San Francisco Opera has gathered a cast of internationally renowned Wagnerian artists for its momentous production of Der Ring des Nibelungen which opens at the War Memorial Opera House next week. Directed by Francesca Zambello, this ambitious staging of all four operas in Wagner’s Ring cycle once again has Donald Runnicles leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
American bass-baritone Greer Grimsley takes the role of Wotan – the dynamic king of the gods with a magnetic personality, and a lust for power – and women. Regarded as one of the most prominent Wagnerian singers of today, and a leading interpreter of the role, Mr Grimsley sang Wotan in Robert Lepage’s production of the Ring cycle for the Metropolitan Opera in 2013, the same year in which he appeared in his third cycle for Seattle Opera. He has also appeared in the role in complete performances of the cycle with Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, under Daniele Gatti, at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and in Tokyo with New National Theatre Tokyo and the Nikikai Opera Foundation. Greer Grimsley first appeared with San Francisco Opera as Scarpia in the company’s 2001 production of Puccini’s Tosca, and in one of his return appearances took the title role in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer.
German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann, in his first role for San Francisco Opera, sings the role of Alberich, the dwarf-like Nibelung, unlucky in love, who decides to give up on it altogether in favor of wealth. Stealing the gold of the Rhinemaidens in Das Rheingold, he sets off the train of action which runs through all four operas of the cycle, the character reappearing in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Mr Struckmann has also sung the roles of Wotan, Fafner, Hunding and Hagen in previous performances of the Ring cycle, and made his debut at Teatro all Scala in Milan as Siegfried, under Riccardo Muti.
Tenor Štefan Margita made his San Francisco Opera debut as Walther von der Vogelweide in the fall 2007 production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, and he made his highly-acclaimed role debut as Loge in the Company’s 2008 production of Das Rheingold. In this current production, he again takes the role of the fire god, Loge who – joined by Wotan – sets off to seize the ring which Alberich has forged from the gold stolen from the Rhinemaidens. This is a role which Mr Margita also sang for Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2016, following which the Chicago Tribune wrote: “Slovakian tenor Stefan Margita brought his definitive portrayal of Loge, the crafty demigod of fire, to Chicago for the first time and nearly walked away with the show”.
Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin appears in the role of Brünnhilde – a Valkyrie who is also Wotan’s daughter – in Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Earlier this season, Ms Theorin sang Brünnhilde with Vienna State Opera, prior to which she has performed this role in many of the world’s great opera houses – including Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Washington National Opera, Berlin State Opera, the Wagner Festival in Budapest, Oper Leipzig, Oper Köln, Semperoper Dresden, and the New National Theatre, Tokyo. Following her appearance at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, El Mundo described Ms Theorin as “a force of nature”. She first appeared with San Francisco Opera in the title role of the company’s 2011 production of Puccini’s Turandot.
In Die Walküre, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila sings the role of Sieglunde, daughter of Wotan, twin sister of Siegmund, wife of the thuggish Hunding, and mother of Siegfried – the child she bore as a result of her relationship with Siegmund. Ms Mattila made her debut in the role of Sieglunde at Houston Grand Opera in 2015, and following a 2017 performance of Act 1 of Die Walküre with the London Symphony Orchestra, The Telegraph wrote that she “….. radiated a quality of ecstatic incandescent abandon that went way beyond mere vocalizing – she was simply a woman who needed to be freed from misery, a woman who needed to give herself up to love”. Ms Mattila made her debut with San Francisco Opera as Ilia in the 1989 production of Mozart’s Idomeneo.
In his debut performance with San Francisco Opera, American tenor Daniel Brenna appears in the title role in Siegfried, and portrays the same character Götterdämmerung. His performance in this role for Washington National Opera’s 2016 staging of the Ring (also directed by Francesca Zambello) prompted Communities Digital News to describe him as “The undoubted star of this production ….” while DC Metro Theater Arts described him as “…. simply amazing in every facet of this role”. Internationally, Mr Brenna has also sung the role of Siegfried in Budapest, Stuttgart, the Longborough Festival, and at Opéra de Dijon in 2013, where he appeared as Siegmund in Die Walküre as well.
Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sings the role of Fricka, in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. The goddess of marriage, she is also the wife of Wotan, who builds for her the fortress of Valhalla – partly to appease her angst at his constant straying, but in reality to reinforce his own power. A somewhat pure-minded soul, she it is who forces Wotan to sacrifice his son, Siegmund, when he falls in love with the girl who turns out to be his twin sister Sieglinde. Ms Barton also sings the role of the Second Norn (in a prologue to Götterdämmerung) and Waltraute, a Valkyrie, in the same opera – both of which she sang at Washington National Opera and Houston Grand Opera.
In Das Rheingold, tenor Brandon Jovanovich sings the role of Froh, the sun god, and he also appears in Die Walküre as Siegmund, the son of Wotan and a mortal woman. Mr Jovanovich performed in San Francisco Opera’s 2011 production of the Ring cycle, and has also appeared for the company as Walther von Stolzing in the 2015 staging of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Wagner’s Lohengrin in 2012. This current season has seen him sing Siegmund in Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Bass Andrea Silvestrelli appears as Fasolt – one of the giants commissioned by Wotan to build the fortress of Valhalla in Das Rheingold – and as Hagen, father of Alberich, in Götterdämmerung. Cunning, sharp and calculating, Hagen is one of several characters who covets the ring for its power, and he nearly succeeds, but is thwarted by Brünnhilde when she returns the ring to the Rhinemaidens before throwing herself on Siegfried’s funeral pyre. Mr Silvestrelli sang both Fasolt and Hagen in the San Francisco Opera production of the Ring cycle in 2011, and has also sung Fasolt at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has appeared as Fafner in Das Rheingold with National Taichung Theatre in Taiwan, and with Houston Grand Opera, and appeared in performances of the Ring cycle at the Tiroler Festspiele in Erl, Austria.
Bass Raymond Aceto takes two roles in this production of the Ring cycle. In Das Rheingold he appears as Fafner – who, together with Fasolt, has built the fortress Valhalla, ostensibly in return for Freia, the goddess of youth and beauty. In Die Walküre, Mr Aceto sings the role of Hunding, husband of Sieglunde – a role in which he made his debut in Zambello’s 2016 production of the Ring cycle for Washington National Opera, and one which he has previously sung for San Francisco Opera. In Siegfried, he returns to the role of Fafner who has now turned himself into a dragon, and is at this stage in possession of the cursed and powerful ring around which the entire drama revolves. Mr Aceto has also appeared as Fafner for Lyric Opera of Chicago, and has sung the roles of both Fafner and Fasolt for Dallas Opera.
All artists are scheduled to perform their roles in each of the three Ring cycles which take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, from June 12–17, June 19–24 and June 26–July 1, 2018.
For more information on San Francisco Opera’s production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Opera program notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica (notes by Betsy Schwarm)
and artists’ websites: