011, to benefit Cinnabar Theater

Soprano Carrie Hennessey of Sacramento will sing Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Voice and Eight Cellos in “The V Concert” on September 10, 2011. In June 2010, Hennessey made her debut with Cinnabar Theater in the title role of the opera “Emmeline,” by Tobias Picker. Photo: courtesy Carrie Hennessey

One of the best ways to celebrate the glorious last days of summer in Sonoma County is with an outdoor concert.  Next Saturday, September 10, 2011, “The A to Z Concert series,” will visit the West Petaluma gardens of Sandra and Borue O’Brien.  The performance will feature acclaimed Sacramento soprano Carrie Hennessey performing Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Voice and Eight Cellos and other works exclusively by composers whose last names begin with the letter “V.”  “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program and is organized by Sonoma County cellists Judiyaba and Gwyneth Davis, who created “The A to Z Concert series,” a 2-year project comprising 24 concerts with composers whose names represent every letter of the alphabet.  In addition to Villa-Lobos, “The V Concert” will include works by Vivaldi and by the 16th- century Flemish composer Vaet—all in one of West Petaluma’s most beautiful private gardens, surrounded by a redwood grove.  Hosts Sandra and Borue O’Brien have also planned a silent auction and will serve wine, cheeseboards, and desserts.

“This is our 20th concert,” explained cellist Judiyaba, a long-term Sebastopol resident, who organized “The A to Z Concert series” (or “The Alphabet Concerts”) with cellist Gwyneth Davis, a member of the Eloquence String Quartet.   “We started this series because we just love to play chamber music and this gives us an opportunity to explore new repertoire and old favorites and we’ve found so much new music.  What’s fun about our group is that it is composed of eight cellists who have played in literally every orchestra in the Bay Area─the SF Symphony, SF Opera, regional orchestras─so it is very representative.”

 V Concert Program:  Judiyaba whimsically described “The V Concert” as a “varied, venturesome and vibrant program of virtuosi violoncelli” (using the full formal name for the cello).  “The most challenging is the Villa-Lobos—it’s tricky and fun.  We are doing three pieces by the composer “Vaet” [pronounced “Vate”], which are 16th-century motets, or 3-to-5 part choral pieces which could also have been played on instruments.”

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Latin America’s most important composer, had little formal music training.  He instead absorbed the influences of his native Brazil’s indigenous cultures, themselves based on Portuguese, African, and American Indian elements.  Between 1930 and 1945, he composed a series of nine suites he called the Bachianas Brasileiras (“Brazilian Bach pieces”) which meld Brazilian folk and popular music with the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, applying Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal techniques to Brazilian music.  The Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 and No. 5, both scored for 8 cellos, show the composer’s love for the sonorities of the cello, an instrument that he himself played in Rio de Janeiro’s cinema, theatre, and opera orchestras.  Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão was Villa-Lobos’ favorite singer and made a number of recordings of his compositions, including the definitive recording of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (which can be heard here).  Carrie Hennessey will sing this haunting soprano solo in “The V Concert.”  

Sebastopol cellist Judiyaba is co-creator of “The Alphabet Concerts,” a 2 year project comprising 24 concerts with composers whose names represent every letter of the alphabet. She will perform in “The V Concert” with 7 other cellists in a benefit for Cinnabar Theater on September 10, 2011. Photo: courtesy Judiyaba

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the prolific Venetian superstar of Italian Baroque music, will dominate “The V Concert” program, with performances of his Concerto for two cellos (with multi-cello accompaniment), his Cello Concerto in A minor (featuring SF Opera cellist Victoria Erhlich and accompanied by….yes…more cellists!), and the lilting pastoral aria “Domine Deus” from his beloved Gloria sung by Carrie Hennessey (accompanied by cellos).  All of these pieces showcase the rhythmic exuberance, harmonic invention, and virtuosic string writing that catapulted Vivaldi to celebrity during his lifetime and has kept his music in the limelight ever since.

Jacobus Vaet (c.1529-1567) was a Flemish Renaissance composer noted for distinctive and intricate polyphonic (multi-voiced) sacred music, including nine complete extant masses, and both sacred and secular motets.  The three motets on this program will feature the 8-cello ensemble playing parts originally written for singing voices.

The cellists for “The V Concert” are: Kelly Boyer, Gwyneth Davis, Poppea Dorsam, Victoria Erhlich, Leighton Fong, David Goldblatt, Judiyaba, and Ruth Lane (a Petaluma resident).  And the soprano is Carrie Hennessey.   A wonderful line- up!

Total run time: approximately 2 hours, with intermission. Wine, cheese and desserts.

Cinnabar Theater:  “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program, its founding program.  Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma’s beloved opera and theatre company, was established by the legendary Marvin Klebe in the early 1970’s in the old red schoolhouse that was the original Cinnabar School (near the intersection of Skillman Lane and Petaluma Blvd. North.)  “The main reason why Marvin Klebe founded this company,” said Elly Lichtenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, “was because he wanted to do opera in a different way, with intimate ensemble works where the individual performers were treated as artists.”  Over the years, Cinnabar, a nonprofit, has dedicated itself to encouraging community participation in the arts and to community education as well.  The theater offers a highly regarded Young Repertory Program that trains youth as young as 4 years old in the dramatic and musical performing arts. 

Sebastopol cellist Gwyneth Davis is a co-creator of “The Alphabet Concerts.” She has performed with most of the regional orchestras in the Bay Area, plays for Cinnabar Opera, and is a pastry chef. Photo: courtesy Judiyaba

Lichtenstein explained that Cinnabar Theater normally produces two operas annually but this year it will feature just one opera, Mozart’s Don Giovanni (March 23-April 15, 2011), and the musical She Loves Me, which opens Cinnabar’s 39th season on September 9, 2011.

Silent Auction:  all proceeds will benefit Cinnabar Theater’s opera program.  Prizes include:

Vineyard tour of Kastania Vineyards, Petaluma

10 one-day passes Roxie Theatre

Round of golf at Rooster Run Golf Club, Windsor Golf Club, and Adobe Creek Golf

4 $25 gift certificates for Absolute Home and Garden

4 $25 gift certificates for Empire Nursery

 Details:

The V Concert: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 4 p.m., 200 Queens Lane (off King Road), Petaluma, CA.  Tickets: $20 available http://www.cinnabartheater.org/1112/The.V.Concert.cinnabar.html, or phone 707-763-8920, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Reservations highly recommended.

A to Z Concert series:”  The Alphabet Concerts is a 2 year project.  “The W Concert” is October 2, 2011, 7 p.m, Petaluma Museum, featuring Kurt Weill, William Walton and more.

Cinnabar Theater:  Cinnabar Theater’s fall season kicks off on September 9, 2011 with the musical  She Loves Me.  This delightful romantic comedy is based on the play of the same name and the popular film The Shop Around the Corner, on which the more recent film You’ve Got Mail is also based.  (Book by Joe Masteroff/Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Based on Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo.)  Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.  Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA  94952, 707.763.8929.

September 1, 2011 Posted by | Chamber Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Opera’s Ring closes today and marks Verna Parino’s 61st Ring cycle

Ring aficionado Verna Parino, 94 years young, at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House prior to the June 14, 2011 performance of “Das Rheingold,” her 59th Ring cycle. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 As the curtain closes later today on San Francisco Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, it will mark Verna Parino’s 61st Ring cycle and I could not pass up the opportunity to talk with her about what makes a Ring memorable.  Parino, now a spry 94, first heard Wagner on the radio when she was about 16 and was mesmerized but it wasn’t until 1971, when she was 54, that she actually saw her first Ring cycle. 

She made up quickly for lost time.  In the past 40 years, she has travelled to 18 countries and seen 61 cycles in places as far flung as Shanghai and Adelaide, and has befriended Ring “trekkies” all over the world.  Not only did she embrace the Ring, she embraced opera as well and for years headed the Marin chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild’s Preview Program, retiring just last year.  I caught up with her in mid-June at Das Rheingold of Cycle 1, which marked Ring No. 59 for her, and again a week later at a Wagner Society of Northern California Ring symposium and she was full of exuberance for Wagner’s musical epic.

You’ve see so many Rings now, what type of production do you prefer and what makes it exciting for you?

The first thing to determine is if goes along with Wagner.  Something that is not Wagner, like last year’s Los Angeles Opera production, I didn’t like at all and I complained bitterly about that.  You can be innovative and modernize the setting but make it apply to what Wagner was writing about. 

And if you don’t react to the staging, it’s not a good production.  For me, if I don’t cry when Wotan has to punish his child, then it’s not a good production because as a parent it’s very painful to punish your child and you do cry.   When Speight Jenkins staged his first Ring at the Seattle Opera, I didn’t cry at that father having to punish his child and I didn’t think the production was very good.  With his later productions, I did cry and it all came together.

It’s Wagner’s music that tells you what’s going on, not always the words.  Here, at this Ring, I am trying something that is quite different for me—I am trying to find an ending in the music.  Wagner spent a lifetime searching for the answers to civilization’s problems.  He used the universal language of myth to portray man’s foibles and composed some of the most glorious music ever to represent the deepest emotional reactions of love and parental discipline.  But, after sixteen hours of the most monumental work of art ever envisioned, Wagner was still searching for an ending of how to govern the world.   Several solutions were dismissed and he finally gave us the answer through his music.  It’s the churning music, representing the convoluted story of mankind, that brings about a positive conclusion with a rebirth, a renewal, as indicated in the source materials of the Norse Poetic Edda.   The music itself is so exciting—it tells you that life is really hard and the answers are difficult to come by but that’s why I keep coming back time and time again trying to find the answer.  

Who are the heroes for you?  

Many people say that all the women represent the truth and that ‘love conquers all’ and that it’s Brünnhilde and that it’s the men who let the world down with their greed and negative attributes.   Brünnhilde wasn’t true to herself.  She goes after revenge and that’s not the answer.  Of course, Brünnhilde grew–she understands what has happened but she’s betrayed herself.  She finds out too late what the truth is and by then it’s all set in motion.  Wotan, well, he just accepts that he’s done it all wrong and that he can’t fix it any more. 

It’s interesting to analyze the characters because with each director, in each new production and portrayal, you might see something that has been added that makes sense to you.  I attended a talk last night and was struck with a realization about Alberich.  He was evil, and greedy, and power-driven but he admitted it and he was therefore true to himself, honest about his nature.  It is Wotan who pretends that he is righteous when he’s not–he is really driven by greed and takes advantage of other people and ultimately pays the price.  Siegmund is the only true hero, the only one who remains true to himself and to his love Sieglinde.   That was new to me that Siegmund was the true hero.  

And then, of course, you have to bring your own thoughts in too and ask yourself what you see in it all.  It depends on where you come from and we all have different backgrounds.  I’m Swedish and I married an Italian and I love German and I’ve had many adventures around the world.  Wherever we come from, we bring all that with us when we sit down and watch what’s on stage.  I just can’t wait to see it all unfold again.

What’s your overall impression of Francesca Zambello’s production, now that you’ve seen all three cycles?

Upon reflection today, thinking about the reasons this San Francisco Ring is such a positive success, and why people leave the Opera House smiling and saying it was great, most important is the fact that it is true to Wagner.  It was not some director’s concept of what he thought Wagner might have said.  It was not a ‘glitsey’ controversial, sensationalized staging for the sake of controversy or publicity.  Although Wagner used giants, dwarfs, gods, and dragons, they are symbols or archetypes of the people we know around about our worlds–our neighbors, even ourselves. We identify with them. We read about them in today’s news. 

The direction was humanized. Wotan was bored with his wife Fricka’s complaints so he picked up the newspaper and read. Then Fricka, bored with Wotan’s explanation of the extended view of world leadership, also picked up the newspaper and read. Francesca Zambello welcomed suggestions from the cast so that performers were part of a team, acting in ways that seemed normal.  It seemed as though there was a communal joy and presenting this Ring.

Wagner appreciated the natural world as illustrated many times in this epic story. The destruction of our environment—water, air, earth—has formed the basis for the sets of many productions (Cologne + Rhein River pollution, Berlin + junk yards, Arizona + Colorado River diversion, Oslo and Warsaw + barren trees).  In San Francisco’s Gotterdammerung there were piles of junked plastic bags that the Rheinmaidens picked up.

New questions to ponder:  Was Siegmund really a hero if he was willing to slay his bride and unborn child because they could not go with him to Valhalla?  Was Brünnhilde really a heroine, and really true to her inner self, if she was willing to conspire with Hagen for her husband’s death?   Is a yellow ‘sail’ that balloons into the air and finally dissolves into the river, a likely gold that can be stolen?  If Gutrune is so willing to jump into the king-size bed with Hagen, while waiting for Siegfried to return to marry her, should she participate so prominently in the finale supporting Brunnhilde’s memorial dedication?

And, this being a music-drama, the music itself was simply outstanding.  Leading the outstanding cast was Nina Stemme, today’s world-famous Brünnhilde. Returning to conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra was Donald Runnicles, internationally acclaimed for his work with Wagner.  The music of the finale is positive, so that using again a child planting a small tree representing a new beginning, is logical. Wagner’s early revolutionary ideas took many philosophical turns. How should the world’s ending be portrayed?  ‘Tis a puzzlement’ that Wagnerians will continue to ponder.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Standing for Valhalla: the passion, endurance and strategy it takes to stand through the Ring at SF Opera

Lauren Knoblauch's special ergonomic shoes have trekked to Bayreuth and now they're in San Francisco standing for San Francisco Opera's Ring. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 Those attending the full Ring cycle at San Francisco Opera will spend 17 hours just watching the 4 performances but for those who choose the standing room ticket option, the hours multiply.  One hundred and fifty standing room tickets for last night’s opening performance of Das Rheingold went on sale at 10 a.m. yesterday morning at the War Memorial Opera House.  An additional 50 tickets went on sale at 5 p.m. and all 200 were sold.  Charlise Tiee, of Alameda, arrived “before 7 a.m.” and stood for 3 hours to buy the coveted #1 standing room ticket.   That allowed her to stand again–at the side of opera house– and enter 70 minutes before the performance and select her place to stand for the two hour and 40 minute performance.   Her standing-in-line to standing-in-performance ratio: roughly 2 to 1.  “It will get better with the 4 and 5 hour performances.”

This is Tiee’s 6th Ring cycle and the 34 year old, who studied viola and piano, started her ring thing when she was 26.  Tiee was a stand-out in last night’s line because she came dressed in a green satin brocade gown as Erda, the goddess of earth and mother of the three Norns.  It is Erda who warns Wotan to give up the ring after taking it from Alberich.  It is Erda who sees into the future and possesses great wisdom.  “I’ve been planning this,” she said. 

Charlise Tiee, dressed as goddess Erda, arrived before 7 .m. and bought standing room ticket #1 for $10 for yesterday's Das Rheingold at SF Opera. Photo: Geneva Anderson

At 7:30 a.m., there were 4 people in line for the $10 standing room tickets.  By 10 a.m., there were 40 people, and the line was growing.  Tiee is an SF Opera subscriber but also enjoys the thrill of nabbing the first standing room ticket and the flexibility of standing “I can move around more.”  Her strategy for the special evening was simple—she was going to stand on the orchestra level, on the right side by the pillar “to enhance the contrast with my outfit.”   Tiee is also well known for her lively blog– The Opera Tattler—that tracks her experiences attending opera performances as a standee in San Francisco and beyond.  Her writing is not limited to the performance but to what she sees and hears and “tattles” about the audience as a standee.  Tiee also presides over the Opera Standees Association, a social club for people in the Bay Area who love opera and met in standing room.  OSA meets and also financially sponsors a Merola Opera Program summer participant.  

This really isn’t about saving money, it’s about experiencing opera,” said Tiee.  “A lot of people who attend are in it for the social experience, which is fine.  It’s not easy to keep standing and the people in standing room tend to be more serious and very well-informed about the performances.  I have attended most of the dress rehearsals and will go to all three cycles.  I am interested in how it all evolves–you hear and see things at one performance that you won’t experience again because it’s live art.”  

Members of the standing group consider themselves “exceedingly lucky” because the SF Opera Company is so good and because the people in the box office are friendly and supportive of standees.  This is not the case at other opera venues where standees are valued “at about the price they pay for their tickets.”  

Having secured their numbered sanding room tickets, standees then cue outside the opera house. Many make productive use of their time studying the Wagner libretto in German. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Lauren Knoblauch drove straight from Seattle on Monday evening, leaving right after work, and took a chance on standing room tickets, “Oh, I knew I could get them—they’ve got 200.”  She decided to nap some but still managed to snag standing room ticket #119.  Knoblauch has been to Rings all over the world and likes to travel light.  Wotan has his spear and Siegfried has Nothung and she has her special ergonomic shoes—with separate toes—that make standing easy.  “I haven’t heard too much about the production itself or Zambello,” said Knoblauch.  “I know it goes from different ages—starting in one period and ending in another.  I try not to let the production bother me.  I go for the music and the singing and the acting and let the director do whatever he or she is going to do.  Afterwards, I’ll tell you what I think.”

After securing her place inside the opera house on the orchestra level, Knoblauch began texting and lo and behold, Charlise Tiee, standing next to her was the recipient.  As it turns out, the two have tweeted and texted each other about the performance for some time and met in person that evening.  When asked about Das Rheingold’s opening video projection scenes, by Jan Hartley, of billowing clouds and waves of water, Tiee responded “I do like an interesting production.  To me it looks like a video game and I’ve played a lot of video games and seen a lot of movies that feature CGI (computer generated imagery).  That stuff is competing in the opera for our attention but it’s a much better match with the music than what they used in 2008.”   

 Ring Schedule Cycle 1:  last night (June 15, 2011), Das Rheingold (2 hours, 35 minutes, no intermission); tonight, Die Walküre (4 hours, 30 minutes with two intermissions); Friday Siegfried (4 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions); Sunday Götterdämmerung(5 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions). The cycle repeats two more times, June 21-26 and June 28-July 3, 2011. 

After texting and tweeting, Charlise Tiee (L) and Lauren Koblauch (R) finally meet inside the opera as standees for Das Rheingold. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Standing Room for the Ring: There are 200 standing room tickets for each performance in the Ring cycle, and 150 of these go on sale at 10 a.m. the day of the performance at the War Memorial Opera House.  The remaining 50 are sold 2 hours before the performance.  Tickets are $10, cash only, and each person may buy 2 tickets.  Standees may enter on the south side of the opera house, across the street from Davies Symphony on Grove Street, 70 minutes before the curtain time.  The tickets are numbered and sold in order.  One enters the opera house by number, and there is a numbered line painted on the ground outside.  The standing room areas are on the orchestra level and the back of the balcony.  For availability, call the Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330

June 15, 2011 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 sfopera.com/calendar 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 www.sfopera.com , 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

SF Opera kicks off its new Ring Cycle with a brand new Siegfried premiering Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Siegfried, the third of Wagner's four epic operas in the Ring Cycle, Siegfried forges a symbolic sword, Nothung, from shards and uses it to slay Fafner the dragon whose blood empowers him with the ability to understand the language of birds. Ian Storey is depicted here but Jay Hunter Morris will sing the lead role for the 4 premiere performances of Siegfried and then Storey will step in as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung which has its premiere a week later. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of SF Opera

I am a musical layman but I wouldn’t miss the San Francisco Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which starts later today with a new production premiere of Siegfried and continues into July with three complete cycles of the four-opera cycle. Wagner is one of the crucial 19th-century theatrical innovators, a composer-poet who set out to understand opera as drama and in turn expanded the frontiers of both art forms.  The Ring is a 15 hour masterpiece that people have devoted their lives to interpreting and have flocked to for over 140 years.  The story, reduced to its pure essence pits the love of power (here power is gold) against the power of love.   In its 88 year history, the San Francisco Opera Company has presented the complete cycle just 5 times–1935, 1972, 1985, 1990, and 1999.

Acclaimed stage director Francesca Zambello is directing the new production at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, and co-staging it with the Washington National Opera.  In an era of ever-inventive Ring interpretations, whose visual imagery may go so far as to override the basic story,  Zambello has been rather tight-lipped about the details in store for eager fans.  She has promised a creative production that is not tied to the 19th century and will be influenced by American history, environmental issues, and feminism.  She has also disclosed that Fafner, the dragon that Siegfried slays, is a large furnace-like device reminiscent of a locomotive engine.  One thing is certain, Ring fans are extremely opinionated and a tough skin is a prerequisite for any adventurous director who is trying to balance the desire to innovate with maintaining enough of the traditional elements to satisfy Wagnerian purists.  

Maestro Donald Runnicles, former music director and principal conductor of San Francisco Opera from 1992-2009, began his association with the SF Opera by directing two Ring cycles in 1990.  He will conduct an orchestra of over 100 in this $24 million production.   When a company delivers performances as demanding as the Ring–four operas over the course of a week–it can be grueling for the musicians.   Nevertheless. they are not going to be pulling overtime–they are paid an hourly rate as stipulated by their contracts.  Overtime kicks in if they exceed 7 hours in a day and/or 24 hours in a week.  The Ring cycle schedule does not meet either of these thresholds, so straight time pay is in effect.

The Ring has led to some pit changes in effect with Siegfried:  co-principal horn players William Klingelhoffer and Kevin Rivard are splitting up their horn duties:  Klingelhoffer is playing Principal Wagner tuba for the whole Ring cycle, while Rivard is playing Principal horn.  This is Rivard’s first Ring and he will be playing Siegfried’s rigorous horn call in Act II, a French horn solo which many consider the magical musical highpoint of Siegfried.  Rivard will have an assistant in the pit for the whole cycle, who will cover principal horn, when Rivard is out of the pit playing backstage for Siegfried and Gotterdamerung.

The four operas in the Ring unfold chronologically in the following order—Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and GötterdämmerungThey may be seen individually, or as the composer originally intended, in a complete cycle over the course of one week.  

Siegfried:  4 hours 50 minutes, includes two intermissions, German with English supertitles

Cast Change Lead Role:  On April 20, 2011,  it was announced that Wagnerian tenor Ian Storey, slated to play the title role of Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, had been ill and that tenor Jay Hunter Morris would replace him in all performances of Siegfried.  Morris has played Siegfried lead role before at the Los Angeles Opera and Seattle Opera.  Storey will play Siegfried in Götterdämmerung which premieres next Sunday, June 5, 2011.

History:  Premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring.  This part of the opera is primarily inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology in the Volsunga Saga.  

Siegfried is the third opera in the Ring. Wagner 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.  Wagner worked on the orchestral score for Siegfried off and from October 1856 to February 1871, a total of 15 years.  

Important Moments: Act 1:  Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris) has grown up into a young man without fear.  Siegfried forges “Nothung,” his sword (“Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!”) from pieces that have been saved by his foster father Mime (David Cangelosi), the Nibelung dwarf, who got the shards from Siegfried’s birthmother, Sieglinde ( (Anja Kampe/Heidi Melton), upon her death in childbirth.

Identity/parentage: Siegfried senses that he is not the son of Mime, and wonders who his mother is. 

Riddles:  Mime and the Wanderer (Wotan, King of the Gods, in disguise) (David Delavan) ask each other three riddles, wagering their heads on the answers.

Act II:  Siegfried plays a melodic horn tune that draws the dragon, Fafner, out from his cave and slays him with a stab to the heart with Nothung, his magic sword.  Siegfried tastes the blood of the dragon and is thus empowered with the ability to understand the language of birds.

Forrest bird scene: following the instruction of a woodbird, Siegfried takes the Ring and the Tamhlem from the dragon’s hoard and he learns of a woman sleeping on a rock surrounded by magic fire.  Siegfried learns his true parentage, that Mime is not his birthfather.

Act III:  Siegfried passes through the magic ring of fire and discovers sleeping Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme), the first woman he has ever encountered.  He utters his famous line “Das is Kein Mann!” (“That’s no man!”) and then awakens Brünnhilde.  Not only a woman, she is the feminine in himself.    Brünnhilde embraces her mortal life “Ewig was ich.”

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 sfopera.com/calendar 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 today’s performance of Siegfried are still available. Siegfried also plays: June 6, June 17, June 24 and July 1, 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 www.sfopera.com , 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

May 29, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment