Sunday, July 31, 2011

Everything About It Is Appealing

It's getting to be a summer full of operatic road trips. Your intrepid reporter and his bud hit the road once again, this time to spend the weekend with Debs at Glimmerglass. Well, maybe not with Debs. But Debs and I have a thing going on.  We've been sending each other passionate messages on Twitter for ages now. And of course we're on first-names basis. OK, everybody else in the world calls her Debbie, but I'm very special to her. Really. What?

So when I read that Debs was doing Annie Get Your Gun, I knew I had to see it.  And when I read she was doing a solo show called Voigt Lessons, I knew I had to see that, too. And when I found out she was doing Voigt Lessons on a Friday and Annie Get Your Gun on a Saturday, I had no choice. It was a sign from above. My bud and I bought tickets, arranged for a hotel room, and hit the road!  (More after the jump!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest blogger/spy EB reports on Andrea Chénier at Bregenz

One of the joys of blogging and tweeting--and indeed, any sort of life as a cyberjunkie--is finding like-minded individuals whom one would welcome as real-life friends, often people we might not ever have met.  One such is Ed Beveridge, who tweets as dredbeveridge. Not only is he accomplished in his own field, but he is an avid opera lover, and he agreed to report on his trip to Bregenz to see Andrea Chénier. I am happy it appears Ed saw it the night that dear Arnold Rawls sang the title role. The New York Times said the following about Arnold:  "Chénier, long a cherished role of Italian dramatic tenors, finds a creditable exponent in the American tenor Arnold Rawls, whose voice has an easy flow in midrange yet rang out excitingly in the big, high-lying moments."

What follow after the jump are Ed's impressions from the performance:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Women on the Verge

Once again, to serve you, my adoring public, I hit the road on Sunday to enjoy some opera and to write about it. I ventured deep into the Garden State to see Opera New Jersey's presentation of Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul Sunday afternoon, as well as their presentation of a staged reading of Thomas Pasatieri's new work The Family Room Sunday evening. Both were at the McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton University.

Mr. Menotti's The Consul was first performed in 1950. The story takes place in an unnamed European country, where John Sorel, a political dissident, is forced to escape the Secret Police of his country's oppressive regime, and his wife Magda must jump the bureaucratic hurdles necessary to obtain a visa to emigrate to the country where Sorel expects to find protection. Needless to say, it doesn't end happily.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Golden Age Clip of the Week--1970 Verdi Requiem

Dear Coloraturafan has been posting some amazing complete performance videos on YouTube, for which we are eternally grateful! A great example is this, a 1970 Verdi Requiem conducted by Mr. Abbado, with quite a quartet: Renata Scotto, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and Nicolai Ghiaurov.  Wow!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

RIP Cornell MacNeil

Dear Cornell MacNeil, one of the greats of the sort this blog was born to feature, left this mortal coil today.  Here is his Wikipedia bio-blurb.  And following are clips from two of the roles he was most identified with:

Rigoletto, 1977, the Met:

Scarpia, 1965, Genova:

Golden Age Clips of the Week--Asile héreditaire

I'm still on a Guillaume Tell kick, after having seen it last weekend at Caramoor. I do wish I could have seen the second performance for comparison, but it was not to be.

I offer you this week some prime clips of the daunting tenor aria "Asile héreditaire"

First the amazing Nicolai Gedda, from a 1973 recording:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Magic Flute at the Lincoln Center Festival

As part of the Lincoln Center Festival, C.I.C.T/Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord is presenting A Magic Flute through July 17 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. It is called A Magic Flute rather than The Magic Flute, according to the interview with director Peter Brook excerpted in the program, because it is a sort of reinvention, a “journey of discovery.” I am a big lover of The Magic Flute. My blog is called Taminophile, after all. I’ve seen other reinventions of the story, and of course many traditional productions and excerpts, and I think this production is on a par with some of the best. I was charmed and amused and enriched by the experience Sunday evening.

Click here to see the full review at Opera Pulse.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What? All of It?

Your intrepid reporter ventured up to Caramoor again on Saturday for a day of Rossini. Saturday's Bel Canto at Caramoor presentation was Mr. Rossini's 1829 masterpiece Guillaume Tell. The title of this post refers not to Rossini's retort upon being told one day in the 1830s that the Paris Opéra would present Act II of Tell, from an oft-told (I lost count on Saturday) anecdote. Oh no! It refers to the question this reporter fielded more than once the next day upon mentioning he'd seen the opera--"Did you stay to the end?"

It was a long, long day, starting at 3:00 with a lecture/discussion by Caramoor Opera Director Will Crutchfield and Amazing Musicologist Philip Gossett about the many versions of Guillaume Tell and how the opera influenced the Grand Opera tradition. Actually quite an interesting discussion. It included background about how cultural and political differences between France and Italy made Italian translations of the work in Rossini's time, and practically all Italian translations since, much weaker than the original. Most of the story revolves around the Swiss fight for national independence, and such sentiments were banned by Italian censors of the time. Mr. Gossett gave examples for particularly weak and in some cases amusingly bad Italian versions of some of the most important lines referring to la liberté.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Guest blogger/spy RW reports on Cendrillon at ROH Covent Garden

Joyce DiDonato and friends in Cendrillon
Picture stolen without apology from
Royal Opera House Covent Garden opened with Mr. Massenet's rarely heard Cendrillon last week. The Guardian liked it very much. The Telegraph said "The Royal Opera’s rather dull 2010-11 season finally brightens up with a charming and entertaining production of Cendrillon..."

Taminophile has spies in London, and his friend RW writes the following, after having attended the general rehearsal. (I think in Americanese we'd call that the final dress.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Golden Age Clips of the Week--Winterstürme

I'm a little late with weekly singer, but I have a doozy for you today.  The wonderful posts of my dear friend Jeff Nytch as he experienced San Francisco Opera's Ring inspired me to go digging for videos of great Wagnerians of yore.

James King, whom I've featured before (no date given):

Click below for more:

Monday, July 4, 2011

The cycle ends in brilliance

By Guest Blogger Jeff Nytch

The first Ring opera I ever saw Live was the Met’s production of Götterdämmerung in 1989. The all-star cast included Hildegard Behrens as Brünnhilde, Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegfried, and Matti Salminen as Hagen. The day I went was the actual performance later pressed onto the DVD release, and it was one of the great musical and theatrical experiences of my life. As I approached yesterday’s conclusion of the cycle at San Francisco Opera, I wondered if I would ever have another experience like that one, or if I would ever encounter another Brünnhilde with the vocal power and strength as an actress that I’d witnessed in Behrens (even as I warned myself of the pitfalls of making such comparisons).

Well, I needn’t have worried. Despite my misgivings about aspects of Friday’s staging of Siegfried, the conclusion of the San Francisco Ring Sunday afternoon at the War Memorial was a blockbuster, a home run, a performance to remember, and any other superlative you wish to concoct.

It was, to put it another way, stunning.

Let’s start by talking about the singing. Ian Storey took over the role of Siegfried, presumably to spare the young Jay Hunter Morris a second marathon role in the space of 36 hours. It was a good pairing of Siegfrieds, since the men bear a fair resemblance to each other both physically and vocally. Also, Storey brings a greater gravitas to the role, which is a nice nuance: Brünnhilde tells us she has shared all her wisdom with her lover-hero, and it would indeed seem as if Siegfried has grown up in a very short space of time. I wasn’t particularly blown away by Storey’s performance – until, that is, his final dying monologue, in which he relives a vision of his first meeting with Brünnhilde. It was positively heartbreaking, and I’m not sure I breathed for its duration; as the funeral music began, I had to pull out a handkerchief: my entire face was wet.

Andrea Silvestrelli, whom you’ll recall me raving about in his role of Fasolt in Das Rheingold, returned in the role of Hagen. Once again he was positively astounding: he has all the resonance and darkness of the finest basses, but never at the expense of focus and clarity. His calling of the vassals in the Act II chorus scene was chilling for its power, his manipulation of others was dripping with deceit and veiled malice, and when he strikes at Siegfried and attempts to seize the ring in Act III he becomes positively unhinged with hatred. I cannot imagine a better Hagen, either vocally or as an actor.

I found Gerd Grochowski’s Gunther to be extremely compelling, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why. Vocally he was certainly very strong, but it wasn’t the voice that was distinctive. It’s that he found exactly the right tone for the character: the mix of arrogance and insecurity that drives him – and then, when the full extent of Hagen’s treachery becomes apparent, reluctance and even regret for what he’s helped perpetrate. It was the most nuanced take on Gunther I’ve seen, and it added a valuable dimension to the plot.

In a similar vein was the treatment of Gutrune, sung by Melissa Citro. So often Gutrune is sort of a throw-away character, largely in the dark as to what’s really going on, and once Brünnhilde appears at the end, largely pushed aside. In this production she was played as a sort of runway model trophy girl, right down to her slinky evening dress and the long blonde hair. Though I did not particularly care for Citro’s voice (she has one of those vibratos that needs less amplitude and more focus to the pitch), she played the character brilliantly. And at the end, Director Zambello had her and Brünnhilde engage in some wordless reconciliation that I thought was a nice touch: both women were victims of a heartless scheme, and both were there for each other in the end.

But this opera is about Brünnhilde, and its success or failure hinges on the portrayal of that character. Nina Stemme was more than up to the task. Whether we be talking about her as an actor – joyfully and lovingly sending off her hero to explore the world in the Prologue, fiercely denouncing the scheme in Act II, or finding herself again in the Immolation Scene, blissfully proclaiming her fate; or as a singer – nailing the high notes with power, bringing a steely fury to her Act II denials, or tenderly reflecting on her fallen hero at the end, this woman has what it takes. She was absolutely radiant. I’m not up on who else is singing this role right now in the big houses (other than the mixed reviews Deborah Voigt is receiving right now in the Met’s production), but I cannot imagine a finer Brünnhilde. Will she become the new standard by which her contemporaries are measured? I think she very well could.

Now let’s talk production. It was an unseasonably warm day Sunday in San Francisco, and as we entered the historic War Memorial house the air was hot and stuffy. As my Ring companion lamented the conditions for this the longest of all the operas I quipped, “Well, we can just pretend we’re back in Bayreuth for the premiere: I don’t imagine they had air conditioning then, either!”

But of course, we weren’t in Bayreuth, and this isn’t 1876. I mention this because any production of the Ring is as much about the theatrical approach as the music, and as I’ve noted elsewhere a work of this scope and complexity naturally lends itself to a wide range of conceptual frameworks.

One cannot simply stick with the way they did it in 1876.

For me, what makes a concept successful or not is simply whether it meets two standards: it is in sync with the libretto and the music, and does it bring us to a greater understanding of the drama in question. These ends can be accomplished through a traditional staging or an avante garde one, and whether or not I find it successful has nothing to do with which end of the spectrum it originates: I’ve seen traditional settings with stupid blocking that makes no sense or conceits of characterization that contradict basic aspects of the role, and I’ve seen pretty far-out productions that work wonderfully.

And overall this production was a mixed bag: I had some misgivings about aspects of Rheingold, but not to the extent that I felt Zambello had seriously missed the mark. I thought Walküre was pretty much spot-on; I found some aspects of Siegfried particularly unsatisfying. I thought the video montages throughout to be seriously lacking. Such ups and downs are inevitable in a production of this size and compass, and I feel that they succeeded far more often than not. Still, it came down to the final test. As always, it comes down to Götterdämmerung.

Right off the bat, the opening scene with the Norns was nothing short of brilliant: the journey from unspoiled nature to industrial wasteland has been completed: we’re now in a totally digital world, with nature nowhere to be found. The Norns weave electric cables within the innards of a huge computer. A more dramatic contrast with the opening of the cycle, with its three Rhinemaidens in an unspoiled river, could not be imagined – and it struck exactly the right tone and made exactly the point that needed to be made. (With Heidi Melton, Daveda Karenas, and the glorious Ronnita Miller singing the roles, the sound was exquisite as well.) This was a perfect example of how a modern concept can not only “work,” but can enhance our experience of the story; this opening scene was a stroke of genius.

Moving forward from there, the Gibichung Hall was made of gleaming stainless steel: sleek, powerful, and soulless. Outside the sky is completely clogged with noxious clouds. Almost all color has been drained away. And how would they stage reappearance of the Rhinemaidens at the beginning of Act III? After all, with all this industrial waste how are these innocent water nymphs to fit into the picture? Why, they’re hopelessly (but tirelessly) trying to clean up the despoiled river: piles of recycled plastic bottles, tires, and other trash are piled up where they once frolicked in the waves. (A bit heavy-handed, perhaps? But how else is one to stage this scene given the construct? It was another stroke of genius, I thought.)

And there is perhaps not a more challenging set of stage directions than the closing moments of the opera, where Brünnhilde’s pyre burns down the Gibichung Hall, Valhalla goes down in flames, and the Rhine overflows its banks to cleanse the world. How would they stage this, I wondered? In this case, less was more: using projections (and more than a little theatrical smoke), the stage appeared to be caught up in a cleansing whirlwind. The sense of things being wiped clean was stronger than any more literal staging I’ve seen. The stage had already been largely cleared of the crowd, lending Brünnhilde’s funeral oration a more intimate, personal feel (which Stemme played to perfection), and when she commands the pyre to be lit it’s the women who appear to help her (assisted by Gutrune). We get the sense that women have indeed redeemed the story, and as the music relaxes into the “mightiest of miracles” theme (heard only once before, in Walküre), a young child brings out a sapling and plants it, thus starting the cycle of life over again from a clean slate.

Back on Day One of this journey, I said that in order for a production of the Ring to fully succeed one must experience transcendence. For this story is more than dragons and swords, gods and maidens and potions. It’s about the nature of humanity and our place in the world – and to fully enter into communion with those concepts one must transcend the particulars of the setting and grasp something deeper and more significant. It can happen quite suddenly, and when it does everything is changed in an instant. For me, when that child appeared, dressed in white and bearing a new sapling, I had my moment at last.

A Quick Update

By Guest Blogger Jeff Nytch

Well, we're done with the cycle....and it was an amazing finish. I'm bound for a red-eye to Pittsburgh for the Fourth, so you'll have to wait for my final installment. But for now, know that in the end we got a Ring that came together with force and beauty, and that I'll be basking in the experience for a long time.

More soon!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Leaving the fairy tale behind...

By Guest Blogger Jeff Nytch
Folks will often ask me which of the four Ring operas is my favorite. It’s a more or less impossible choice, for each opera has its own unique flavor and characteristics, and I love each one in its own way. But if I were pressed to choose, I’d have to say my favorite is Siegfried. Articulating why this is true is not easy: yes, there is an inordinate amount of particularly beautiful music in this opera, and yes, there is exciting action and tender intimacy in equal measure. But that doesn’t really get at it. I think, in the end, the reason why this opera stands out to me is that it’s the perfect balance of form and function (the acts are structured as a kind of overlapping web of sonata form fused with variations), and gets right at the heart of that aim we discussed earlier, the drawing together of myth and psychology.

It’s also the shape of the thing itself. One commentator (whose name escapes me) termed it, “Wagner’s sunny Scherzo” within his dark symphony. And that’s right: each act positively soars, taking off in an upward trajectory in a way that none of the other operas does. It is a sunny ray of innocence and hope in the midst of a dark and downward journey.

It’s also, of the four, the most like a fairy tale: the hero, raised in the dark forest, becomes a man by slaying a dragon, overcomes all barriers with an innocent lack of fear, and wins a sleeping maiden by awakening her with a kiss. Doesn’t get more “fairy tale” than that. Wagner then deepens this tale, of course, by making it a critical link in the larger tale, and then by exploring the psychological issues inherent in this archetypal story. It’s an opera that is both pure and innocent while possessing all the complexity that is required for this point in our story. And lastly, it embodies a duality, a contradiction that is at the heart of the cycle as a whole: the fate of the gods is sealed, and the tragic events that will lead to their downfall and the death of our hero are beginning to fall like dominoes – and yet, these events are nonetheless couched in terms that are innocent, beautiful, and redeeming.

And if you want to really get inside me, give me that kind of duality and I’m yours forever.

So. What of this production? After taking something of a break in Walküre, the production theme of the western American paradise despoiled by industrialization returns with a vengeance. For instance, rather than the first act taking place deep in a primeval forest, it takes place in an industrial wasteland – a dumpy old trailer next to a garbage dump, with the only forest visible forest being a forest of electrical wires. Fafner’s lair of Act II is the inside of an old factory, and the dragon itself is an industrial “monster” driven by the giant. When we return to Brünnhilde’s rock in Act III, the place has crumbled and fallen into disrepair since we last saw it at the end of Walküre.

I had some problems with all of this – and not because of the theme driving such a staging, but simply in the fact that the setting is now seriously out of sync with the music (and the libretto). For instance, in the first scene Siegfried brings home a bear he has found in the woods; Mime is terrified, and after some good-natured tormenting of his caretaker Siegfried lets the bear go. In this setting, what on earth is a bear doing in the middle of an industrial wasteland? (And only in San Francisco could this line inspire a huge laugh from the audience: “I like bears fine, but why do you have to bring them home?”)

In Act II, the Forest Bird is a woman in a stylish red trench coat who suddenly and inexplicably appears on some scaffolding up in the factory, and my first thought was “somebody from Downtown is seriously lost if she’s walking around this place….” The dragon has become this industrial machine driven by Fafner the giant, but when Siegfried slices the machine’s hoses to “slay” it, Fafner falls out of the cockpit, bleeding and dying; what the connection is between this machine and the giant is pretty loose, and it definitely seemed like one of those moments when the production concept was maintained at the expense of sense. This continued with the sudden opening up of the back of the factory to reveal….a pristine forest scene. Are we being led to believe that this forest was hidden inside this huge factory? Or…. Huh? Lastly, as Siegfried is surveying the death and mayhem around him (with both Fafner and Mime lying dead in a heap), he finds a gasoline can, soaks the bodies, and prepares to set the corpses on fire. The Forest Bird gives him a gesture of “No,” and he relents, but the whole time I’m wondering what on earth this has to do with any aspect of either the story or our hero’s development: despite these deaths, and the knowledge of the world he is slowly attaining, he is still an Innocent. That he would have any malice toward these characters is completely inconceivable; the significance of their passing is totally lost on him, except for the fact that he is now alone in the world and wonders what is next for him.

And all of this unfolds against some of the most serene and beautiful music ever written. The forest music of Act II is the literal sonic embodiment of sunlight and the way it filters down through the leaves to reach the forest floor. It is as far away from what we’re seeing onstage in this production as could be imagined. And so one has to wonder what’s driving what here: does the production concept trump what’s in the score or the development of our characters in the libretto? When that happens to this extreme I have to conclude that it’s a production concept that has gone off the rails.

On the up-side we have more terrific singing and acting. David Cangelosi fulfilled the promise we saw in Das Rheingold by giving us an outstanding Mime: portrayed as sly and duplicitous but with a sort of comic cluelessness, and sung with a compelling range of color and expression. Mark Delavan as Wotan/The Wanderer, clearly rested from his day off, struck just the right balance of a god who has resigned himself to his fate but is still clinging to his power and pride. I wish Stacey Tappan’s Forest Bird has a little less Warbler in it, but she played it well. And Ronnita Miller’s stately Erda once again moved me with the richness and depth of her lowest register: a true contralto, which is a rare bird indeed.

But you want to know about our hero and heroine. Jay Hunter Morris certainly looks the part of Siegfried: young, blonde, handsome and strapping, he is the epitome of the Germanic hero. I have to say that I disagreed with the way he was playing the character, particularly in Act I: the young man has the roughness and hubris that come from innocence and an upbringing isolated from the rest of the world, but he’s not a bully, and he doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body. He’s an oaf, a bull in a china shop, but he’s not mean. The other problem I have with this characterization is that it makes his Act III transformation to adoring boy who learns fear through love less plausible – and since that transformation is essential to the rest of the story, that’s a rather big problem to have created.

Still, vocally I was impressed. I had a hard time discerning what goods he brought to the table in the earlier acts – in Act I he was simply drowned out by the orchestra (more on this below) and in Act II he has much gentler music; I ended Act II wondering if he was going to have the strength to hold his own with Nina Stemme. But as soon as Act III opened I realized that he’d just been holding out on us, saving himself for the big finale: his voice was rich, golden, and bright – and more than powerful enough to pair with Ms. Stemme.

And of course there’s Ms. Stemme herself. What a wonderful Brünnhilde she is turning out to be! I loved the way she played her awakening (one of my favorite moments in the entire cycle): at first she was blinded by the first sunlight she’s seen in something like 20 years; but then, as her eyes adjust, an enormous smile erupts on her face and she opens up her body to hail the sun, and life (accompanied, of course, by that glorious climax in the orchestra). Later, as she confronts her new identity (“I have no more weapons. I am no longer Brünnhilde!”), she expresses her conflict superbly, her body and facial expressions reflecting each subtle wrinkle in the music. And when she resolves her dilemma and embraces her love of Siegfried, she does so with abandon. Here is a singer who has the full set of gifts necessary to play this role: consummate acting, with vocal expression ranging from tender to powerful.

I found myself frustrated with the orchestra, however. The entire first act it played without nuance at all: it was simply loud, louder, loudest. Yes, the scoring is incredibly heavy throughout, but there was much that was simply not at an appropriate dynamic. We saw a little bit of this problem in Walküre, but last night it was totally out of control. Maestro: put a lid on your orchestra.

The final scene was nothing short of spectacular: exquisitely acted and sung, with the exuberance of new love and hope seeping out in every direction. I have often likened the end of Siegfried to the taking off of a jet: loud and powerful, but inexorably up. I just wish I could get past some of the problems with production and orchestra. But then again, I suppose we’re always hardest on the one we love the most.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A few random bits during our break...

By Guest Blogger Jeff Nytch
Since last night we were on a break, I thought I’d use today’s entry to mention a few random bits in a lighter vein.

For instance, let’s talk about the seats at San Francisco’s War Memorial. They look promising – broad and deep, and with ample upholstery. Instead, they’re angled in just such a way as to put all one’s weight on one’s butt bones – while not supporting the back and pinching the legs behind the knees. Both nights my tuckus has been numb after about 10 minutes. This is not good news when one is facing an extended evening in such a device as one of these seats. NOT.

= = = = = = = = = =

The Ring requires a costume plan. No, I’m not talking about the singers – I mean for yourself. As I was packing for my trip I spent a great deal of thought and time picking out four outfits that would be appropriate in design and flavor for each of the four installments in the cycle. And then weather intervened: there was no way I could wear white linen pants and a designer tee to Rheingold when it was 50 degrees and raining Tuesday night. So I’ve had to shift everything around. The only outfit that’s going to end up with its original assigned opera is the one for Siegfried tonight; the linen pants and fun tee will have to wait for Sunday, which would not have been my choice opera-wise but at least it’s a matinee and will be appropriate for brunch beforehand.

Hey, if you’re going to see the Ring you need to do it in style!

Speaking of style: they have a level at the War Memorial where you can rent a little table and order a cheese plate or dessert during the intermission; it will be waiting for you when you get there, and you can enjoy the break and not have to spend it waiting in line at the bar. This is the quintessence of luxury to me, and we're going to get one for tonight: Siegfried, for all its glories, is not a short tune.

= = = = = = = = = =

Raked stages make me nervous. I’m always looking at folks navigating those steep slopes that opera directors love (for acoustical reasons, I’m pretty sure) and all I can think is, “If someone trips during that fight scene they’re going to roll right off the stage.”

Well during Tuesday night’s Niebelheim scene the stage was made up to look like a 19th century underground mine – complete with ore carts that Alberich’s slaves would push around the raked foreground. I was on edge throughout the whole scene: if the carts were parallel to the lip of the stage they were secure, but as soon as they were perpendicular they could roll down – right off the edge of the stage into the pit. I couldn’t help keeping a constant eye on the various carts, making sure nothing was in danger of running away. After a few minutes I was beginning to relax: the supers had clearly been instructed on where they could leave the carts unattended, and it appeared that they were making sure they were secure before scampering away.

And then there was another bit of choreography, and Alberich cracked his whip and everyone did a quick scurrying away… there were carts every which-way, including some precariously close to perpendicular. I was on-edge, watching each vigilantly...

...when suddenly I saw it: one of the carts shifted slightly, and a wheel turned, and turned again, and started to roll: right towards the viola section.

I gasped, and then Mark Delavan, noting the situation, casually strolled over and, fully in character, grabbed the cart and righted it in a gesture that was perfectly in sync with what he was singing at that moment. I breathed a sigh of relief.

And then I noted that he stayed there for awhile, his hand firmly on the edge of the cart. When he finally had to step away, he gave it one more push to make sure it was in position…

Wotan was concerned about the cart rolling away, too.

= = = = = = = = = =

All in all I’ve been extremely impressed with the San Francisco Opera orchestra: they’re tight, polished, and lustrous in tone. But I’ve had a few problems, primarily with some of the woodwind solos, which are a critical tool in Wagner’s orchestral palette. In general, they just haven’t been that expressive; at times the tone quality is just not up to standard.

And I hate to single out individuals, but there is something very wrong with the bass clarinet. And that’s a shame, because there are some seriously luscious bass clarinet solos throughout the cycle: the instrument is the perfect embodiment of Wagner’s fascination with the point at which beauty and darkness meet. It needs to sound like warm chocolate. Instead, on Wednesday night I swear it sounded like it was being played on a cardboard paper towel spool.

= = = = = = = = = =

Well, in a few hours we'll be headed to the early start of Seigfried. The stage has been set, Fate has been set in motion: from here on out, the story starts its long journey toward its inevitable end.