The Ring in San Francisco – Enjoying a Conversation with Brandon Jovanovich & Karita Mattila

By Lois Silverstein

San Francisco Opera is in the midst of its month-long festival dedicated to Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.” In the coming weeks, Lois Silverstein will explore her experience not only revisiting the 2018 opera production, but several of the events and panels presented by the company. 

One of the highlights so far has to be the delightful conversation between Karita Mattila and Brandon Jovanovich, the Sieglinde Siegmund of “Die Walküre,” the second talk of the Virtual Ring Festival. Hosted by the well-known music critic Joshua Kosman, the lively and vivid personalities shone. Who could not wait to see their performance in opera too?

Kosman led the way of the artists with questions about their feelings singing in such a powerful love story to their thoughts about the theme of incest and violence to their particular ideas about Wagner, and German opera, in preparation for performing Wagner in particular.

Mattila spoke about how she came to the role of Sieglinde later in her career than expected, but how she had to learn first how not to force her voice in order to do it. Although she’d done the role elsewhere, she had much joy in the Zambrello-Runnicles’ production. When she referred to a “Singers’Heaven” being the success of the close relationship of singers with each other, the conductor and the director, she implied how this production fostered some of this experience. That is the keyway, Mattila said, the artistic goal is reached.

Each singer spoke about their attractions to these roles and to its challenging subject of love and incest. When did the characters become aware that their passion crossed boundaries? How did they handle it? How do they make it convincing? Jovanovich spoke with conviction about the need for personal and collegial spontaneity on stage. However they have rehearsed, so much depends on allowing for it with a partner,  “once a basic framework had been established.”

Mattila agreed. To make room for what can happen in a live performance is for her a necessity to make a performance real and moving. When a singer doesn’t allow for “touch,” even literal touch, Kosman interjected, very likely the audience won’t be touched at all. Both singers agreed that even with the fine textual and emotional detail Wagner creates in “Die Walküre,” they needed to work hard in their preparation to make sure that they are expressing just what he intended.

Again, each spoke about trust, in their performance partner, conductor as well as the director, each agreed, and highly praised Francesca Zambello and this Ring production. While each has sung the role elsewhere, it is this San Francisco/Washington “Ring” that they feel enabled them to express and expand their own attraction to the role, the story, and the freedom to offer them. Before Kosman brought the dialogue to an end, he asked an audience question about which role they would like to sing if they had an entirely different “fach.” Mattila said Alberich and Jovanovich said “Brünnhilde.”

The wisdom of the San Francisco Opera to offer these events to give the audience the live boost virtual streaming needs, reminds us all, though we have been locked and in a sense “screened in,” real people inhabit the stage and the world the opera conveys.


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