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The Sins Of Our Fathers

June 17, 2008

Prejudice is an insidious thing. Without even realizing that I'd been turned off the music of Wagner at a young age as a result of my father's vendetta against anyone popular opinion considered anti-semitic, I had decided I hated Wagner. I had made this decision, even though my only exposure to the composer during my formative years had been through playing Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg in my school orchestra at the age of 15.

It was only when I was in New York a couple of years ago participating in the NEA/Columbia Journalism School's mind-opening Classical Music and Opera Institute that I was forced to examine my foundationless views on Wagner. Music scholar and orchestral impresario Joe Horowitz persuaded me to analyze the roots of my opinion of the composer for the first time. Joe sent me his DVD of Patrice Chereau's famous Bayreuth production of Das Rheingold recorded in 1980. I had never heard or seen anything like it before. I wasn't expecting the moody-evocative entr'acts, the over-the-top, epic storyline, and those depravedly-human gods. I was enthralled.

At the ripe old age of 33, I finally got the chance to experience my first Wagner opera live on stage for the first time. San Francisco Opera (in collaboration with Washington National Opera) is staging a new Ring cycle between now and 2011 directed by Francesca Zambello. I caught the first instalment starring Richard Paul Fink as Alberich, Stefan Margita as Loge, Mark Delavan as Wotan and and Jennifer Larmore as Fricka on Saturday night.

Zambello's use of the story as a fable about America's use and abuse of natural resources is definitely prescient. This theme comes across beautifully in the contrast between the F. Scott Fitzgerald-like breeziness of life in Valhalla and the dark, sweaty flames of the mines of Nibelheim. Less successful are the endless video projections employed throughout the performance depicting clouds, mountains, water and other natural landscapes. These become distracting and tedious after a while. They don't add much to our overall understanding of the universe depicted in the opera.

Even though I experienced it on DVD, Chereau's production remains superior. In particular, I fell in love with Heinz Zednik's shifty Loge in Chereau's production. SF Opera's Margita is no match for Zednik as an actor, though he has a fine, hard tenor voice. He's just not wily and mysterious enough.

In general, though, I found myself engaged by SF Opera's production over the two and a half intermissionless hours that I was pinioned to my seat. The music is so lush and full of surprises. And the story is simply mad. I can still hear the clanging anvils from Alberich's underworld ringing in my head.

I'm looking forward to the next installment of the cycle and will be forever indebted to Joe for challenging my ill-founded bias. I wonder if I could get my dad hooked on this stuff too?


  • Heinz Zednik - now isn't that a great singer-actor. His Loge in the Boulez/Chereau Ring is a classic and a great achievement from a great Wagner singer. I never get tired of watching his Loge in this Ring!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At June 25, 2008 at 10:02 AM  

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