By Elsa Tranter
For each of the three cycles of Wagner’s Ring in San Francisco, the Opera Chorus gave a concert on the ‘off’ night between Walküre and Siegfried. I attended the final one. The chorus appeared only in the final act of Götterdämmerung, so this was a chance for them to sing more than once a week!!
Forty-six singers, divided evenly between men and women, entered the intimate Atrium theater on risers either side of a grand piano. The accompanist was Fabrizio Corona, Associate Chorus Master since 2011. And the conductor was Ian Robertson, Chorus director since 1987(!). He gave a brief introduction to each of the songs with a wry Scots sense of humor.
They featured mostly Wagner’s music, but started with those who influenced Wagner. The opening number was the Chorus of the Bridesmaids by Carl Maria von Weber, who was a role model for Wagner. This was followed by a men’s chorus and a women’s chorus both from Von Weber’s Der Freischutz.
Then we proceeded to early Wagner with a Triumph March from Rienzi and two familiar choruses from Der Fliegende Hollander, the Sailor’s Chorus featuring a solo by Colby Roberts, and the Spinning Chorus. Next was a chorus entitled ‘An Webers Grabe’; according to Mr. Robertson, Wagner was responsible for moving Von Weber’s grave from London (where he died at the age of 39 following a stressful presentation of his opera Oberon there in English) to Dresden , where he was born. This happened 18 years later and Wagner gave the eulogy as well as writing this beautiful choral piece.
The final piece of the first half was The Entrance of the Guests from Tannhauser.
Following the intermission, the 250-plus members of the audience were treated to other choruses from Tannhauser, the Wedding Chorus from Lohengrin, one chorus from Parsifal and two lively choruses from Wagner’s only comic opera Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. It was a rousing way to end a delightful evening. The chorus has a lot of power but is so very controlled in singing. The music never overwhelms, but always packs a punch. It was a grand night of singing and we all left humming “Here comes the Bride”!
Elsa Tranter is a Bostonian who has lived in Berkeley for over 40 years and has been an opera goer for most of those years. She worked as a graduate student adviser at UC Berkeley and still attends Cal Performances regularly. Her favorite composer is Wagner and her favorite opera is Tristan und Isolde.