Cher Public

Ring around the Bay

Here goes with the End of the Gods and the End of these Ring reviews: 

Götterdämmerung was more of a mixed bag than the other operas, but still left a powerful impression. This was where Zambello’s choice to steer clear of heavy spectacle was most evident to me. The cost in grandeur was offset by an absence of dumb bombast and a gain in intimacy and character definition. I don’t know how well that last factor would hold up in a revival director’s hands, but on the whole she made the approach pay off handsomely.  

Runnicles is not my idea of a great Wagner conductor, but I have to give him credit for clocking the performance out in a mere 5 1/4 hours, including intermissions, without seeming to rush. The only section I thought dragged this time was Act I after Hagen’s Watch – a difficult stretch to hold together in any case, and not helped by a weak Waltraute (more on her below). There were moments of miscoordination within the band, and the brass bobbled frequently, as they are wont to do in this house. Rather thin sonorities at various times during the cycle, especially in Rheingold and Walküre, initially made me assume Runnicles was working with reduced forces, but the roster shows a full complement of more than 100 musicians. Despite the occasional shortcomings, though, there was still a lot of noble sound to be heard – the conducting didn’t seriously get in Wagner’s way.

Ian Storey has a curious voice, a bit dry and not overly trenchant in the lower registers, but also not leathery or unattractive, and with a solid, penetrating top that carries well even over a Wagnerian orchestra. As I already mentioned elsewhere, he brought off a ringing high C in Act III. He’s also a good actor – not as instinctive and spontaneous as the excellent Jay Hunter Morris, but much better than run of the mill. He reproduced some of the physical mannerisms Morris had built into Siegfried, which also allowed him and Zambello to play up Siegfried’s amusing encounters with the unfamiliar blandishments of civilization chez les Gibichungs. Rather than trivializing him, his delighted reactions to cushy upholstery and swiveling bar stools humanized him and injected a welcome dash of humor into the Gibichung scene, which never dragged as it so often does. They also kept us aware that Siggy is naïve, not stupid.

On top of that, the reserves of goodwill Morris had built up made Storey’s death scene – with its recall of music from Siegfried, of course – all the more moving. I was grateful that rather than staging the Funeral March, Zambello left it entirely to the orchestra to tell the story under a sickly, mournful moon. They did it well. (For an example of just how cheesy and exploitative this moment can get, have a look at the Fura dels Baus version on Youtube. I refuse to link to it here.)

Stemme was a force of nature. The voice might not be as big as Birgit’s, but the middle and lower range are much richer. The pitch is much more secure than Gwyneth’s, and there are no worries about vocal health as there often were with Behrens. She topped off the Prologue duet with a gutsy though ever-so-slightly unsteady C, and even after giving 100% all the rest of the afternoon, she showed no sign of tiring for the Immolation. Hers is certainly the best-acted Brünnhilde I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’ve seen the Chéreau. Every moment is illuminated from the inside – one that especially sticks in the memory is her baffled, heartbroken attempt to get some kind of recognition out of Siegfried in Act II. Her rage makes far more sense if she’s tried to get through to him first: now, rather than just being oblivious, he’s brutally snubbed her. That was shocking, especially after the unusually affectionate, lingering farewell Zambello had staged for the two of them. (Meantime Siegfried’s occasional bouts of wooziness kept reminding us that he was still very much under the potion’s influence.)

But as good as Stemme was, her costumer failed her. Somebody needs to send Catherine Zuber back to costuming school. If Brunni’s leather bodice in Siegfried was merely unappealing, her bridal gown was an atrocity, making the attractive, athletic Stemme look like a stumpy Margaret Dumont (see photo above). Fine, I get the idea: fancy gowns and Brunni do not go together. Being dolled up can be a kind of imprisonment. That’s legit, and Stemme economically made the point by wearing what looked like combat boots underneath and stumbling over the hem at her first entrance. (I don’t doubt that she was also taking Birgit’s advice about being sure you have comfortable footwear for a long Wagnerian role.) But the fancy gown should at least be a good one, even if she wears it uncomfortably – the Gibichungs are nothing if not rich.

Gutrune’s dress was ill-fitted as well, and as the expert Bluecabochon pointed out, the lady was badly in need of a support garment under the clingy fabric. Melissa Citro’s is not a voice I would go out of my way to hear again, but she did a nice job of portraying Gutrune’s slightly airheaded turpitude and her transition to sisterly insight. Gerd Grochowski’s chinless nerdiness was OK for Gunther.

Andrea Silvestrelli’s huge, rock-solid, black bass and strong acting made him a wonderful Hagen, better in fact than my memories of Gottlob Frick. The Summoning of the Vassals was electrifying. And he was especially impressive in the Act II interchange with Alberich – sprawled face down in bed with his head buried upstage, yet projecting solidly all the while, helped a bit of course by the headboard.

The Rhine Maidens sang very well as they dispiritedly labored to clean up the Rhine, now nothing but a dry, trash-choked channel. The banter with Siggy was charming, but marred by a bad surtitle in which Siggy seemingly offered to trade the Ring for sex. There’s no sign of that in the original text, it’s completely out of character (especially for this sweet-natured Siegfried), and it provoked gasps in the audience. True, the scene was also making a point about how Siggy is gradually being corrupted by life with the Gibichungs – now he’s sunk to hunting deer with a semiautomatic – but this particular addition was uncalled for.

Daveda Karanas made an agreeable Second Norn, but the voice, acting skills and presence are all much too lightweight for Waltraute. Instead of a desperate messenger from the doomed gods, Brünnhilde received a visit from a worried Cherubino. The other Norns were very fine, and the idea of making them creepy cable electricians was terrific, the first injection of real uncanniness in the whole cycle.

I thought Zambello’s staging had more wobbles this time than in the earlier three operas. The concepts were generally sound, but it often seemed as though the timing or some other aspect of the execution was slightly off. Given how much she seems to have refined her work between the Washington and SF runs of the other operas, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these adjusted if this production comes back for a revival in her hands.

The opening of Act II – some of the most atramentously evil music ever written, so terrifying you almost wonder how the orchestra can hold on to their instruments to play it – was undermined by a laugh. Hagen and Gutrune are in bed (yes, they have a thing going), channel-surfing on a super-sized TV: you could see the enormous rectangular outline of its picture reflected on the wall behind them. Yet in spite of this stumble in how it was handled at first, the idea isn’t without substance. Gutrune eventually leaves, and Hagen goes to sleep with the TV still playing, a nice comment on the horrible emptiness of these people’s lives. By the end of the scene, as a slightly mystified Alberich warily raised the remote to change the channel, almost like a weapon, you could see the idea’s potential for creepiness.

Later in the same act, the Gibichung Hall was visually impressive but contained a serious design mistake: a very large area dead center stage swallowed up voices. No matter who sang there – Stemme, Storey, even Silvestrelli – it was as though someone had suddenly turned down the volume on them. Only the men’s chorus sounded really good from that location (and by the way, they were magnificent). Yet once again, the overall idea was basically sound: looking at that stainless-steel-and-black environment with its rigid lines and the bleak landscape beyond, along with the regimented movements of the chorus, I wasn’t the only Parterrian who flashed on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. I wish Michael Yeargan had found a less baldly utilitarian treatment for the sets throughout, and a more cohesive design vocabulary.

Another place where good ideas felt badly coordinated was, sadly, the Immolation Scene. There was real fire, but far too late – it began after Brunni jumped on the pyre. Walhalla came tumbling down impressively, in a projected rain of heroes’ portraits and broken masonry – but it happened during the Rhine music, not the Walhalla music. Poor Siegfried was unceremoniously dumped from a cart over the upstage edge of the rake, provoking a laugh (I doubt this will ever pan out as a good idea).

It was the Gibichung women and the Rhine Maidens who built the pyre out of bags of trash, and Brunni and Gutrune reconciled before the end – a nice way of reasserting women’s role after so much marginalization in this polluted world. But where at last were the men? Surely part of the whole dilemma of the Ring is the divorce between male and female energies. On its own, female energy is no more constructive than male (see Mr. and Mrs. Wotan). It’s the separation of Brunni and Siggy that leads to the ultimate catastrophe, and Brunni burns herself up to rejoin Siggy. A proper universal resolution demands the presence of both sexes.

But even here there were fine, imaginative strokes: Wotan’s ravens show up ominously at the end of the scene change into the Immolation set. The Rhine Maidens strangle Hagen, that human piece of refuse, with a plastic trash bag. And at the very end, after we’ve spent hours looking at grim, gray, industrial skies in a black-and-gray world, the sun breaks through with a brilliant blue sky, and a little kid comes forward and plants a tiny sapling: the first piece of three-dimensional greenery in this entire Ring.

Back in May, JJ and Oedipe mentioned quite rightly that the real problem with the Lepage Ring is that it seems to have no sense of the work’s larger issues. Zambello’s version does engage with a central theme, and rigorously carries it through to the very last note. There’s nothing earth-shaking in the insight that the Ring is partly about environmental degradation, but Zambello hammers it home so insistently and effectively that the final image of redemption and hope, trite as it may sound in the telling, brought tears. And even now, days later, and even though I live in a part of the country that still has great natural beauty, I find myself looking at our local patches of freeway devastation with new regret.

Do I think this Ring was a success? Absolutely. It’s not the version for all time, and will never satisfy those who insist on winged helmets and real horses. But if you accept it on its own terms, the strengths – most of all the beautiful attention to the interactions between characters – far outweigh the weaknesses. I’ve never seen a Ring that didn’t have serious drawbacks one way or another; I’m not sure such an animal even exists. But this version left me wrung out, thrilled, intellectually stimulated, and yearning for more. Götterdämmerung finished at 6:15 Sunday; I spent Monday in a state of dazed exhaustion; by Tuesday I would gladly have started the whole thing over again.

(Photo: Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera)

  • armerjacquino

    One look at the picture had me thinking that casting Tyne Daly as Brunnhilde was a brave choice.

    (beautifully written, as per, BattyM)

  • Buster

    Odd Zambello has never heard of Shapewear (TM) ….

    Enjoyed reading this a lot, and your earlier reports. Thanks!

    • Wearing that stuff makes the comfortable shoes rule look like nitpicking. And I wouldn’t be surprised if singers have strong opinions about what is going on in the diaphragm area.

      Stemme doesn’t need that, anyway, she just needs a dress that isn’t fugly.

      • Some singers notable for their strong opinions nevertheless have worn proper foundation garments.

        [img]http://parterre.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/lehmann.jpg[/img]

        • Well, I’m seeing Stemme as Isolde in a few weeks so I’ll see if she emulates Lotte or not there. I know some ladies prefer corsets for singing, but some probably don’t?

          Lovely review, BM, sorry for not noting that earlier.

          • Buster

            Unfaithfull Zerbinetta: Gutrune had problems, not Stemme. I always think of Shapewear ever since attending a class by Roberta Alexander on what to wear and what not to wear on stage. Shapeweas (TM) was an important part of her (very funny) presentation. The lady pictured above is Lilli, by the way, Lotte would never have fitted into something like that.

          • Oh, I’m sorry, I was going by what Batty said about Stemme and the picture, which is indeed a bit unfortunate. And the waistline of the Isolde above is alarming, I can’t imagine singing in that but I guess it could conceivably rearrange your insides in a helpful way.

  • Odd Zambello has never heard of Shapewear (TM)

    And yet, she obviously hasn’t.

    [img]http://parterre.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/zambello.jpeg[/img]

    • CruzSF

      Hmmm. Does the similarity of dress suggest that Zambello sees herself in Brunnhilde?

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      The garb is obviously influenced by that of the Hoelterhoff.

      • Alto

        And yet, compared to La Hoelterhoff, she is a veritable sylph!

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      It’s called spanx Francesca, learn it, live it, love it.

      • Loathe it.

      • ianw2

        And yet when Manuela says that, she’s the bitch.

  • armerjacquino

    Ok, I’m reeling from the fact that the other thread has been so summarily closed, with such an airy, partial dismissal of an issue which had clearly been of interest to quite a few people. La Cieca may not think some posters have an agenda; other people clearly do, but have been very definitely informed that we’re not allowed to.

    It’s la cieca’s site- she can do what she wants. But I don’t have to stick around to see it. Time to absent myself for a while, I think. Laters.

    • Does this mean you will no longer be posting 500 times a day?

    • rapt

      Possibly unlike Drew, I’ll be happy to see you back, AJ, your wit, intelligence, and even your well-grounded dudgeon among the highspots of Parterre for me.

    • Alto

      But doesn’t your circumventing the Doyenne’s clear wish by coming onto another thread to complain illustrate the very attitude for which your ranting was inhibited in another thread?

      Abusing hospitality always has its costs.

  • lorenzo.venezia

    dear batty, grazie tanto, thank you so much for such a lucid and beautifully written review of this Gotterdammerung. I was truly sorry to have missed this ring but it was not in the cards. I still have warm memories of the Gotterdammerung I saw there in 1985(?) with Eva Marton in stunning voice that night (much better than in Chicago in ’94-5!) in that woozy Caspar David Frederich-ish production. I take issue with only one thing you said; as snarkily dismissive as you are about the Fura dels Baus funeral music staging — and I have many reservations about that eclectic production — that was one moment that really worked, was galvanizing in fact, in the theater (Mehta’s conducing was also spot on there, cataclysmic, violent, snarling, majestic).

  • scargo

    Thank you Batty, loved reading your Gotterdammerung review. I can only hope the Met staff pay close attention.

  • SF Guy

    Batty--Another beautifully written, wonderfully detailed commentary; thanks yet again! I agree with your overall assessment of this Ring, and even though Gotterdammerung is not as well focused as Walkure and Siegfried, Stemme’s vivid acting pulls it all together. Everything feels spontaneous but meticulously detailed as she progresses from loving wife to estranged sibling to shocked, bewildered victim in Act One, vengeful wronged woman in Act Two, convinced that this is all part of Dad’s incredibly devious plan to punish disobedience, and infinitely wise heroine in Act Three, finally understanding what her role in this long unfolding tragedy is and that everything she has gone through was necessary to give her this knowledge, ready to again be the instrument of her father’s will by cleaning up his mess--returning the ring, torching Valhalla, and sending everything back to square one. (How’s that for a run-on sentence?) After Walkure and Siegfried, I was prepared for Stemme’s vocal excellence, but it was her acting that blew me away--one of the greatest performances I’ve seen on the operatic stage.

    Seen at Cycle 1 from the top of the balcony, the final conflagration began too soon to give the illusion that Brunnhilde’s torch had started it, but there’s probably no way it can work equally well from every vantage point. I didn’t find the projected cascade of hero-portraits sufficient to suggest the destruction of Valhalla, since we last saw them adorning Brunnhilde’s rock at the end of Walkure; to me, it suggested the unwinding of history as we move backwards in time to the point where we can start over. (Fortunately, the thought that “It’s Raining Men” didn’t occur to me until long afterwards.) And, Scrooge that I am, the “Let our garden grow” closing image left me dry-eyed; I don’t particularly care for the little girl in the white dress at the end of the Chereau production, and when she pats down a plant center-stage, I like it even less.

    I think there’s a reason that much of the final scene feels somewhat unfocused; I suspect Zambello realized early on that she had a serious problem fitting it into her overall conception: once you’ve established Valhalla as the tallest skyscraper in Manhattan, how can Brunnhilde torch it without evoking unwanted images of 9/11? A European production could have risked it, but not one originally commissioned for WNO. So Zambello tip-toes around the issue; we never get a clear view of Valhalla from the outside in Rheingold or at any later point; the reviewer in the L.A. Times seemed to think that Brunnhilde was torching the Gibichung’s power plant, and the conception is vague enough to suggest that as well. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/06/opera-review-san-francisco-opera-presents-a-new-ring-cycle.html
    This isn’t meant as a cricism; weeks after 9/11 I felt profoundly uncomfortable at SFO watching Sergei Larin’s Samson pull down the two giant columns and bring destruction to the godless heathen. Months afterwards, I still gasped a bit seeing Chereau’s Valhalla go up in flames as shocked crowds looked on from a distance. Current events can give us new, uncomfortable perspectives; even now, this is one piece of recent history Zambello is unwilling to confront here. (Heart of a Soldier will no doubt be a much safer proposition.) I miss seeing the destruction of Valhalla and all its symbolic baggage; after 16-plus hours, I want that visceral reaction. But I can live without it this time around.

  • Henry Holland

    From the thread that shall not be named:

    Regina delle fate, thank you for your considered reply re: Jo Barstow. I understand what you mean by “one of the those singers you really had to see rather than just hear”, I had that experience early on in my opera going career.

    It was maybe the 3rd or 4th live performance I attended, the great Peter Hall “Klimt” Salome, in 1989 here in Los Angeles. Maria Ewing was the Salome and even then in my newbie phase, I could tell her voice wasn’t right for the part. However, she was utterly compelling from the second she appeared on stage, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She’s the only singer I’ve ever been convinced was a spoiled 15-year old Prinzessin in the Dance and that was before she starting going au naturel at the end of it. She could barely sing the final scene, but it didn’t matter.

    Anyway, I think it is a bit rash to stop believing a word one magazine said – in fact it’s one magazine with hundreds of different viewpoints, as on Parterre – on the basis of one rave review for one disappointing record. But there you go.

    To make it clear, it was my friend Bill who had that reaction. By the time that review came around, he’d been reading Opera since the late 60’s; he gave me his collection in the early 90’s. The Barstow gushing review was simply the last straw for him, he’d been burned so many times, spent so much money on tickets and recordings by performers in live performances and on recordings that had been praised to the skies in the magazine but turned out to be third-rate crap that he just gave up reading the magazine altogether. See also: Gramophone and British conductors. Magazines --and websites-- may have numerous contributors but they certainly develop “personalities” and editorial points of view. This place is totally singer-centric, which is why I don’t read a lot of the content here.

    I had the same experience with Robert Hilburn, the ghastly pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times for what seemed like 8,000 years. He’d develop obsessions: Dylan > Springsteen > Elvis Costello > U2 and every. fucking. review. would have a mention of his current obsession: “Mr. Smith’s accordion recital at Royce Hall on Tuesday possessed the spirit and fire of Springsteen at his best” or “the balalaika trio from Minsk showed the same commitment on stage that Bono of U2 displays” etc. It got to the point that if he didn’t like something, I made a point to give it a listen.

    • Regina delle fate

      Henry -- you also have to remember that when Barstow was in her prime and de facto queen of ENO, the company boasted an ensemble that could field four Toscas, five Mimis or Violettas, at least three Marschallins. She not only sang the big rep but she was almost a fixture in contemporary works, too: Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudun, Henze’s The Bassarids, Gordon Crosse’s The Story of Vasco, and, at Covent Garden, Tippett’s The Knot Garden and The Ice Break. And it was through a new work, Penderecki’s Die schwarze Maske that she belatedly came into contact with Karajan who cast her as Tosca, Amelia in Ballo and was planning to record and stage Fidelio with her -- to great opposition from DG executives -- when he died. Now Karajan was a notoriosly uneven judge of singers, so I am not saying that his endorsement of Barstow means that she was a great singer, but he was clearly captivated by her stage presence and dramatic commitment as a singer. She is a true theatre animal and an undoubtedly a technically flawed singer, but I think she deserves recognition for her range. It is rare to find a singer who is as compelling in classical, romantic and contemporary works -- I have to say that Barstow illuminated almost everything she touched, with a voice that sometimes sounded as if it was trapped in the back of her throat. It sometimes wasn’t pretty, but then not all opera is pretty either. Another British soprano of her ilk with far narrower musical sympathies was Pauline Tinsley -- I will never forget their Act II of Jenufa with Welsh National Opera in the mid-1970s -- probably the most electrifying I have ever seen (alas I never saw Varnay or Rysanek as Kostelnicka, so Tinsley is my yardstick in the part). She was also a formidable Elektra, a role Barstow desperately wanted to do, but realised finally that it was probably beyond her. I think she may have sung Chrysothemis somewhere.

      • Alto

        So, when you guys are forbidden the front door, it is not beneath your dignity to break and enter by a cellar window?

        • Henry Holland

          I wasn’t aware that you were the gatekeeper here, Alto. Until such time as La Cieca indicates you are, mind your own damn business. Regina posted something that was not at all objectionable and the other thread was closed before I got a chance to reply and clarify.

          • Alto

            I spoke only as a humble fellow guest.

      • Often admonished

        By the time Wagner heard her Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient wasn’t much of a vocalist in classic terms, either. But he got it.

  • Krunoslav

    “Melissa Citro’s is not a voice I would go out of my way to hear again, but she did a nice job of portraying Gutrune’s slightly airheaded turpitude and her transition to sisterly insight.”

    I have heard Melissa Citro as Fiordiigi, Magda Sorel and Sieglinde, and I would most *definitely* go out of my way to hear her again: as Ariadne, as something like Jenufa (which she has done in Stuttgart) or as Elsa- that kind of thing.

    Let me ask you all: have you ever heard (live) a Gutrune whom the part flattered? I haven’t. Yes, Claire Watson and Sena Jurinac are pretty good on records, but it just isn’t a part that allows much of an impression to be made (positively--I’ve heard some bad ones, including by sopranos I’ve liked in other roles).

    • scifisci

      It’s true gutrune is a role that’s hard to make a good impression in, however I found the quality of Citro’s top notes to be quite unpleasant…extremely shrill. The singer I wanted to hear more of was the third norn, Heidi Melton. Did anyone catch her sieglinde?

      • MontyNostry

        I’ve seen Melton as Ariadne. Very impressive indeed.

        • Krunoslav

          “Melton as Ariadne. Very impressive”

          http://tinyurl.com/3ej9jf2

          “The great American tenor” as per Opera-L’s Sage of Princeton…

          • MontyNostry

            Kruno, you’ve lost me there.

    • fartnose mcgoo

      Someone I spoke to once told me that he realized Sondra Radvanovsky would become a big singer when he heard her as Gutrune about ten years ago at the Met. He described her as the best Gutrune he had heard in nearly fifty years of listening to the Saturday matinee broadcasts.

      I don’t know if that counts but…

      • Nerva Nelli

        Wow, I have liked Sondra lots in a lot of things but I thought she was utterly at sea as Gutrune in that run, not as good as Margaret Jane Wray. Everyone hears things diferently. To me the revelation there was Christine Goerke’s Third Norn.

    • Chrysothemis

      Ms Citro’s Freia was booed petty severely in the first cycle. I’d never actually boo a singer myself, but it was one of those times I just wished that the part was even shorter. Now, when Nina Stemme sang Freia at Bayreuth in 94…

      Anyway, I ended up liking her Gutrune quite a bit, simply because of her commitment to the part, which is rare. But I wouldn’t want to hear her as Sieglinde.

      • CruzSF

        Chryso, I was struck at how much better the singers who appeared in both Rheingold and Gott. were better in the second opera. Although I found her limited, I thought she was much, much more interesting and appropriate as Gutrune than as Freia. I had similar feelings about Grochowski (although I didn’t find him very strong in Gott., just stronger than in Rheingold). Silvestrelli … well, I’m just a fan at this point. I thought he was great as Fasolt (and could understand why Freia started to look at him favorably) but even more impressive as Hagen.

        Anyway, these were my impressions from cycle 2. I’m curious as to what you found in cycle 1.

      • Baritenor

        by “pretty severely”, I’m assuming you mean “by one loud guy in standing room.” Thats how I remember it…just one opera-goer unafraid to express his opinions in a way that makes him look like an ass. Because honestly, why boo Freia of all people? The role barely makes an impression and you spend 90% of your stage time standing behind your sisters looking frightened. The Same guy also booed Gordon Hawkins as Alberich. Both boos, In my opinion, where unjustified. Neither was brilliant, but neither was terrible. CItro was a little shrill, and Hawkin’s curse didn’t quite get off the ground the way it should. It wasn’t like they had disastrous performances.

        • Krunoslav

          This is the accouint I heard too. Was Feldmarschallin present? Apparently Alexandra Deshorties is still making voodoo dolls of him…

        • Chrysothemis

          Of course, Bartienor -- your impression is going to depend a lot simply on where you happen to be sitting, and this was just mine.

          I felt bad for her, because she so obviously put in a lot of effort. But the top just shouldn’t spread like that, especially at her age. And Freia IS an important part. It’s short and thankless, but the three central symbols are her, the ring and the spear. It has to be done right.

          I thought Hawkins was pretty hopeless too -- and that’s obviously a much bigger problem. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Fink lately, but to me Rheingold just falls apart without an Alberich who can project at least some kind of rage and menace.

  • Camille

    Darling Batty —
    Such a pleasure to read your balanced, comprehensive, non-inflammatory, intelligent and informative accounting of the Bay Ring. It’s appreciated by me very much as I had to make the hard decision: Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods OR William Tell this summer. I am hoping I’ve made the correct decision.

    I’m also hoping you will serve more often as our ex-officio SFO correspondant.

    Love and bisous,
    Camille

    PS — there are NOW EVEN SPANX for MOOBS! —
    I just spyed them in the Nordstrom men’s section this past week, selling for a cool 58 bucks a shirt. Comes in crew, v-neck, and, best of all, wifebeaters!
    Worth the investment for many a tenor!!

    • MontyNostry

      Re: Spanx … Doesn’t all that spandex get very hot and sticky, though? Reminds me of the old joke: “My wife has a new girdle. She now has a 24-inch waist. The problem is that she now also has a 48-inch neck.”

      • Camille

        Oh not at all! Monsieur Monty, they come in many different weights with their corresponding textures. There are light weight versions, suitable for warm climates and heavy leggings and tights suitable for the foggiest night in London town. About the various garments--I know nothing.

        Wolford is STILL the best, however.
        And sexiest.
        And the most expensive.

        Of course, there is nothing else to compare to French silk stockings!

  • DonCarloFanatic

    Batty, you noted all the things that bothered me about Gotterdammerung, and most of the things I liked. And how moving it all was. We didn’t start shouting and whooping at Ring 1 until the singers took their bows. The ending, whether the fire was believable or not, ill-timed or not, was very much the profound experience we came for.

    At one of the symposia beforehand, the designers talked about their deliberate choice of an awkward gown for Brunhilde in the wedding scene. I tend to agree that we could have been treated to her looking good in a dress but still wearing her boots, and that would have been enough.

    SF, I also thought the little girl and her sapling were far too precious. It was self-conscious and stagey at a moment when hope that the natural world will recover should come from something utterly natural and not under man’s control, like got instance a sprouting weed, rather than a child performing dutifully in a pageant.

    Still, despite many little moments that were awkward, the whole truly was greater than the sum of the parts.

    • CruzSF

      rather than a child performing dutifully in a pageant

      Don Carlo, I had the same feeling. In generous moments, I can come up with a scenario where this still fits the Concept. I.e., the women (and girl) are completing a ritual cleansing of the earth/world, a ritual started by Brunnhilde herself. But during the actual performance and for a long time afterward, I felt that final act was just a precious moment too far.

      • CruzSF

        Ooops. My quoting from DonCarlo was supposed to be set in a block. My apologies.

    • m. croche

      Artist’s recreation of Zambello’s Götterdämmerung finale:

      “It’s not such a bad little tree, it just needs a little love…”

  • CruzSF

    Batty M, I’ve already told you in person how much I agree with your review. But to add to the discussion here:

    I think I like the Gott. staging more than you did, but I had the advantage of not having any previous production with which to compare it. The Immolation scene was very moving, carried by Stemme’s sheer power as Brunnhilde. The staging, with someone other than Stemme, would have been very difficult to pull off.

    And I didn’t mind the way Siegfried was handled as a dead body. I thought it fit in perfectly with how low every character (except Brunnhilde) had sunk: a sad, pathetic end for the final member of a long line of heroes gone wrong. I don’t think it’s the only way to treat this character, and I look forward (I’m ever looking forward) to my next Ring to see how it differs.

    I agree with just about everything else you’ve written, across all four of your reviews. Storey and Morris (and Zambello, I’m sure) did a good job of continuity between the 2 Siegfrieds, despite their different bodies and their very different voices. Citro … well, I hope her voice grows into the role over the years. Although, I must say that she did a good job of combining Lauretta Tortelli and Morticia into a single character. Silvestrelli = wow. I loved to feel the air around me vibrate when he hit the lowest notes, such was the strength of his voice.

    Yes, there are many, many aspects of this Ring that I’ll hold dear for many years to come.

    • mifune

      Batty, thanks for this.

      I saw the third cycle, and thought the review was spot-on, especially regarding Zambello’s attention to the interaction between characters, something that was missing in the Lepage ring we have seen so far as well as in (the last revival of) the dreadful Schenk. Are there reviews of the first three parts? I can’t seem to find them on the site and don’t recall them coming up.

      • CruzSF

        mifune, the previous reviews were posted as comments in the Intermission (free-for-all) thread of 2 weeks ago.

  • Bart

    Nina Stemme was definitely the best thing in this Ring. I loved her! She even sings the trills! Hip hip hooray! Like most posters I thought the little girl with the sapling was such a contrived “Let me tug at your heart strings” moment that did not seem natural. Maybe if the little girl had appeared earlier trying to grow something and then finally succeeding I would have liked it better b/c we didn’t know who she was. It was a really “corny” moment. The environmental message was there throughout but not hitting us over the head until then, in my opinion. I was like, “Okay, I get it! You didn’t have to pull a cheap trick at the end!” But I did enjoy this Ring. I really thought I would find the production dumb, but I really enjoyed it.

  • So, as I understand it, the poetic theme of the Ring can be expressed as “Frauen… gut! Männer… schlecht!”

    One wonders why in the world that silly old fellow Wagner wasted all those hours getting around to the point when a clever gal like Zambello can so instantly grasp the utter simplicity and lack of nuance in the work?

    • CruzSF

      Wow.

    • Batty Masetto

      Whoa. I guess I did a really lousy job of describing the other 19 1/2 hours…

    • m. croche

      Even before seeing the Zambello Götterdämmerung I had the impression that this was a relatively feminist Ring. The Walküre Fricka was treated respectfully and lovingly by Wotan: she didn’t come off as a harridan, but as a spouse with an entirely reasonable complaint. The Hunding/Sieglinde staging clearly foregrounded the battered-spouse situations (so much so that it seemed at times as though Siegmund was talking to thin air, so absorbed were Hunding and Sieglinde in their own interactions). The onstage Woodbird has, for a bird, a well-developed character. The Erda of Siegfried is less earth-mother than former flame. And Zambello does her level best to make Gutrune an active, involved character in the Götterdämmerung and not the usual milquetoast creation. The Götterdämmerung Rheinmaidens are also more than bleating fish -- they really gang up on Siegfried, mock his hyper-masculinity by waving around a phallic gun, etc.

      Taken individually, they may not represent anything new in Ring stagings, but in toto they opened up for me fresh insights into the drama and the potential of the characters.

      Yes, the women-only ending goes a bit overboard with the feminist theme. Yes, Erda’s entrance through a giant V-shaped crevice induced a few giggles. Yes, too many characters spent too much time in the fetal position (Alberich in Rheingold, Wotan in his monologue (!!), Brünnhilde while sleeping in Walküre, Brünnhilde curling back up into the fetal position at least 3 times at the end of Siegfried and once again at the end of Act I Götterdämmerung.

      But most all of her ideas were completely legible. The singers also seemed fully committed to her conception as well, giving admirably detailed and well-planned performances. I don’t have to agree with everything a director does. If I say to myself afterwards “Yes, but….” then I still consider it a good evening (or four) in the theater.

      • I can’t really add much of anything to the insights Batty and Croche have brought to this staging. When I try to describe it to anybody, it ends up coming off heavyhanded and tacky, which wasn’t the case at all for most of the piece. While Zambello is not a great visual artist, her characterizations were nothing if not nuanced, and most of the corniest-sounding ideas actually came off very successfully. I’ve hardly ever been so moved by the end of an opera.

        Thanks to Batty also for organizing the Parterrorist meetups! Baritenor, SF Cruz, Jumping Clapping Man, and certainly a few whose pseudonyms I’ve forgotten—to my chagrin—hit me back, girls!—were all totally charming. What a great time.

    • Bart

      I think a feminist approach is very valid in the Ring.Wotan keeps trying for a male “hero” while a female daughter (who saves the day) is right under his nose. I think this sort of thing still goes on today. Wagner may not have intended a feminist story but something came out in his subconscious for some of us to see it. I am surprised any gay man would have any issue with a feminist approach. My generation would be okay with an even more radical feminist approach than Zambello’s. She kept things very mainstream as far as feminism is concerned.

      • m. croche

        A final (?) note on the Ring and feminism. A few years ago there was a premiere of a pretty interesting opera: Rosenthal’s Children. The composer was Leonid Desyatnikov (perhaps best known outside of Russia for his partnerships with Gidon Kremer) and the librettist was the controversial Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin. Sorokin’s work might be termed post-modernist: his novel Blue Lard contains a pastiche of literary styles (Pasternak, Platonov etc.) and gained infamy in Russia for its graphic sex scene between clones of Stalin and Khrushchev.

        Both artists pursued their interest in “simulacra” in “Rosenthal’s Children”: in that work, a scientist creates clones of Mozart, Wagner, Chaikovsky, Musorgsky and Verdi. (In the opera, the creator Rosenthal dies and his “children” are left to fend for themselves on the streets of contemporary Moscow, with predictably dire results.)

        I mention this all, because the Sorokin and Desyatnikov decided to make Richard Wagner a woman. As the example below makes clear, this isn’t really satire. Perhaps the sensuality and sensitivity of Wagner’s music drama led them to imagine him in this way.

        Alas, there’s only a short video clip available on the internet. A pirate radio transmission of the whole opera is on the web though, as is the Russian-language libretto. In this scene, Wagner is describing to Rosenthal a dream s/he has had about a swan…

        • Bart

          M. Croche, I read the SF Ring program on the plane ride back to Florida, and I read something in one of the articles that said Wagner was accused of dressing in drag in his day and that he had a penchant for fine fabrics which I had never heard before. I think your explanation of why Wagner is cast as a woman in that opera is more likely to be your ideas/ reasons, but I just wanted to mention what I read. You never know what the reason could be! LOL

          • m. croche

            Well on that score, one would have thought Chaikovsky a more likely candidate on feminization:

            In late Novemeber the Musical Society welcomed Camille Saint-Saens to Moscow. Almost immediately the witty and charming French composer, with his “dash of originality, which Pyotr Ilyich always liked in people,” had exercised his appear on Tchaikovsky. He possessed, according to Modest, “a certain ability to become intimate at once,” and the two musicians were soon fast friends, which have been facilitated by their recognition of their shared homosexuality. They also discovered a shared fondness for imitating female dancers. In exhibiting this skill, the two men went so far at one point as to perform, on the stage of the conservatory concert hall and in the sole presence of Nikolay Rubinstein, a short ballet entitled ‘Galatea and Pygmalion,’ in which the “forty-year-old Saint-Saens was Galatea, playing the role of the statue with unusual conscientiousness, while the thirty-five-year-old Pyotr Ilyich undertook to play Pygmalion.” Sending his photograph to Saint-Saens in Jaunary 1876, Tchaikovsky would remind him of this escapade in particular.”

            Alexander Poznansky. “Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man”, 166.

        • CruzSF

          m. croche, your ears are always open to the new and seek out the obscure corners of opera. Thank you for sharing so many of your finds. I always find your video and audio posts interesting, and enjoy many of them (I can’t remember one I haven’t enjoyed, but I leave the door open for such an example in the future!).

    • Chrysothemis

      You know what, that’s a really low blow. The whole reason why the Ring is still so vital is because it’s such an allegorically accurate depiction of the world and humanity as they really are. Whatever your worldview happens to be, you’re going to project it onto the piece, and you’re going to think that Wagner actually wrote the whole thing JUST for you.

      All the great productions have embraced this, as did Zambello’s (which is very much not one of them). For example: as a gay man, what I take from Walkure is that love has always to be deferred to, no matter what form it takes and how disgusting society finds it to be. And when someone who is not like you actually meets you and your boyfriend in person, they do change their minds. Meanwhile, the Nazis thought it was about “racial hygiene”.

      I actually didn’t like the production very much, but it was obviously well thought out, and, to get back to my first point, I now know how ms Zambello sees the world. Not that I necessarily care.

      And either way, I was just sort of dazed through the whole thing by the fact that I was actually watching Nina Stemme’s first Brunnhilde. If my husband and I ever get around to adopting, I can use that to bore my grandchildren for hours and hours.

  • brooklynpunk

    Reading all our West-coast friends reviews has really made ore eager then ever to actually see this production..I don’t know if the question has been asked before…but…has this SF RING been taped for broadcast, or dvd…?

    And, will it be broadcast on the radio./internet, as most SFOpera is…eventually..?

    All in all it sounds like many Bravi’s are due towards SFOpera…and to Ms. Zambello…!! (once again…I made the wrong choice, by moving back to nyc, it seems……lol…!)

    • SF Guy

      Gockley had a permanent multi-camera system installed about five years ago, so at least three performances of every SFO production are now preserved (including all camera feeds, for fine-tuning later). So far, eight productions have had limited theatrical distribution (unfortunately, nothing but standard rep):
      http://sfopera.com/Watch-Listen/Grand-Opera-Cinema-Series.aspx

      The performances that feature “OperaVision” in the balcony are the ones being recorded; sitting in the balcony for this Ring, I had a preview of what a video release would actually look like. This production transfers quite well to the small screen; it catches the many detailed character interactions while minimizing the occasional scenic gaffes. If there’s a way to find a distributor for this Ring, I’m sure Gockley will find it. I just hope that final image is shown in extreme long shot…

  • Thanks for the splendid review, Batty. Along with your previous reviews, it was great to follow the SFO Ring from across the continent.

  • sfmike

    The direction was actually a lot more nuanced than “Frauen…gut! Männer…schlecht!” and what made the production really work as a feminist take was the performance of Nina Stemme. By the end of the cycle, one could actually believe in her as the redeemer of a totally trashed world. When was the last time that happened in a Ring cycle?

    The best part of the production, though, was the music and I for one thought that Runnicles and the San Francisco Opera orchestra performed magnificently, getting stronger and smoother with each of the three cycles. Overall, it really was a triumph, something I was not expecting at all after seeing the first installment, “Das Rheingold,” three years ago.

    • Alto

      “When was the last time that happened in a Ring cycle?”

      Well, never, I’d have thought. But why is that a good thing? Is changing the meaning of the cycle supposed to be the object?

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        Why is that not a valid interpretation, Alto? It strikes me as a pretty straight forward one- no big stretch from the text as you seem to imply.

      • Batty Masetto

        Waltraute says that once the Ring goes back to the Rhine, “erlöst wär’ Gott und Welt” -- “the god and the world would be redeemed” (from the curse).

        According to Cosima, quoting her husband, “Das Motiv welches Sieglinde der Brünnhilde zusingt, [ist] die Verherrlichung Brünnhilden’s [sic], welche am Schluss des Werkes gleichsam von der Gesamtheit aufgenommen wird.” (“The motif Sieglinde sings to Brünnhilde is the ‘Glorification of Brünnhilde,’ which at the end of the work is so to speak taken up by the entirety.”) Why the universal glorification if giving the Ring back hasn’t redeemed things as expected?

        So I’d say the evidence is pretty ironclad that the meaning has been right there from the start, but I agree with Sfmike that it doesn’t always come through that way.

        • Chrysothemis

          Couldn’t agree more, Batty. You could spend a lifetime studying these scores without figuring everything out, but this, the most important (and to be blunt, obvious) clue of them all, somehow keeps being overlooked.

  • Baritenor

    This is a wonderful review and I agree on most if not all of the key points. I’d like to correct Batty on one point, which actually is pretty crucial: while only women build Siegfried’s pyre and witness the immolation, they were joined by men onstage during the destruction of Vallhalla, and both sexes are onstage for the final tableau. So it’s not as if Zambello is indicating that the new world order will be a paradise inhabited only by women or something.

    • Batty Masetto

      I’m sorry I missed that somehow, Baritenor, but I’m glad it’s so.