The City of San Francisco can be great fun in the summer. The weather is glorious, cool and sunny with low humidity and lots of opera. There is also the wine growing areas of Sonoma and Napa, north of the city and one can tour the vineyards and sample some of their wonderful wines. Italian American families first established farms for growing grapes in the area and many, such as Mondavi, still exist and can be visited.
Last month, the San Francisco Opera staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle (three times in one month) in a very interesting production directed by Francesca Zanbello. Wagner first got his idea for the four operas while on vacation in Italy. In fact, the composer spent his last days in Italy, a country that he loved. He died in Venice in 1883. The rooms in which he stayed and ultimately passed away are now a Wagner Museum located in the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi on the Grand Canal in Venice.
Zanbello’s direction of the four Ring operas emphasized their connection with nature and the many conflicts between male and female characters. Of the male characters, Greer Grimsley impressed as Wotan, sounding wonderful in the role and presenting a marked emphasis on the anguish of the character. Andrea Silvestrelli was consistently impressive as Fasolt, the giant determined to get his hands on the powerful, but accursed gold. The role of Mime was expertly sung and comically acted by David Cangelosi, who has successfully performed this role at opera houses around the world.
Of the women, Karita Mattila was very moving as Sieglinde, who is married to a brutish man, but yearns to run off with her twin brother Siegmund. Of the nine Valkyries, Melissa Citro was particularly striking as Helmwige. Less wonderful was the Brunnhilda of Irene Theorin, whose acting was always moving, but whose voice was not quite up to the demands of this very difficult role despite some powerful high notes.
In the second two operas, Daniel Brenna impressed as Siegfried, one of the most difficult tenor roles in all of opera, which he was able to sing and act with apparent ease. He sang audibly and accurately, plus his voice did not sound worn out by the end of the cycle. Raymond Aceto’s performance as Fafner was moving as well, especially during his death scene.
Andrea Silvestrelli reappeared in the final opera as Hagen, acting and singing the role of this fascinating, but sympathetic villain who tried to rob the ring, despite its curse of death. By the final scene of the four operas, the world is redeemed by the women on stage who return the accursed ring to its rightful owners, the three Rhine maidens.
Michael Yeargan’s sets and Donald Runnicles’ conducting made for a memorable Ring cycle. The orchestra became a central part of the drama thanks to Wagner’s subtle orchestration.
It was highly enjoyable to visit some of San Francisco’s lovely museums, beautiful parks and its many fine Italian restaurants. With the wonderful weather that I experienced, the trip was a success on many levels, from my enjoyment of the excellent Italian cuisine to the opera which provided food for the soul. San Francisco offers an enriching cultural experience for most people, but with its history and close ties to our heritage, it is particularly so for Italian Americans.