Return to SF, in Boots

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By Daniel Sumegi (Fafner and Hunding)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi is a former Adler Fellow and alumnus of the Merola Opera Program. His first role with the Company, while an Adler Fellow in 1992, was Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. An old pro at several roles in the Ring cycle, Daniel most recently appeared as Hagen at Opera du Rhin, Strasbourg in their new David McVicar staging of Gotterdammerung. He returns to San Francisco Opera this time to sing Fafner and Hunding.
 
It has been a little over 20 years since I first came to San Francisco Opera to sing an informational audition for Lotfi Mansouri and Sarah Billinghurst for the 1992 Merola Opera Program.
 
As it happens, they asked me to come in 1991, so I cancelled a job I had in Australia and showed up for what began the ride of my life. What we like to refer to as opera boot-camp was very tough, but looking back, it was what set me up for my career. An Adler Fellowship followed and then I was out into the big, wide world. 
 
I’ve had many ups and downs along the way, as is normal. I came to sing in San Francisco three times after my Adler Fellowship—once during the season when the opera was in the Bill Graham Auditorium while the War Memorial Opera House was under renovation, as the King of Egypt in Aida and First Soldier in Salome. I also sang Colline in the 1996 Centennial La Bohème at the Golden Gate Theater. I returned once more in 2000 as the Police Commissioner in Der Rosenkavalier. [Right: Sumegi as Colline in 1996]
 
In 2009 while I was in Seattle singing their wonderful Ring cycle I was very unexpectedly offered the roles of Fafner and Hunding for this Ring. Naturally I agreed and here I find myself again 11 years later performing in the Mount Olympus of musical theater for this fantastic opera company. [Brandon Jovanovich (Siegmund) and Daniel Sumegi (Hunding) practice sword technique with Fight Director Jonathan Rider]
 
I normally sing Hagen—seven productions so far, with more planned in the future—so for me this engagement is not as stressful as it can sometimes be. Hagen is a very difficult role on many levels. But Fafner here is very difficult also, not so much because of the music, but because of the shoes we are required to wear. These specially constructed boots, that make me and Andrea Silvestrelli truly gigantic, are on 15-inch platforms! They are extremely large and awkward, and operating these on a raked stage is quite precarious. When Francesca first asked me how the boots were, I said, “not as hard as the ropes!” This referred to John the Baptist in her Salome that I performed last fall in Washington, D.C. In that production, I was bound on both wrists and ankles with 20 foot long ropes and held by two guards who dragged me around the stage brutally for 25 minutes. In these kinds of situations, the actual performances are much easier than the sometimes three-hour rehearsal blocks! These kinds of effects, despite their difficulty, really are worth the effort for the fantastic overall impact they create. [Right Daniel Sumegi and Andea Silvestrelli pose in their giant boots with German diction coach Nora Norden]