It was midnight June 8th by the time I landed at San Francisco Airport. It had been 80 degrees when I left Chicago as the sun went down, but the plane driver said it was 50-something degrees as we made our touchdown approach.
Regardless, I put the top down on the red convertible Mustang that awaited me in the Hertz Number One Club Gold parking bay. There was some Japanese guy's name in lights over the car but the keys were in it and I drove off anyway, into the cool night air, bound for the City by the Bay. I eschewed the use of a map as I had been there 3 years before and trusted in my memory. 5 hours later, after driving around in circles in San Diego, I decided that maybe I should have headed north instead of south out of the airport gates.
That last sentence was a lie of course, for like a manly laser beam I had locked onto my target, a house high on a hill in the Noe Valley, just off Castro Street and was there in just 20 Earth minutes and popped the top of my first beer of a new day at 20 minutes 21 seconds.
As my travelling companion dragged the luggage up the steps to the house I sauntered onto the balcony that runs around two sides of the house and affords views of the downtown area and the ships to the south of the city laying at anchor. We had arrived.
Prior to Rheingold we made an excursion to the coast north of this beautiful city. Passing over the Golden Gate Bridge we left Route 101 at Lucas Valley Road which is, coincidentally, the road which leads to George Lucas' Skywanker Ranch, and drove over hill and dale and around the strolling deer until we came to a shady little village called Point Reyes Station where we stopped for a fine lunch served in a garden full of blossoms....er, blossoming.
Our goal was to visit Point Reyes Lighthouse which sits 300 feet above the churning Pacific, halfway down a cliff that rises to 600 feet above sea level. It was a good windy walk down some steep stairs and it got the heart a-pumping and helped work up an appetite as we hadn't eaten in nearly an hour.
Taking the winding rollercoaster that is Highway 1 back to San Francisco, we arrived in time to have a 5pm lunch at Speckman's, a favorite German restaurant where they serve German food and more importantly- German Beer!
From there, with tums bulging from the weight of Goulash and potato pancakes, we drove the short distance to the War Memorial Opera House, arriving with ample time to spare and which was used to hobnob with Mistress Terri, Jean from Toronto and Wolf from Germany.
'Ere long we were summoned to our seats and settled in, awaiting the Wagner magic. We sat in the 2nd row of the Grand Tier, or first balcony, on the strings side of the pit.
I always have to breathe deeply once the conductor and orchestra have been welcomed for I know that once the hubbub dies down, the next sound I hear will be a creation of Richard Wagner and I realise that I am about to embark on another Rhine Journey and have many treats in store.
The band acquit themselves well in this prelude like no other, even though the conductor Donald Runnicles lacks "swing" and has them playing rather stiffly as though the river Rhine is running down steps. One of my favorite moments is a few bars before Woglinde makes her vocal entrance, and there is a quickly rising arpeggio from the woodwinds which reminds me perhaps of bubbles rushing to the surface, and from there my preference is for the horns to rise to a cacophony (as they do on the Levine Met video), which is quickly hushed as Woglinde sings her first line, and the Levine effect is to make me feel like I have been hearing the swirling river from above and am now suddenly underwater.
Runnicles doesn't quite drive his band in the Levine manner, but then he doesn't have a band like Levine to drive, for the most part.
I am always curious to see what materialises when the lights go up on Woglinde.
Tom Fox needs no programme to identify him. A fine baritone in my opinion and a convincing and involved stage actor. He was Alberich and the next best thing to Ekkehard Wlaschiha when casting this role, from my experience (this was my 5th Ring in 5 years of Wagnerising). He was white-faced and bald and dressed in dirty grey-white overalls and had perhaps been in a flour mill before taking his swim. The ladies taunted him of course and the three became six as surrogates were used to give the illusion of the three being able to swim fast and unseen from one crevice to another, popping up unexpectedly to surprise and confuse the poor fellow. This required quite some choreography and feats of memory and timing and worked most of the time.
Alas, when it came time to highlight the Rheingold, members of the brass section were called upon to play, and here for the first of many such occasions they, or certain members of their group, proved totally unprepared to play in tune, or in time, or to blow in the right hole. My mind immediately went back in time to Lohengrin in 1996 when not once did the onstage trumpeters play the fanfare correctly as a group. I assumed that after that they would all have been shot or beheaded or have their instruments locked away. I shouldn't assume things...you are correct.
Well, I can't go through the whole of Rheingold bar by bar or we would be here all night. And anyway I wasn't awake for all of it. Here and there the effects of the big dinner, the drinks, the driving fatigue, and the heat of the theatre (open a window somebody!) all took their toll and I would nod off for a little cat-nap now and then.
I do certainly recall that the black, inner stage curtain was lowered to facilitate scene changes, which was something that Wagner managed to avoid over 100 years ago by using steam, and that when it arose again on scene two, the Fricka I was looking forward to hearing, Mariana Lipovsek, was nowhere to be seen (having cancelled) and was replaced by Elizabeth Bishop, the cover, who was signed to sing one of the Walkures. She stepped up to the plate and delivered the vocal goods, and is a singer to watch out for in the future as a result.
The Wotan was a certain James Morris and I settled back in my chair and relaxed.
to be continued.......