SF Opera launches ‘Ring’ with shimmering ‘Rheingold’

Fresh mixed-media effects and a strong cast set the stage for San Francisco Opera’s engaging revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2011 production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle at Tuesday’s first performance of “Das Rheingold,” which opened the four-opera marathon at the War Memorial Opera House.

New environmental and mood-setting projections by S. Katy Tucker complement Michael Yeargan’s 2011 contemprorary, American-themed set, bringing alive the action, on backdrops and especially from the floor, evoking the effervescent birth of the Rhine River, the frosty might of peaks and valleys, the red-hot fieriness of a gold factory, and even the violent spilling of blood.

The start was dramatic: As the Rhine River came into full focus, soprano Stacey Tappan (Woglinde) and mezzos Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde) and Renée Tatum (Flosshilde) were golden as the playful Rhinemaidens entrusted with guarding the river’s treasure of gold.

Accomplished Wagnerian bass-baritone Falk Struckmann made an impressive SFO debut as the avaricious, vindictive Niebelung boss Alberich, who steals the gold and sets in motion the extensive drama to follow ; his resonant voice and dramatic energy captured the essence of the fatefully pivotal role.

But he met his match with bass-baritone Greer Grimsley’s Wotan, chief of the gods who wrests away the powerful gold ring. Grimsley’s rich, commanding voice and determined presence dominated most of the proceedings; at the same time, he was believable as one who could yield the magical ring if the very existence of the gods was threatened.

Vocally suave tenor Stefan Margita was arresting as the demigod of fire Loge, who smoothly goes about his task as Wotan’s fixer; likable, big-voiced baritone Brian Mulligan was notable as the god of thunder Donner, as was appealing tenor Brandon Jovanovich as the god of spring Froh.

Imposing basses Andrea Silvestrelli and Raymond Aceto boomed as giants Fasolt and Fafner, respectively, amusingly arriving onstage aboard a steel beam and in outfits that made them look like a cross between a construction worker and Edward Scissorhands.

Tenor David Cangelosi was fine as Mime, Alberich’s much-abused fellow Niebelung.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton brought verve and tonal warmth to the role of Fricka, Wotan’s strong-willed, though often sensitive, wife and sister of Donner, Froh and Freia. Soprano Julie Adams proved a clear-voiced Freia, the winsome object of desire taken captive by the giants.

Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller made a powerful impression as the goddess of wisdom Erda, singing with earthly beauty after emerging from the depths of the shape-shifting stage.

Conductor Donald Runnicles guided the orchestra through the score with a flow as steady and sure as the Rhine River.

In the last scene, the gods ascend a rainbow bridge into Valhalla as if boarding a cruise ship, which, judging by “Das Rheingold,” may very well be a metaphor for a welcome journey through the rest of this “Ring.”

REVIEW
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: June 12-17 (Cycle 1); June 19-24 (Cycle 2); June 26-July 1 (Cycle 3)
Tickets: $100 and up (single); $190 to $3,420 (cycle), $10 standing room (starting at 10 a.m. day of show)
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com/ringfestival
The operas:
Das Rheingold: 7:30 p.m. June 19, June 26
Die Walküre: 7 p.m. June 13, June 20, June 27
Siegfried: 6:30 p.m. June 15, June 22, June 29
Götterdämmerung: 1 p.m. June 17, July 24, July 1

James Ambroff-Tahan

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