A glittering Ring

The lyrics and even the action of the Ring Cycle are a series of repeating stories in which different characters retell past and future moments, all of which move inexorably toward the culminating deaths in Götterdämerung, the cycle’s concluding opera. It’s almost as if Wagner was worried the audience might forget the storyline during the cycle’s 17 hours of high-octane emotion. More likely, he was just obsessed, a living paragon of Romantic excess. Of the many stories sung,...

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Grabbing the Ring at SF Opera

The opening music of Wagner’s Ring Cycle begins with a single note played by the lower strings. Low woodwinds join in and then horns, until slowly a chord is formed. Wagner believed this first low note was a primal sound, an aural indication of a first slouching-toward-creation. It’s hard to argue his interpretation, for the sound as it carried out from the orchestra on Tuesday’s opening night seemed saturated with the terror of newness and ominous birth. As quickly as the notes cohered...

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A gripping “Carmen” at West Bay Opera

Artistic Director José Luis Moscovich led an out-sized production of the opera Carmen on Saturday, June 2 in the South Bay’s intimate Lucie Stern Theater. Brought to musical life by French composer Georges Bizet from a novel by Prosper Mérimée, this steamy pot-boiler was the backdrop for one of the best casts that I have heard here. And hearing that cast in this modest theater was a triumph of nuance over the usual operatic excess, with the title character’s range and deft...

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Fidelio at West Bay Opera

Freedom, a constant struggle. Big themes and a big orchestra filled Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theater last Friday, Feb. 16 for the opening of Beethoven’s Fidelio. It was his only opera and he cursed the ten years that he spent writing and revising it. Although Beethoven was the Grand Master of many musical forms from symphonic to sonata, his one attempt at opera was cautiously received in 1804 and then again in 1814 and still performed less than one might expect from the...

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Opera Parallèle’s on-pitch tribute to Bernstein and love

Opera Parallèle celebrated the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth this past weekend in a performance that included two short operas and several dramatized musical pieces woven into a loose narrative, rather like the one-act that was the finale of the evening, Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. Perhaps in honor of their collaboration with SFJAZZ at the Center where the performance was held, the evening began with a jazz-infused selection from West Side Story, blazingly...

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Opera San José’s haunting “Dutchman”

The curtain opened on a three-sided set of wood walls that rose from stage floor to flies. Projected on the surface of these walls was a film of stormy sky and sea separated by a line of seemingly enormous craggy cliffs. The deep blue sky was coursed by turbulent clouds; waves rose in turmoil. Agitated movement flowed across the entire stage, only to be replaced by equally striking imagery. Out of a blood-red world the silhouette of a ship appeared. Flames engulfed the stage as the Dutchman...

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