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BWW Review: DAS RHEINGOLD at Home Computer Screens

The Gods Steal the Money to Pay for Their New Home

BWW Review: DAS RHEINGOLD at Home Computer Screens On Saturday, March 6, 2021, San Francisco Opera did a wonderful thing. The company put the opening opera of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen online, free to the world of opera lovers and the universe of the curious. Anyone with access to the Internet can see the entire Ring on weekends in March and I, for one, am extremely grateful.

The video stream opened with Donald Runnicles conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in the captivating sounds of Wagner's overture visualized in projections by S. Katy Tucker showing volumes of air bubbles moving below the surface of the Rhine. Since the Ring is about imaginary Norse Gods and their money problems, the director has enormous free rein in creating the design of the production. In the first scene of Director Francesca Zambello's production, the Rhinemaidens don't swim in the river. Instead, wearing feminine outfits not designed for efficient swimming, they they cavort with Alberich on the rocks at the water's edge.

Zambello and set designer Michael Yeargan placed their Ring in an imaginary time with the first scene in the river and the second on a pleasantly sunny patio above the river bank. Catherine Zuber dressed Wotan as a gentleman in knee britches and boots while Fricka, Freia and other female characters wore pastel-colored chiffon. Giants Fasolt and Fafner were on stilts, had enormous metallic hands, and wore hugely padded blue denim. Alberich and Mime also wore work clothes while gods and demi-gods wore suits.

Lighting Designer Mark McCullough's first scene is cool with blue water and his second is yellow with sunlight. He lit the Nibelheim scene in red and gold so that it gave viewers the impression of intense heat in Alberich's forced labor workplace. The tarnhelm glistened, the ring sparkled, and Alberich's changes from dwarf, to monster, and to toad were lightening fast.

Greer Grimsley embodied the majesty of Wotan with his commanding presence and compelling, darkly bronzed voice that was heard through rather than over Wagner's heavy orchestration. Although he treated his wife with seeming gentility, Wotan had no qualms about giving her sister, Freia, to the giants and he seemed right at home with the machinations of Loge, the constantly-moving fire demi-god. Played by Štefan Margita, Loge was a charismatic trickster whose tenor voice rang out with strong clear tones. Jamie Barton's Fricka was a dignified lyric character who pled her just cause with plaintive honeyed tones and with elegant phrasing. While singing with vocal power, Julie Adams as Freia kept pawing the giant Fasolt, from whom she supposedly needed to be rescued.

The giants, Fasolt and Fafner, sung by Andrea Silvestrelli and Raymond Aceto looked huge by means of stilts and padded costumes. I've seen a great many Rings and this was the best incarnation of the giants in my experience. Silvestrelli sang with the brightest of bass tones while Aceto produced a darker, more malevolent sound that foretold Freia's possible doom. David Cangelosi was most effective as Alberich's sorely oppressed brother Mime.

Ronnita Miller, once the pride of Los Angeles Opera's young artist program, now sings around the world. She sang an authoritative and graceful Erda with plum velvet tones. Another bit of luxury casting gave us heldentenor Brandon Jovanovich as Froh and his golden tones caressed the air while Brian Milligan as Donner cleared the stormy sky and the gods prepared to enter Valhalla.

Still lamenting their loss of gold, the plaintive cries of Rhinemaidens Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde, sung by Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese, and Reneé Tatum, could be heard in the background. However, Wotan and his family were in no mood to let the Rhinemaidens spoil their jubilation in having successfully paid for the palace with stolen gold.

Donald Runnicles and his glorious orchestra gave the world-wide audience the complete orchestral sound tapestry, from the whispered first Eb on the strings at the beginning of the prelude to Alberich's loss of the ring and the grand finale at the Rainbow Bridge. For information on the March 13 and 14 performances of the second opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle, Die Walküre, go to sfopera.com

Cast and Creative Artists: Wotan, Greer Grimsley; Loge, Štefan Margita; Alberich, Falk Struckmann; Fricka, Jamie Barton; Erda, Ronnita Miller; Mime, David Gangelosi; Fasolt, Andrea Silvestrelli; Fafner, Raymond Aceto; Donner, Brian Milligan; Froh, Brandon Jovanovich; Freia Julie Adams; Woglinde, Stacey Tappan; Wellgunde, Lauren McNeese; Flosshilde, Reneé Tatum.

Director, Francesca Zambello; Conductor, Donald Runnicles; Set Michael, Yeargan; Costumes, Catherine Zuber; Lighting, Mark McCullough; Projections, S. Katy Tucker.

Photo of a scene from Das Rheingold by C. Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera.


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