Saturday, September 08, 2012
Opening Night at the San Francisco Opera 2012
"You're looking great," I said to the woman above, after almost tripping over her dress at the corner of Grove and Gough on Friday evening. "And you've just made my night," she replied, telling me her name was Elizabeth.
"This has been on my bucket list for a long time," she explained. "Not going to the parties, but just attending the opera on opening night."
This was about the 30th San Francisco Opera season opener for me, either with a cheap standing room ticket or onstage as a supernumerary. From that long experience, I can confidently state that Opening Night is invariably a fun public party but tends to provide a reliably lousy audience for a full-length opera.
This is either because of unfamiliarity with the art form or because many of the society patrons are already tipsy on arrival from their pre-performance parties and are waiting impatiently for intermission and the post-performance parties to follow. (Opera House concierge Martin Dias is pictured above.) This was too bad for the performers at last night's Rigoletto, who were almost uniformly great, led by music director Nicola Luisotti in the best sounding version of the Verdi opera I have ever heard live.
Serbian baritone Željko Lučić has a perfect voice for the title role, and he was matched by the Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak who has a much darker, richer sound than is usual for the role of Gilda. Their duets were the highlight of the show. The Sardinian tenor Francesco Demuro playing that serial seducer, the Duke of Mantua, wasn't even remotely in the same league, but the great, growly Andrea Silvastrelli as the assassin Sparafucile almost made up for him. The male chorus of nasty courtiers was unusually sharp as were all the male comprimario parts sung by Robert Pomakov, Daniel Montenegro, Joo Won Kang, and Ryan Kuster.
The old Mark Lamos production designed by Michael Yeargan is still ridiculous, with the Duke of Mantua's court hanging out in what looks to be the middle of a street, and the interior of Rigoletto's house looking like an unfurnished Manhattan loft. The staging by Harry Silverstein was fairly clumsy, and the substitution of dancers for the traditional slutty supernumerary women was not an improvement, but none of that much mattered because the musical performance was so good.
The major amusement of the evening was bumping into acquaintances who were nearly unrecognizable in their fancy duds, such as Helen above who I had not seen since she was wearing a Red Army soldier's uniform next to me onstage in Nixon in China this summer.
There was also the dubious pleasure of bumping into Willie Brown, Jr. above, San Francisco's own version of the licentious, power-wielding Duke of Mantua, as he squired his companion Sonya around. La donna è mobile, indeed.
A second set of principal singers open in the same production tonight and alternate with this cast for the rest of September. There's a free live telecast on the big screen at the San Francisco Giants Stadium this Saturday the 15th, but for superb sound the San Francisco Opera House is the place to be.