June 7th, 2010

piranha - obviously everything is fine.

Opera: Die Walküre

When it comes to opera, when you want BIG and EPIC you go for Richard Wagner. Specifically, you go for his Ring cycle, a series of four operas that borrow heavily from pre-Christian mythology and Germanic folklore to tell of the rise and fall of the Norse Gods.

The San Francisco Opera is getting ready to perform the entire Ring Cycle next year. If you were to watch all four operas back-to-back, you'd be sitting through 14.5 hours of singing. (And you thought the Lord of the Rings trilogy was long!) It'd be far too grueling for the actors to actually perform the entire cycle in a single day, so the performances are usually spread out over a week. It's pretty intense, so the San Francisco Opera only does the full cycle every ten years or so - the last full run was in 1999.

As a bit of a preview, the Opera decided to perform Die Walküre, the second opera in the series this month. It features the iconic Ride of the Valkyries, Wagner's best-known music, and is a tale of love, incest, murder, revenge...y'know. All that good stuff. Daddy secured preview tickets to the final dress rehearsal, which got us box seating. That was a novelty, since the boxes cost $360 a seat at an actual performance.

The setting and costumes has been somewhat modernized; there are no women in winged helmets here. Instead, clothing is a mishmash of early and mid-20th century design. Wotan, ruler of the gods, wears a business suit and rules the world from a desk at the top of a skyscraper. The Valkyries are dressed like Amelia Earhart and parachute onto the stage. Soldiers dressed in WWI and WWII uniforms march in lines on their way to Valhalla under the ruins of a crumbling expressway.

The Opera also made extensive use of a digital screen for projecting many of their sets. During the musical interludes, they would show video of redwood forests, city skylines, and skies with clouds rolling dramatically. The effects worked well when in the background, behind a physical set and actors, but when the screen was the only entertainment the Youtube-video quality was disappointing. As my dad pointed out, it looked like someone on the team grabbed his camcorder and drove to Santa Cruz to spend the weekend running around the redwoods with his camera in front of him.

In the end, though, it all comes down to the music, and Die Walküre sounded good. I mean, I'm pretty ignorant about music - I can't read it, play it or pinpoint subtle differences in performances - but the singers were strong and clear, the orchestra crisp and beautiful. I really enjoyed it, and now I'm pumped to see the full Ring Cycle next summer.

The aviatrix Valkyries