Sunday, March 28, 2021

San Francisco Ring -- Götterdämmerung


Conductor - Donald Runnicles 
Director - Francesca Zambello 

Brünnhilde - Iréne Theorin 
Siegfried - Daniel Brenna 
King Gunther - Brian Mulligan 
Hagen, Alberich's son - Andrea Silvestrelli 
Gutrune, sister of Gunther - Melissa Citro 
Waltraute - Jamie Barton 
Alberich - Falk Struckmann 

Götterdämmerung completes the Richard Wagner Ring cycle.  This is my first time for this production.

Act I

The balance between the orchestra and the three Norns is terrible. Why is this always such a problem?  Why don't properly placed microphones solve this?  Instead of threads, these strands of fate are fat electrical cables, and when one breaks, the Norms die.

We see Siegfried and Brünnhilde after their night together still blissfully in love.  He gives her the ring and goes off to explore.  The Rhein valley looks like a refinery.  

Siegfried ends up at the posh home of Gunther, Hagen and Gutrune.  He has taken the tarnhelm with him and tells them where he got it.  He drinks a potion, falls immediately for Gutrune and forgets all about Brünnhilde.  

Now we are back with Brünnhilde where she waits for Siegfried.  Her sister Waltraute arrives.  I like very much Iréne Theorin.  I remember that she was an emergency replacement.  I'm not sure I think Jamie Barton is a Wagnerian.  Waltraute tells Brünnhilde about how much Wotan has changed.  

After Waltraute leaves, Siegfried returns with the tarnhelm on his head.  The other three parts of the San Francisco Ring had subtitles, but this one does not.  It's hard.  He takes the ring from Brünnhilde and leads her off.

Act II

Alberich shows up to lecture his son Hagen.  If the ring is so powerful, why doesn't it work for anyone but Alberich?  I have always wondered about this.  I'm trying to make it all the way to the end, but it's pretty rough going.  Gunther drags Brünnhilde onto the stage in front of a crowd of his subjects.  Siegfried has eyes only for Gutrune, and she for him.  Siegfried swears he doesn't know Brünnhilde, and she swears things, too, only hers are true and his are not.  I enjoy very much how Theorin enthusiastically jumps about in her role.


All the fun parts of this opera are in this act.  The Rhein maidens are back, and they are covered in plastic bags full of garbage.  Siegfried enters and I'm booing. He's carrying a military style rifle which the maidens take from him.  Perhaps none of them can rule the world with the ring because they haven't renounced love.  It's harder than you think. The bad acoustics at the San Francisco Opera House are all too apparent in this recording.  They give him back his gun and he goes off.

One both hates and loves Daniel Brenna's Siegfried.  One loves the singer and hates the character.  One is no longer charmed by his egotism.  I'm shouting at the screen "You f**d up buddy."  Hagen, Gunther and Siegfried are together.  Hagen gives Siegfried a potion to reverse the other one, and he tells the story of Brünnhilde in the ring of fire.  That means he lied when he swore he didn't know her.  So Hagen kills him.  The big discovery of this Ring cycle was Andrea Silvestrelli as Hagen.  Magnificent.

For the ending we return to Gutrune with Siegfried's body.  When Hagen tries to steal the ring from Siegfried's dead hand, S raises it in the air and Brünnhilde appears.  It works out as it should.  My favorite thing is Brünnhilde gets to be Brünnhilde again.  Big finish.  I'm crying.  The sheet of gold is back where it belongs.  It's all about women now.  A great ending.

We loved Donald Runnicles, and it's great to see him again.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Lise Davidsen from Trondheim in Norway


Lise gave a concert today from Trondheim with James Gaffigan who is their regular guest conductor.  The program alternated instrumental numbers and vocal numbers.  On Monday Lise gave an all Grieg recital with 100 in the audience. The Norwegian government reimposed the lockdown just before this concert.  There are more than no people here but maybe 10?  We don't get to see them.

Verdi                    Overture from the Sicilian Vespers

Verdi                   "Ma dall 'arido stelo divulsa" from Ballo in Maschera                          

Verdi                     Dance from Act III Macbeth  

Verdi                    "Tu che la vanita" from Don Carlo


Beethoven             Leonore Overture #3

Beethoven            "Abscheulicher" from Fidelio

Wagner                 Forrest Murmers from Siegfried

Wagner                 "Dich teure Halle" from Tannhaeuser


It was nice to see so many young women in the orchestra in Trondheim.  Lise stays in the wings until just before she sings as though perhaps this were an opera. Each of her numbers is introduced by an instrumental piece by the same composer.  So we are hearing instrumental pieces by Verdi.  For the second Verdi she comes out in the break which is what is expected.  I have heard her sing the Verdi Requiem from a few years ago, but this is the most Verdi opera I have heard.  I think she will work her way into the Verdi heroines, and perhaps Don Carlo would make a good start.

The Beethoven and Wagner I have heard before, of course, but they are wonderful again.  This concert is all Lise sings big, which is what she is famous for.  I find her very exciting.

After the end of the concert, Decca released the new recording which can be found on  Only the third aria from the Thursday concert is from the new recording.  She is very wonderful and has a style uniquely her own.  Future things include a recording of Fidelio and a whole Grieg album.  Forgive me if I can't act like this glorious soprano is all new to me. James Gaffigan recommends being in the room with her.  I'm working on it.

James Gaffigan is very lively and entertaining in addition to being a good conductor.  I enjoyed him.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

New CD from Lise Davidsen

 Update:  It's out.  It's fabulous.  My son called it amazing, like something from a bygone era.

I am dangerously close to becoming a fanzine for Lise.  She announced her new album this morning.  It comes out here in the US at the end of April, and that's a long time.  I love the photo.  She is aiming for greatness and should succeed.

Track List:

1. "Absheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?" from "Fidelio" (Act I No.9)
2. "Ah! Perfido", Scene and Aria for Soprano and Orchestra Op.65 - Recitativo. Allegro con brio
3. "Ah! Perfido", Scene and Aria for Soprano and Orchestra Op.65 - Aria. Adagio
4. "Ah! Perfido", Scene and Aria for Soprano and Orchestra Op.65 - Allegro assai "Ah crudel! crudel!"
5. "Dei tuoi figli la madre"from "Medea" Act I
6. "Voi lo Sapete" from "Cavalleria Rusticana" (Act I; Romanza e Scena)
7. "Pace Pace" from "La Forza Del Destino" (Act IV Sc 2)
8. "Ave Maria, piena di grazia" from "Otello" (Act IV)
9. Wesendonck Lieder, WWV91 - Der Engel
10. Wesendonck Lieder, WWV91 - Stehe Still
11. Wesendonck Lieder, WWV91 - Im Treibaus
12. Wesendonck Lieder, WWV91 - Schmerzen
13. Wesendonck Lieder, WWV91 - Traume 
Sample.   I find this truly excellent.


Saturday, March 20, 2021


Sometimes I post films of music just because I love them.  This film of Jonas Kaufmann singing Schumann's Dichterliebe is an example.  I tried while I was still singing to fit in things that I wanted to perform.  Many I succeeded, but a few I did not.  I regret that I never sang Dichterliebe, a truly glorious cycle. I wanted very badly to play Orlovsky, but no one seems to have been able to picture me as a guy.  Sigh.

For me you cannot beat Jonas in Lieder.  My heart says this is the best.  Enjoy.

Jonas has said this before, and I've heard it from others as well.  Without an audience it's not the same.  If I could give him a hug, I certainly would.  Bravo.  There's no one like you.

San Francisco Ring -- Siegfried


Conductor: Donald Runnicles 
Director: Francesca Zambello 

Mime: David Cangelosi 
Siegfried: Daniel Brenna *
The Wanderer (Wotan): Greer Grimsley 
Alberich: Falk Struckmann 
Fafner: Raymond Aceto 
Forest Bird: Stacey Tappan 
Erda: Ronnita Miller 
Brünnhilde: Iréne Theorin 

I am enjoying that at the beginning of Siegfried Mime is banging in the rhythm of the score.  We are up to the part of the San Francisco Ring that I have not seen before.  The last time I simply was too tired to do four long operas in a row.  This is part of the caravan series.  Mime and Siegfried live in a busted up caravan.  We actually get a bear--not an actual bear.  

Wotan comes in to check on Siegfried.  I actually love Greer's harsh, growly voice as Wotan.  Mime and the The Wanderer are exchanging riddles and Mime recognizes that this is Wotan.  He is too dumb to figure out who it is who has never known fear.  We figure this out easily.  How about someone who brings a live bear home with him?  The reforging of the sword is very convincing.  In retrospect I suspect that Mime is pretending not to know.

This scene with Alberich and The Wanderer is reminding my of my rule of 3 baritones.  "Never go to an opera with three baritones."  This is a hell of a lot of snarling and growling.  Wotan by himself is fine.  Wotan wanders from place to place seemingly to provide Wagner with someone to explain what is going on.  I insist on my no explaining/all showing philosophy.  These operas are so long because someone is always explaining something.

The character of Siegfried in the person of Daniel Brenna is enjoyable.  The production seems to work in spite of the fact that the dragon is a machine.  Theoretically the machine should disappear when Siegfried takes the Tarnhelm from Fafner.

I like more and more the Wotan of Greer Grimsley.  However, he summons Erda and then doesn't really ask her anything.  He predicts the end of the gods, including her.  Then when Siegfried breaks Wotan's spear with Notung, all truly is over.

This is very cool.  "Mother, behold your fearless child."  He's terrified of a sleeping woman.  Herr Wagner, at last you have done it.  He kisses her awake like sleeping beauty.  We waited a very long time, but this is the best thing ever.  He thanks his mother for giving him life.  If it only ended here!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

James Levine has died

The scandal that swirled around the end of James Levine's career at the Met seemed ho hum to me.  Why?  Because I'd heard about it years ago and assumed someone somewhere was protecting him.  When I wrote about him here I was interested mainly in his musical legacy.  I think in the old days it was assumed that there was a lot of fooling around.  I remember a professor at I.U....  

I'm happy with how the Met is now, so Levine's departure has meant a lot less to me than I expected. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Classical Grammys for 2021 Winners


Here are the Classical Grammy winners for 2021.  The most import award for this year is a Lifetime Achievement Grammy awarded to Marilyn Horne. Congratulations.

Because of my own personal prejudices, I am happy for the Ives win, Porgy and Bess win (but would have also been happy for Agrippina), and a piece by Michael Tilson Thomas sung by Isabel Leonard.  I am unfamiliar with the rest.

75. Best Orchestral Performance
Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

    Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony)
    Daníel Bjarnason, conductor (Iceland Symphony Orchestra)
    Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
    Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)

    Hannu Lintu, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)

76. Best Opera Recording
Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

    Gil Rose, conductor; Heather Buck & Stephen Powell; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Odyssey Opera Chorus)
    William Boggs, conductor; Alexander Dobson, Keith Phares & Kate Royal; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Florentine Opera Chorus)
    David Robertson, conductor; Frederick Ballentine, Angel Blue, Denyce Graves, Latonia Moore & Eric Owens; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)

    Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor; Elsa Benoit, Joyce DiDonato, Franco Fagioli, Jakub Józef Orliński & Luca Pisaroni; Daniel Zalay, producer (Il Pomo D'Oro)
    Donald Runnicles, conductor; David Butt Philip & Elena Tsallagova; Peter Ghirardini & Erwin Stürzer, producers (Orchestra Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin)

77. Best Choral Performance
Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.

    Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
    JoAnn Falletta, conductor; James K. Bass & Adam Luebke, chorus masters (James K. Bass, J'Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, Kenneth Overton, Hila Plitmann & Matthew Worth; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus & UCLA Chamber Singers)

    Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox & Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel & Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke's; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale & The Saint Tikhon Choir)
    Kent Tritle, conductor (Joshua Blue, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Dashon Burton, Malcolm J. Merriweather & Laquita Mitchell; Oratorio Society Of New York Orchestra; Oratorio Society Of New York Chorus)
    Matthew Guard, conductor (Sarah Walker; Skylark Vocal Ensemble)

78. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (twenty-four or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.

    Pacifica Quartet

    Brooklyn Rider
    Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods & Place Orchestra
    Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion
    Dover Quartet

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.

    Kirill Gerstein; Thomas Adès, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)
    Igor Levit
    Augustin Hadelich; Jakub Hrůša, conductor (Charles Owen; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks)
    Daniil Trifonov; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor (The Philadelphia Orchestra)
    Richard O'Neill; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)

80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album
Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

    Stephen Powell (Attacca Quartet, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto, Charles Neidich & Jason Vieaux)
    Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist
    Cecilia Bartoli; Giovanni Antonini, conductor (Il Giardino Armonico)
    Brian Giebler; Steven McGhee, accompanist (Katie Hyun, Michael Katz, Jessica Meyer, Reginald Mobley & Ben Russell)
    Sarah Brailey & Dashon Burton; James Blachly, conductor (Experiential Chorus; Experiential Orchestra)

81. Best Classical Compendium
Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist.

    Mark Stone & Christianne Stotijn; Thomas Adès, conductor; Nick Squire, producer
    Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor; Hans Kipfer, producer
    José Serebrier, conductor; Jens Braun, producer
    Isabel Leonard; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer

    Matt Haimovitz; Julian Wachner, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer

82. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
A Composer's Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.

    Thomas Adès, composer (Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès & Boston Symphony Orchestra)
    Richard Danielpour, composer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
    Carlisle Floyd, composer (William Boggs, Alexander Dobson, Kate Royal, Keith Phares, Florentine Opera Chorus & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
    Ted Hearne, composer (Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods & Place Orchestra)
    Christopher Rouse, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

San Francisco Ring -- Die Walküre


Conductor: Donald Runnicles 
Director: Francesca Zambello 

Sieglinde - Karita Mattila 
Siegmund - Brandon Jovanovich 
Hunding - Raymond Aceto 
Wotan - Greer Grimsley 
Brünnhilde - Iréne Theorin 
Fricka - Jamie Barton 

Die Walküre is of course the next installment in the San Francisco Ring.  Wotan lives in a skyscraper high over a relatively small city somewhat like San Francisco.

Act I is in Hunding's house which looks like an American house in the woods.  Inside is a cabinet full of sport trophies.  This Hunding is really a brute.  There's no question about whose side we are on.

Act II Scene 1.  is in the high rise built by the giants in Das Rheingold.  Jamie Barton is a truly magnificent Fricka.  She storms with great style.  He is clearly for Siegmund, but Fricka turns him to Hunding's side.  The goddess protects marriage no matter how bad it is.  There is lots of plot stuff in this act.  At the beginning Wotan orders Brünnhilde to defend Siegmund.  Then after Fricka's complaints, he reverses himself and tells her Siegmund must die.

Act II Scene 2.  In this scene Sieglinde and Siegmund are under a freeway, the latest symbol of urban wilderness.  Sieglinde has begun to feel guilt, both for staying with a husband who did not love her and for leaving him for Siegmund.  Brünnhilde enters and tells Siegmund he must come with her to Valhalla, thus at least attempting to fulfill Wotan's orders.  Siegmund says he will not go without Sieglinde.  This is all quite wonderful.  Brünnhilde changes her mind when Siegmund threatens to kill both himself and his twin even after Brünnhilde tells him Sieglinde is carrying his child.  The child must live.  I think we have here not at all the normal ending.  Hunding kills Siegmund, Wotan kills Hunding and Brünnhilde rescues Sieglinde.  Wotan just says to tell Fricka that he killed Siegmund, but he didn't actually.

Act III is the only part I remember vividly.  During the Ride of the Valkyries they enter on wires, which I see now are supposed to be parachutes.  I love this.  They are all wearing flying suits except Brünnhilde.

I just realized that Siegfried is a joining of the words for victory and peace.  One who brings peace in victory.  Forgive me Karita, but I long to hear Sieglinde in the voice of LD. Karita's performances always bring us her own personal intensity.

The Ring is very unliberated.  Where is Susan B Antony when you need her?  The gods can only imagine women belonging to men.  I enjoy Greer in many scenes, but he seems able to bring only anger into his voice.  And now I'm going to do what I criticize in others.  For me there is only one Wotan's Farewell and that is James Morris.  Greer has done well, but I want to hear the love bursting forth.  This is the only Wagner I truly love.  The ring of fire is perfect.


Saturday, March 13, 2021


Conductor...............Roberto Abbado
Production..............Beppe De Tomasi

Princess Fedora Romazov...Mirella Freni
Count Loris Ipanov..............Plácido Domingo
Countess Olga Sukarev........Ainhoa Arteta
De Siriex..............................Dwayne Croft

Giordano's Fedora streamed from the Met today.  This is from a broadcast from 1997. This production was mounted to celebrate the retirement of Mirella Freni from the opera stage.  She was 62 and sounds glorious.

Freni enters to a wonderful ovation.  Fedora is engaged to be married, and on the eve of her wedding her fiancé is murdered.  This is Act I in Russia. 

In Act II Fedora has followed Ipanov, whom she thinks murdered her fiancé, to Paris.  Her Ipanov is Placido Domingo who is 5 years younger than Freni.  They meet in her house in Paris and seem to fall in love.  Fedora hears that the czar has been shot.  There is a lot of narrative of people explaining things that happened off stage.  The stories are emotional, just the thing for opera.  I can see why an Italian singer like Freni would love this.

In the act break Mayor Giuliani gives Mirella Freni the key to the city.  It's wonderful to see this.  Brava Mirella.

Act III takes place in Switzerland where the Princess has a house.  The whole production is very traditional.  It's not difficult to see why Freni would love this opera.  Her character is on the stage for every scene and experiences a very wide range of emotions.  She is happy, sad, angry, joyous, guilty, despondent and suicidal all in one opera.

The opera is sort of verismo for the upper classes.  They are glorious together to the end.  It is wonderful to see this again.  They do it all for Mirella.  Love.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

San Francisco Ring -- Das Rheingold

Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Director: Francesca Zambello

Wotan, head god:  Greer Grimsley
Loge, god of fire:  Štefan Margita
Alberich, Nibelung: Falk Struckmann*
Fricka, Wotan's wife:  Jamie Barton
Erda, goddess of the earth, Ronnita Miller
Mime, Alberich's brother: David Cangelosi
Fasolt, giant: Andrea Silvestrelli
Fafner, giant: Raymond Aceto
Donner, god of thunder: Brian Mulligan
Froh, god:  Brandon Jovanovich
Freia, goddess of the apples;  Julie Adams
Woglinde, Rhinemaiden:  Stacey Tappan
Wellgunde, Rhinemaiden:  Lauren McNeese
Flosshilde, Rhinemaiden:  Renée Tatum

I've seen this San Francisco Opera production of Wagner's Das Rheingold twice before.  I don't remember the other times hardly at all.  I can read about them in this blog, of course, here and here

Runnicles still feels like the best Wagner conductor around.  I liked the production better than before and found that it clarified all plot points even to my fussy standards.

It is a surprise how much I like Greer Grimsley as Wotan.  I don't seem to be able to write a lot these days.  They are streaming the entire Ring throughout the month of March.  I am determined to make it through all four operas this time.