Tag Archive: Donald Runnicles

Prom 26: Debussy, Dutilleux, Ravel – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, cond. Donald Runnicles, Lynn Harrell, cello

First off, a confession. Such, such are the joys of London transport that I arrived too late for the start of the Debussy, and was therefore not admitted till after the Prélude had finished. I have heard tell that there is a species of journalist that in this situation would confer with its fellow hacks and evaluate the consensus on the missed performance, before compiling a description along these party lines as though it were its own opinion. Fortunately, I am not that kind of journalist and would therefore not have the effrontery to hoodwink my innocent readers in this way. (Those of a political disposition have my full permission to consider the preceding sentences trenchant topical satire rather than pointless filler.) At least I can confirm that wherever the sound dissipates to in the Albert Hall’s less-than-princely acoustic, it is not through its double set of side doors off the auditorium, which yielded up nary a note in the five minutes-plus I was stood outside awaiting entry.

The San Francisco Ring, 2011 – Donald Runnicles, Conductor, Francesca Zambello, Stage Director

When any object is taken apart and reformed, does its substance remain what it was in the beginning? Nothung, Siegmund and Siegfried’s magical sword, proves stronger for having been shattered and forged anew. Does the Rhinegold itself acquire new properties through being the fatal, world-dominating ring, or when the Rhinemaidens receive it at the end of Götterdämmerung, has it the same intrinsic properties it did when Alberich stole it “twenty hours ago,” as Anna Russell clocked it?

Director Francesca Zambello, in her Americanized Ring Cycle, three-quarters of which were co-produced by Washington Opera, forged something new and wondrous from Wagner’s tremendous and often toxic masterwork. Not every bit of Wagner’s original symbolism reintegrates seamlessly into the newly fashioned work, and occasional cognitive dissonance results. Frankly, Wagner’s own sprawling cosmology—one part German myth, one part creative genius, one part tortured personal psychology—leaves many questions unanswered and any number of unresolved contradictions and loose ends. In San Francisco, the director and her designer colleagues shaped a remarkable production that transcended its occasional awkward moments and that touched the heart in ways I’ve never known this uniquely ambitious epic work to do before. The striking and varied stage pictures are the work of Michael Yeargan, the always illuminating costumes are by Catherine Zuber, the colorful, refreshing, and often exquisite lighting is by Mark McCullough. The many projections, used as backdrops and show curtain, were created by Jan Hartley. I didn’t find every element equally successful, but I left the theatre believing that this production had the mystical power to make the world a better place. The staging is that good.