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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Lucy said...

I've loved the evocative and lovingly detailed reviews of the first two operas! Looking forward to the rest of them... and glad I'm not the only one who tries for opera-themed costuming.

Jeffrey Nytch said...

Thanks, Lucy!

And I just couldn't bring myself to wear "just anything" to something like this! :)