San Francisco Opera’s revival of Francesca Zambello’s production of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelung”, continued with the third opera, “Siegfried”. Six of the opera’s eight characters (and the artists singing those roles) had been introduced in the preceding “Ring” operas. The evening’s newcomers were the cocky, fearless mortal, Siegfried and his avian friend, the Forest Bird.
Daniel Brenna’s Siegfried
Wisconsin tenor Daniel Brenna was an arresting Siegfried, with a masterful performance. Siegfried is Brenna’s signature role (singing Siegfried in Dijon, France; Stuttgart, Germany and in the Zambello 2016 performance of the “Ring” in Washington DC.)
Brenna’s youthful stage appearance and acting style lends visual plausibility to his portrayal of the boyish hero. One does not have to suspend belief that we are seeing an adolescent of extraordinary strength and courage performing heroic acts.
[Below: Siegfried (Daniel Brenna) forges the sword Notung; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
The role of Siegfried requires a powerful heldentenor voice and physical endurance. A tenor singing Siegfried needs vocal stamina to be able to sing most of the evening in one of the longest operas in the standard repertory (almost five hours). Brenna also is scheduled to sing with only a day’s rest in “Götterdämmerung” (an opera that exceeds five hours.)
Brenna has the requisite voice and endurance. He is in his late 40s, an age when one expects a heldentenor voice to have gained the power that artist needs to sing these weighty roles.
I have been fortunate to have seen several great Siegfrieds – South Dakota’s Jess Thomas and Germany’s René Kollo in the past – and Texas’ Jay Hunter Morris among current singers – have been personal favorites. I’m adding Brenna to that distinguished list.
Iréne Theorin’s Brünnhilde
The Brünnhilde, Iréne Theorin, appears in two acts of “Die Walküre” and all three acts of “Götterdämmerung”, but appears only in the final act of “Siegfried”, being awakened like Sleeping Beauty by the hero Siegfried.
[Below: Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
That awakening is triumphant. Brünnhilde’s hail to the sun on awakening and her love music she expresses for that hero is among the most beautiful music ever composed. Theorin was visually stunning and vocally impressive, her love duet with Brenna profoundly moving.
[Below: Brünnhilde (Iréne Theorin) having awakened from her decades’ long sleep by Siegfried (Daniel Brenna, left), determines to teach him what she knows; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
David Cangelosi’s Mime
The second longest role in the opera, after the title character, is the dwarf Mime. Character tenor, David Cangelosi, has made the role a specialty, performed both the “Rheingold” and “Siegfried” Mimes in the 2011 and 2018 San Francisco Opera “Rings”.
[Below: David Cangelosi as Mime; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Cangelosi’s Mime has raised Siegfried from infancy with the expectation that he will become his operative in obtaining the Nibelung Ring. When things go awry for Mime – being confronted by Wotan disguised as a Wanderer, failing to get his way with dangerous Siegfried, fighting with his brother Alberich – Cangelosi resorts to neurotic nattering or explosive outbursts.
[Below: Mime (David Cangelosi, right) finds it impossible to get the respect from Siegfried (Daniel Brenna, left) that he feels he is deserved; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Cangelosi separates himself from other Mimes by his extraordinary athleticism, doing multiple cartwheels and somersaults, including gymnastic feats on top of the trailer in which he and Siegfried reside.
[Below: The Wanderer (Greer Grimsley, center right) confronts Mime (David Cangelosi, partially hidden, in red cap) who is hanging on the side of his trailer; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Greer Grimsley’s Wanderer
Louisiana heldenbariton Greer Grimsley was a vocally secure, dramatically effective Wotan.
[Below: Greer Grimsley as the Wanderer; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
This is the third time that I have experienced a complete “RIng” in which Grimsley sings the role of Wotan. Previously he took part in Stephen Wadsworth’s Seattle “Ring”, whose principal thrust was to follow Wagner’s explicit stage directions in the mythical settings he Wagner intended.
Grimsley the actor, whose skills have benefited from intelligent, sensitive stage direction from both Wadsworth and Zambello, has portrayed Wotan role, demonstrating intelligence and sensitivity in portraying a character whose flaws have universal consequences.
[Below: Siegfried (Daniel Brenna, right) refuses to permit the Wanderer (Greer Grimsley, left), whom he is unaware is his grandfather to block his path; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Stacey Tappan’s Forest Bird
Soprano Stacey Tappan is one of three Rhinemaidens (river maidens in this production) in the first and fourth “Ring” operas. In “Siegfried”, the third opera, she appears as the lone Forest Bird, who is able to communicate with Siegfried after he has slain a dragon.
[Below: Stacey Tappan as the Forest Bird; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Tappan’s luminous lyric coloratura soprano voice was beautifully accompanied by Wagner’s melodious flute passages. Her birdlike head movements and striking costume reinforced her image as a spirit from nature.
(The Forest Bird’s memorable melody will have consequences in the final “Ring” opera, when Siegfried remembrance of it leads to his death.)
Raymond Aceto’s Fafner
Ohio bass Raymond Aceto, who had impressed me earlier this cycle as the “Rheingold” Fafner and as the “Walküre” Hunding, was the transformed “Siegfried” Fafner, in Zambello’s version, a machine. Aceto’s sonorous bass, amplified as the “dragon machine”, was appropriately menacing.
[Below: Having killed the giant Fafner (Raymond Aceto, lying on floor, bottom center), Siegfried (Daniel Brenna, left) notices the return of the Forest Bird (Stacey Tappan, upper right); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Aceto’s fearsome beast, struck by Siegfried’s sword, gained Siegfried’s sympathy (and ours). In a brilliant Zambello touch, Aceto’s Fafner re-appears out the machine costumed as the “Rheingold” Giant in his construction clothes. As Fafner lies on the floor dying, he bonds with Brenna’s young hero.
[Below: Siegfried (Daniel Brenna, left) discovers he can understand the language of the Forest Bird (Stacey Tappan; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Falk Struckmann’s Alberich and Ronnita Miller’s Erda
German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann continued to impress vocally and dramatically as Alberich. Struckmann’s Alberich has two dramatically powerful second act confrontations, sparring with his arch-enemy Wotan, whose disguise as the Wanderer doesn’t fool Alberich. Then he gets into a nasty fight with his outraged brother Mime.
In Zambello’s interpretation Struckmann’s Alberich is costumed as a homeless person with his possessions in a grocery shopping cart (and night vision goggles). He has stood guard at Fafner’s cave for countless years, only to see the Nibelung treasure, ring and tarnhelm he covets won by Siegfried.
[Below: Mime (David Cangelosi, right) is shocked to find his brother Alberich (Falk Struckmann, left) in the vicinity of the Nibelung treasure; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
The eighth member of the Siegfried cast, Florida mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, continued her praiseworthy performances in the role of the earth goddess, Erda. Miller’s large voice and formidable power in her lower register has assured that many opera managements check on her availability whenever this role is being cast.
Maestro Donald Runnicles and the Musical Performance
Scottish Maestro Donald Runnicles led the 89 person San Francisco Opera Orchestra in a profoundly moving performance.
The orchestra’s musicians gave dramatic sweep to the sombre scenes of Nibelungs and dragons, the majestic force of the Siegfried’s sword-forging scene, the enchanting forest murmurs interspersed with the Forest Bird’s calls, and the luxurious melodies of the final love duet.
Director Francesca Zambello’s Production
Francesca Zambello’s production of the “Ring of the Nibelungs” is her most ambitious dramatic effort to date. It is one of the most imaginative productions in the “Ring’s”, that has relevance for the 21st century, without departing in any significant way from the story that Wagner intended to be told.
[Below: Director Francesca Zambello; edited image, based on a Rob Moore photograph for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from francescazambello.com.]
I enthusiastically recommend the Francesca Zambello production of “Siegfried”, both for the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.
For my previous review of the Francesca Zambello production of “Siegfried”, see: Down and Out in Zambello’s American Ring: Sly, Theatrically-Centered “Siegfried” Satisfies – San Francisco Opera, June 17, 2011.