We arrived too late to get on the rail, so Isabella and I headed up to the biergarten and waited until it was time to take our place with the other lunatics in the back of the orchestra (at this point "lunatic" meaning people insane enough to do standing room for an almost five-hour long opera- the definition changes quickly). Well, she waited and I tried to eat something that was billed as a sausage but had the texture of a personal gratification tool commonly bought at Good Vibrations. As I was practicing, a man standing near us let loose a fart which sounded like one the trumpets in Hunding’s hunting party.
“Really?” I asked- query met with complete silence. It wasn’t the last of its kind I heard last night.
Why do all of the crazy people always end up in my orbit, like I possess some cosmic gravitational pull, which silently emits a signal stating “lunatics- he’s over here!” Around three months ago- eleven weeks now that I think about it, a man started following me as I walked toward the Hilton on O’Farrell on my way home after work. It didn’t take me long to realize this and soon he was coming up right behind.
“I know who you are, motherfucker,” he hissed at me.
I kept walking- to a certain extent I'm used to this kind of stuff.
“Come on- let’s settle this. Right now. I’m going to fucking kill you so let’s just do it right now. Step into the alley motherfucker.Turn left and let's go.”
Now I was becoming unnerved- this was no longer the usual kind of stuff. I looked over my shoulder to see where his hands were and I looked ahead to see if there were any cops around. There were no cruisers in the street, but I saw one standing in front of the Hilton- if I could just make it there before this guy lost it completely.
“You don’t fool me- I know who you are!” he said, his voice starting to rise.
Realizing at this point I was running out of time and still had too much sidewalk left between me and the cop, I turned to face him and said “I have no idea who you think I am, but I don’t know you.”
He called me by a name which isn’t mine and then accused me of turning his wife into a whore and junkie. She was now dead and he was going to kill me since I was responsible for it all.
I said, “That’s not my name.”
“Bullshit! I know you, you fucking piece of shit!”
“Look, I’m not the man you’re looking for. I can prove it to you.” I told him my name, and walking again, now as fast as I could, I suggested we take a walk straight up to that cop and there, I’d present my ID to the cop and we could verify that I was indeed not the man he wanted to kill. If I failed the test, he could follow me and then stick his knife in my neck.
I kept yammering for time and finally reached the cop. My hands shaking, I handed the surprised cop my driver’s license, turned to the dead woman’s husband and said, “Okay- what’s my name?”
He said it.
I turned to the cop and asked,“Is that right?”
The cop looked at me, then at my license, at me again, turned to my would-be assassin and said, “That’s not his name. What’s going on with you two?”
“Nothing,” I said, though the cop could see I was shaking, “This guy just thinks I’m someone else.”
“It is you- I know it is”
“No man, I’m not him. And now I’m leaving- and you’re going to walk away in the opposite direction. Are we clear? Because otherwise I have more to say to this guy,” nodding toward the cop as we stepped away from him.
The man said, “You have no idea how much you look like him. I’m gonna find him and I’m gonna fucking kill him.”
“Good luck with that," I replied, and with that, he turned and walked in the direction from which we came. I waited until he was a block away and watched him disappear into the crowd before I continued on my way home.
What the hell has this got to do with opera?
Sorry- the crazy people standing next to us last night in the back of standing room on the orchestra level reminded me of this story and I meant to write about it at the time but shortly after it actually happened, all hell broke loose in my life and I had forgotten about it until now. So there you have it.
As I was saying, Isabella and I went to catch the last performance of Die Walküre in San Francisco Opera’s Ring cycle. Though I had just seen this production last week, I did want to hear Heidi Melton take over from Anja Kampe as Sieglinde and Isabella is enthusiastically discovering that though Italian opera runs through her veins, there are pleasures of a different sort to be found in German. For the first two acts we stood next to these lunatics who kept arguing- and belching- and breaking wind- and breathing like they’d left their respirators at home. Thankfully, Isabella submitted to me to turning her out as an opera whore and she procured some Dress Circle seats from an elderly couple who were leaving early.
Runnicles had the orchestra under control from the start and though the pacing of the first two acts still felt slow to me, the orchestra was in tight focus all night long and the third act was nothing else but beautifully performed from start to finish. The cast, the same from last week except for Melton, was stronger, giving off a sense that they were happy to be crossing the finish line with this final Walküre. Brandon Jovanovich and Elizabeth Bishop were even stronger than they were last week. For me though, this was really about seeing Melton justly take a turn in a major role in a house that’s been formative in her career.
During the first act she sang well, though I was expecting more. She and Jovanovich didn’t seem to have a lot of chemistry, but who knows who much rehearsal time they had to get the blocking down. What they lacked in chemistry however, was definitely made up for in vocal power.
During the second act she found her comfort zone and simply put, Melton then soared as Sieglinde. The huge, clear voice locals have now appreciated for years filled the house and Melton laid claim to the role with conviction. "Du hehrstes Wunder, herrliche Maid!"- for me the signifier distinguishing those who can and should sing it and those who shouldn’t- was glorious coming from her.
Nina Stemme started off slightly weaker than on previous nights, but by the time the third act came, she was back to her usual, now-setting-the-standard-for-contemporary-Brunnhildes excellence, matched note for note in what may have been his strongest performance yet by Mark Delevan as Wotan.
What I had earlier found problematic or annoying about the production didn’t really bother me too much this time around, in no small part due to the fact that last night it was really all about hearing the voices- and not the ones in my head.
It’s the sign of a good cycle when each night makes you want to go back for more, and though I wasn’t originally planning on it because this has been a very busy week filled with ridiculously long nights followed by work the next morning, at this point I can’t see myself skipping Siegfried this Friday unless I collapse from exhaustion. The momentum builds, as does the anticipation for more.
Hopefully the lunatics will have other plans.