Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Attila at San Francisco Opera

There are very few operas where the title role is written for a bass. You have the Russian Boris Godunov and Khovanschina but that's about all I can come up with, except for the 19th-century Italian operas Mefistofole by Boito and Attila by Verdi. The latter two roles have been owned for about the last 30 years by Samuel Ramey, who sang them in productions all over the world. Ramey's old now and his voice has a major wobble, but when he came out for a cameo as Pope Leo at the end of Act 1 of Attila this evening, he gave the San Francisco Opera/La Scala co-production a dose of superstar energy that was most welcome.

The direction by the Italian, Gabriele Lavia, was borderline awful like his miserable Don Giovanni with all the monster mirrors of last year, but it didn't really matter. The conducting by music director Nicola Luisotti was fun and thoroughly oom-pah-pah, and the principal singers were all good, though none of them conveyed the charisma of Ramey in his wobbly five-minute cameo. The best thing about the performance was the San Francisco Opera Chorus who sounded like one of the great musical ensembles of the world.

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