Heidi Melton is a former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow who has since been travelling the world singing everywhere from Bordeaux to Frankfurt to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She returns to SF Opera as the Third Norn in
Götterdämmerung and Sieglinde in the June 29 performance of
I came to the role of the Third Norn for the first time last spring when I was working at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The DOB is a well-oiled machine. They do upwards of 40 productions a year, most of which are repertory productions—which means that the Deutsche Oper owns the productions and that they have been in rotation there for many years.
This particular production was premiered in 1985 and they had it down to a science. We had one day of rehearsals for the Norn scene, and then the dress rehearsal. It was a baptism by fire. In Germany, the Ring cycle is part of their soul. Everyone knows the stories and has answers to any questions that may be posed. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience my first Third Norn, first Helmwige, first Gutrune and first Ring cycle in Berlin (It was a rather busy week). [Right: Heidi as the Third Norn in with DOB, photo by Betina Stoess]
Coming to the Third Norn again is a completely new experience. We've already spent days working on and talking about the scene. Francesca has set the scene in a very dark, dismal place, where the Norns habitat is completely ruined. The careless gods have basically destroyed the landscape, but the Norns are still trying to stop their destruction. In building this scene from scratch, we have had the luxury of time to really get to the root of the Norns and their place in the story. What do the Norns mean? Who are they? Why did Wagner choose to introduce them now?
We Norns are a capricious lot. The three daughters of Erda, we serve a two-fold purpose in the opera’s prologue. The first of which is to act as Wagnerian newscasters; summarizing what has taken place in the past three operas. The second is to foreshadow the eventual demise of the gods. The Norns are the Norse counterparts to the Greek Fates. In Norse mythology, we sit at the base of the Weltesche and weave the ropes of destiny. In Götterdämmerung
, we sit at the base of a fir tree that has become the substitute for the felled Weltesche and braid the past, present and future. We are especially integral because we are the only beings in the Ring
cycle that can directly influence the gods. [Left: Heidi Melton, Daveda Karanas and Ronnita Miller, our three Norns, arriving at San Francisco Opera]
Things have gone horribly wrong in the world of the gods, and even though the majority of Götterdämmerung takes place in the realm of the mortals, the prologue is a promise of the destruction that will invade Valhalla. The gods have been behaving badly, and we Norns are the keepers of consequence. Their greed and avarice have consumed all that was once good and pure, and they have instigated an avalanche of consequence that cannot be prevented. When the ropes snap at the end of the Norn scene, we realize that we can no longer thwart the end of the gods. We relinquish control and return home to our mother. Sound dark? Well it should. It’s Wagner. And it’s wonderful!