“Götterdämmerung” at SF Opera
The last of the tetralogy of “Der Ring des Nebelungen” by Richard Wagner just finished the first of three cycles this June, 2018. And it was a true spectacle in every way.
The singers for this “Ring” are world-known interpreters of their roles, conductor Donald Runnicles returns to the podium to much fanfare since he is an excellent musician and a San Francisco favorite and Francesca Zambello’s rendition of “The Ring” is so popular that this is her third production of it since 2010.
The long and complicated story is about different races of gods and mortals who are trying to wrest the gold from their current and changing owners. This is the main plot but the love relationships are just as important because of Wagner’a belief that the power of love is essential for for a happy life. Zambello has put an environmental twist on the plot this time around to show that order of the world has been destroyed and must be righted. The plot revolves around families where siblings have incestuous affairs, parents argue, children rebel. It’s a real family saga.
“Götterdämmerung”, the last of the four operas, begins with a long segment with the three Norns retelling earlier stories. At each part of the cycle, characters review the background plots. It begins with lovers Siegfried (Daniel Brenna) and Brünnhilde (Iréne Theorin), two well-deserving principals whose voices were as stupendous as their acting, sing a long duet about their love and the task that Siegfried must accomplish to insure his family’s power. At the end of Act I , he gives her the golden ring to as a pledge of his love.
The second act introduces f the Gibichungs, a family of mortals whose goal is to steal the ring. A seductive Gutrune (Melissa Citro) and her two brothers, Gunther (Brian Mulligan) and the overbearing and outstanding singer and actor Hagen (Andrea Silvestrelli) conspire and decide that to obtain the gold Gutrune must marry Siegfried and Gunther Brünnhilde. By nefarious means they accomplish this. Then Brünnhilde breaks down at the wedding scene and the plan unravels. The famous ending with the murder of Siegfried, Valhalla burning and Brünnhilde jumping into the flames is so astounding that the opera is best remembered from these dramatic scenes.
Thanks to the projections by S. Katy Tucker based on the original designs of Tucker and Jan Hartley, keep these operas visually gorgeous. The videos even continue through the prologues and the lengthy musical interludes. Michael Yeargan’s sets take the story from the Gold Rush times, through the 1930s and up to a futuristic apocalyptic era where nature has been destroyed by the careless overuse of mankind. During the cycle, the visuals show trees that are continuously withering and vestiges of crass commercialism with abandoned factories spewing smoke, abandoned storgage buildings, overwhelming electrical grids and empty freeways.
In the last scene, three of the Rhine maidens sit in a pile of used plastic bottles and black garbage bags as they lament the condition of the world and nature. Only with the return of the ring will order be restored. And at the end of such a pessimistic opera, the ring is given back to them. A nine year old girl, Simone Brooks, brings a small ash tree and begins to plant it. With this sign of hope, It reminds me of Martin Luther’s famous saying, “Even if the world were to end tomorrow I’d still plant a tree today.
“The Ring of the Nibelungen” has two more complete cycles of four operas each through July 1, 2018. sfopera.org.