When San Francisco Opera completed the first of three cycles of Richard Wagner’s 17-hour marathon “The Ring of the Nibelung” on Sunday, size was just one of the thrills for the audience of 14,000 filling the War Memorial during the four-day event.
The huge orchestra, under Donald Runnicles’ superb direction; the big casts of great singers; the length and breadth of four productions costing up to $24 million; the complex organization and the years of preparation, relentless work and unceasing effort were just part of the story.
Realization of Wagner’s daring, unique vision of “Gesamtkunstwerk” (a total, ideal work of art, a comprehensive synthesis) is more than the sum of its parts.
Tuesday’s “Das Rhinegold,” Wednesday’s “Die Walküre,” Friday’s “Siegfried,” and Sunday’s concluding “Götterdämmerung” (“The Twilight of the Gods”) are not just four operas advancing the same story.
They add up to the kind of experience Ring-maniacs try to repeat over and over again, traveling thousands of miles in their quest to hear the Redemption Theme at the end of the cycle, in the context of the entire “Ring” and as its glorious culmination. The end glorifies the means of getting there.
The importance of the totality of the “Ring” dictates the need not only for singing stars and brilliant passages in the orchestra. A great cycle — which San Francisco Opera’s emphatically is — requires no weak links.
Performance quality in the War Memorial ranged from good to superb, the singers and orchestra members maintaining a general excellence throughout.
Acclaimed Swedish soprano Nina Stemme was awesome in the three operas where Brünnhilde rules, and Merola/Adler graduate baritone Mark Delavan offered a touching human-size Wotan.
The San Francisco “Ring” was notable for its tenors, perhaps the most difficult part of casting.
General director David Gockley and Runnicles put together an unusual and eventually triumphant group of heldentenors, including two debuts in leading roles. Both lyric tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Siegmund and Jay Hunter Morris in the title role of “Siegfried” sang their difficult roles beautifully.
Ian Storey was Siegfried in the last opera. Czech tenor Stefan Margita as Loge and David Cangelosi as Mime were both sensational.
Merola/Adler alumna Elizabeth Bishop sang the difficult role of Fricka with vocal and theatrical excellence. Italian bass Andrea Silvestrelli’s booming voice made a big impression as Fasolt and Hagen.
Gordon Hawkins, as Alberich (the Nibelung of the title) was sufficiently mean and menacing.
Francesca Zambello’s insightful stage directions, which bring mythical characters to real life, made a greater contribution to the cycle than her “American Ring” concept of superimposing a world suffocating in industrial waste on Wagner’s Nordic legend.
Jan Hartley’s majestic projections and Michael Yeargan’s quirky set designs combined for a memorable visual experience.
The Ring of the Nibelung
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 6:30 p.m. Fridays; 1 p.m. Sundays; closes July 3
Tickets: $60 to $360 individual operas, $460 to $1,440 “Ring” cycles, $10 standing room
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com
Operas in the cycle:
- “Das Rhinegold” on Tuesdays
- “Die Walküre” on Wednesdays
- “Siegfried” on Fridays
- “Götterdämmerung” on Sundays