Siegfried gets da Goil

I must say I like these matinee performances, when one is fresh as a daisy and hasn't even had the time to get rip-roarin' drunk before the off.

Breakfast was again taken on the balcony of the house I was staying in, with a fine view of the city.  I warmed up a couple of pies from a shop on 24th street at Castro, called "Pete's ...something or other ...Pies".  Whatever it is called, it is a fine little pie boutique, and like every other shop I entered in San Francisco, was staffed with a fine friendly people who knew their pies.  I had last eaten there three years ago and was heartened to find them still in business.  I have a soft spot (my tummy) for small private food establishments as opposed to cookie-cutter chain eateries.  The pies have meat and veggies in them and are wrapped in wholecrust pastry.  Not quite the delicacy that is a Cornish pastie but one has to make do.

Siegfried is something I look forward to immensely.
As with all the Wagner masterpieces we are treated to a prelude that sets the mood and draws us in closely to the scene we are about to see and hear.  It is inky black and menacing, the orchestra speaking softly but carrying a big stick.

The rhythm is going to get you and it does as the black curtain rises and Gary Rideout, as Mime, hammers deftly on the anvil.  He is sunk in a trench on stage, the smithy paraphernalia all around in a dimly lit set which has a two tier bunk bed at the back and is shallow.

Obliging the libretto, Siegfried enters with a bear to scare the bejesus out of Mime and encourage laughter in the audience.  Wolfgang Schmidt laughs all the way to the Bundesbank even though nary a good word is said about him.  This was my fourth time in the past two years hearing him and again he was slow to get going and was outshone and vocally overpowered by the ringing tonsils of Mr Rideout.  I hung out in his corner, though, for I believe he grows stronger as the evening wears on. This is not an easy sing I would imagine!  He knows his stage business well and moves fluidly and looks the part.

Gary was encouraged (I assume) to overact like Billy-O....think Graham Clark, though without the latter's incredible gymnastic bent.  I do prefer something closer to Heinz Zednik's approach given the choice.

The band was supple and colorful in Act I with no serious derailments.

James Morris was of course the Wanderer in this and was as good as it gets.
The Forging Song is maybe my least favorite part of the opera, mainly due to its length and repetition of a rather loutish melody (though suitable for the moment and the character) and the whole stage business might have left a blacksmith scratching his head at the techniques involved, as the old sword was dropped into a barrel without the usual escape of steam, and after a quick rummage a whole new sword was brought forth.  I am glad it was, for then and only then can I change my underwear in preparation for the cue that brings forth the headlong exultant rush from the band as Siegfried holds aloft the sword and brings it crashing down to split the anvil.

Wagner knows how to end an Act!!

I needed a smoke after that and, by gum, so did many others on the balcony overlooking the City Hall and a fun fair across the way where people were being swung upside down on a fairground ride.  I knew how they felt.

Even back in 1876 people in the first Ring audience were bewitched by Act II of Siegfried wherein lies the Forest Murmurs.

Before that I get to savor Tom Fox in Neidhole.  If his name is new to you, make a note of it.

Schmidt sang a fine ode to his dead mother, now relaxed and in control of his pitch.  The dragon was a huge skeletal head and enormous claw that came from behind a rock.  I won't go into the fight that ensued, as the dragon was rather a sitting duck as most stage dragons are, and he was soon sent to hell in a handbasket by a thrust from Nothung.  He fell back behind the cover of the rock to be replaced by Fafner in his giant form.  Not new, but effective nonetheless.

The woodbird was sung by Susanne Ramo and was pleasant enough.  A special word I must say for the offstage horn player who managed his solos admirably.

By now I had one Act left of my Ring excoursion, for I would not be staying the extra 3 days to see Gotterdammerung, as I had to be back in Chicago to work.  I took my last cigarette on the balcony and returned to the Grand Tier to take my seat.

Again a fabulous introduction to Act III, the band fired up and rarin' to go.

James Morris and Elena Zaremba made a good team but I was urging them on so I could get to Schmidt and Eaglen and following that -some dinner!

And again, due to the incapabilities of the stage apparatus, I had to look at that black curtain while Wolf made his ascent to Jane's rock.  He found Jane in resplendent voice and even though the director kept them as far apart as possible at the climax, without placing either or both in the wings, I had no trouble hearing Wolfgang, who by this point was warmed up and giving it his all and showing why he gets the gig in the first place.  How many people do you call when you want to cast Siegfried??  Who is there?

I am one of those who want to hear and see this opera and if the casting is less than ideal I live with it and see no point in wishing dead singers to rise from the grave.  I live in the here and now and so do you.

I do know that at the fall of the curtain I felt excited enough to pound my manly hands together to make that clapping noise and was not alone.

Dinner was a noisy casual affair in a nearby restaurant called Cafe della Stella, and I was ready for a heaping plateful of Italian food and lashings of white wine.  I looked around the table at my Ring companions of the past week and drank a silent toast to them all for having got off their duffs and travelled over hill and dale to hear Wagner.  Not the best or most memorable of my five Rings to date from a production standpoint, and certainly a disappointment on the orchestral side of things, but vocally a highlight.

My next Ring will be the Met in May 2000.  No surprises in the staging as I saw it live in 97 and know the video frame by frame.  The band and conductor I know will give me much pleasure and I will get to savor the music once again in a live setting, and that matters more to me than staying in with some old recordings and cuddling up with the cats.

Meantime, it gives me the greatest pleasure to say that 10 days from now I will be aboard a United Airlines flight to Frankfurt, en route to Bayreuth, Germany, for my first visit to the Festspielhaus.

I will keep you posted!

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