Sunday, September 07, 2008
San Francisco Opera Opening 2
This year's production of "Simon Boccanegra" is from London's Covent Garden and it's the same serviceable but clunky set as they used in 2001 when the lead roles were sung by Paolo Gavanelli and Carol Vaness
I walked out of the opera in 2001 because Gavanelli was way off-pitch and Vaness, who I had worshiped for decades, was starting her inevitable vocal decline which was painful to hear.
This time around the cast could hardly be any better, starting with Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Simon and the debuting Barbara Frittoli as Amelia. They both ran into a few rough patches on opening night but overall they were splendid.
Another oddity of "Simon Boccanegra" is that all the roles in the opera are for men except for the single soprano, and the subsidiary characters were all sung beautifully. Marcus Haddock has a gorgeous tenor as the young lover Gabriele Adorno, Patrick Carfizzi as the villain Paolo was simply sensational in a part that can easily be boring and one-dimensional, while Vitalij Kowalijow as the vengeful father took full advantage of the great music Verdi gives the old man, and basically upstaged everyone.
The chorus and orchestra under Donald Runnicles were fabulous, as usual, and my only real criticism is with the staging which was clunky and unimaginative.
Each of the five scenes are supposed to be in separate locations, and a drop curtain came in between each one, but each time the thing was lifted we were back on the same set with monster pillars on the left and a big wall with doorways on the right.
I was assured by friends in the cast that the stagehands were very busy during each interval moving benches and other bric-a-brac around, but from the top balcony standing room, the set looked the same for every scene. At least the floor was pretty.
This is too bad because the opera is all about the intersection between public and private spheres, with lots of offstage and onstage choruses representing the "popolo," and it would be wonderful to see those contrasts interestingly staged.
None of that really matters, however, because this cast is a powerhouse ensemble, singing a rarely heard, immensely beautiful masterpiece and they are only going to get better as the run continues through September.
Plus, though the opening nighters certainly know how to get dolled up and drink, they tend to be a dreadful, unappreciative audience.
The ensuing performances should be better for everyone.