Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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California Does Wagner – 2008

January 12th, 2008

California’s three major opera companies are each mounting a Wagner work in the first half of 2008. Two of the companies, the Los Angeles and San Diego Operas, most likely by coincidence, are offering their Wagner productions simultaneously. Except for some performances of “Fliegende Hollaender” in venues of various sizes, the only scheduled performances of Wagner’s major works during this time period in the United States are either the California performances or those at the New York Met in Winter and Early Spring (“Die Walkuere” and “Tristan”).

For those who prefer to see Wagner in climes where the possibility of winterstuerme are much more remote than in Manhattan, late January and the beginning of February is a perfect time to travel to Southern California. As an enticement, one has the prospect of seeing artists for the first time whose international reputations are based on their European performances – John Treleaven’s Tristan, Robert Gambill’s Tannhauser, and Camilla Nylund’s Elizabeth. These stars will be joined by other world class performers whose work is more familiar to Americans, and for whom performance reviews already exist on this website.

For those who like their Wagner presented in productions that are within the mainstream of performance history, the Los Angeles and San Diego offerings will be in beautifully conceived settings, considerably more traditional than many Wagnerian productions seen in this millenium. For those with a taste for the non-traditional, “Das Rheingold”, the prequel to the Zambello “Ring”, will be shown at San Francisco’s War Memorial in June.

Those who find themselves in California’s Southland during this period, have the opportunity to experience both an early and mature Wagner work within the period of a few days. I am aware that folks are traveling from mid-continent and beyond for a Wagnerian winter break, assuring that it will not be just Angelenos and San Diegans savoring the Wagnerian sound at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and the San Diego Civic Theater.

Performance reviews of each of the following three operas will be posted on this website.

Tristan und Isolde (Los Angeles Opera) January 19, 23, 27, 31, February 3, 6 and 10, 2008

If sets and costumes for “Tristan und Isolde” exist anywhere that are more beautiful than those of the David Hockney production owned by the Los Angeles Opera, I am unaware of them. This is a revival of a production that charmed Los Angeles in 1987 and 1997 and was shown with great success at the San Francisco Opera in Fall, 2006 .

Under the baton of James Conlon, John Treleaven and Linda Watson lead the main cast, with Kristinn Sigmundson (Marke), Juha Uusitalo (Kurwenal) and Ljoba Braun (Brangaene). (Susan Foster relieves Watson for the February 3rd performance, and Eric Halfvarson steps into the final two performances for Sigmundson on February 6 and 10.)

[Below: Isolde (Linda Watson) and Tristan (John Treleaven) find communication difficult on the voyage to Cornwall; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph for Los Angeles Opera.]

Thor Steingraber, who directed the opera in its San Francisco showing to great praise, directs in Los Angeles also. Except for Treleaven and Foster, reviews of each of the cast members may be found on this website.

For the performance review, see: Liebesnacht: Treleaven’s Triumphant Tristan and Watson’s Wondrous Isolde at L. A. Opera – January 23, 2008

For my review of the Hockney “Tristan” in San Francisco, including an act by act description of the Hockney sets, see: The Runnicles, Hockney “Tristan” in S. F. – October 22, 2006

Tannhauser (San Diego Opera) January 26, 20, February 1 and 3, 2008

Robert Gambill will be the title role heldentenor and Camilla Nylund (Elizabeth) and Petra Lang (Venus) will be the two women who vie for his attention in the third production of “Tannhauser” by the three major California companies in a 12-month period. Russell Braun (Wolfram) and Reinhard Hagen (Landgrave) have the other major roles.

[Below: Elizabeth (Camilla Nylund) welcomes Tannhauser (Robert Gambill) to the Wartburg Hall of Song; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of San Diego Opera.]

Unlike the productions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, this “Tannhauser” will be in the Wagnerian mainstream, using the Dresden version and recreating the Metropolitan Opera’s traditional sets. Gabor Otvos is the conductor, and Michael Hampe the producer.

For the performance review, see: Wagner Knows Best: Elegant San Diego Opera “Tannhauser” Sticks to the Story – January 26, 2008

For a detailed discussion of the three very different approaches to this opera, see my review of the second of the three “Tannhauser” productions: Charismatic S. F. “Tannhauser” – October 12, 2007

Das Rheingold (San Francisco Opera) June 3, 6, 14, 19, 22 and 28, 2008

Francesca Zambello’s so-called “American Ring” premiered at Washington National Opera at Kennedy Center in 2006. Although I was unable to be there for the prequel, I did catch the American Ring’s second installment of “Die Walkuere” in 2007, which, though filled with unexpected images, followed Wagner’s storyline and proved to be a triumph of singing, acting and stagecraft. Michael Yeargan was the set designer.

[Below: Wotan (Mark Delavan, right) is enraptured by the information imparted by Erda (Jill Grove); edited image, based on a Terrence McCarthy photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

The San Francisco cast stars Mark Delavan (Wotan), Stefan Margrita (Loge), Richard Paul Fink (Alberich), Jennifer Larmore (Fricka), Jill Grove (Erda), David Cangelosi (Mime) and Andrea Silvestrelli and debuting Guenther Groissboeck as the giants. Donald Runnicles, who has dominated the Wagner repertoire at San Francisco Opera for over 15 years, conducts.

For performance reviews, see: Delavan Shines in a Gleaming San Francisco “Rheingold” – June 14, 2008 and see also: Pure Gold: A Second Look at S. F.’s “American Ring Rheingold” – June 22, 2008.

For my review of the sequel to this production, see: Zambello’s Dazzling “American Ring ‘Walkuere'” at Kennedy Center – March 28, 2007

In the next post on this website, we will provide “Tom’s Tips” on attending opera performances in the two cities – how to get there, where to eat, where to park.

For those persons for whom a visit to L.A. and/or San Diego to see the Wagner performances in late January is impossible, but could get to Southern California in mid-February, the constellations will be in sync for sampling two Italian works in the two cities. The San Diego opera will produce Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda – Mary Queen of Scots” and the Los Angeles Opera, Verdi’s “Otello”. Tom’s Tips will be posted in time for those who are going Wagnerian or Italian or both.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations