Friday, October 28, 2005

Penance and Warfare

In the hallway just off of the stage door of the San Francisco Opera is a bulletin board for supernumeraries where you can sign in and also get "notes" from the directorial staff on things to modify.

Grove got a note saying "Ron [the director] said to be more subtle when you tell the chorus not to eat the soup."

"Have you been an overacting thespian again?" I asked my fellow Friar and he confessed to no more than "acting just a little bit, they told me to."

Before the opera begins and between the large crowd scenes, many people hang out in "The Basement Lounge."

It's a large, brightly-lit, rather dingy space...

...that even includes a ping pong table for fast and furious action.

The new production of "La Forza del Destino," which is gearing up for its opening next Wednesday, is both a simple and lavish production, rather like the opera itself with its long, intimate stretches for one or two characters onstage being bracketed by scenes containing over a hundred choristers and supernumeraries.

The music is middle-period Verdi which means it's one astonishing tune after another in the service of a truly insane libretto.

"La Forza del Destino" roams all over Europe during wartime (18th century) with each principal character taking on a new false identity in every scene.

It requires the four greatest singers in the world to really do it justice, and the only one I'd call great in this cast is the baritone, Zeljko Lucic, who has a voice that sends shivers down the marrow.

The diva, singing what I'll always think of as the Leontyne Price role of Leonora, is a soprano named Andrea Gruber from New York who seems to have sung in one too many "Turandot" productions. Most of her top range is just fine, but the middle and the great low notes (which Leontyne Price OWNED) induced some seriously ugly sounds.

It doesn't matter. The new production is visually quite arresting and varied, and the direction is smart. The "Rat-a-Plan" chorus in the middle of the opera, which often involves a hefty mezzo on top of a table singing nonsense syllables with choristers, is usually one of the most ridiculous scenes in all of Verdi. Ron Daniels, the director, has staged it as a march with a huge chorus of soldiers and camp whores marching from the back of the stage towards the audience and it works smashingly well.

The young Italian conductor, Nicola Luisotti, seems to be the real star of the show. His version of the famous overture last night was good enough that you wanted to stand up and applaud at the end. At today's rehearsal, he stopped the chorus and said, "you must sing the ultimate pianissimos here and then two measures later you must do the loudest fortissimos of your life, like you're screaming, [pause], but screaming beautifully, of course."

The costumes are heavy, expensive and uncomfortable, reminding me yet again that I'd rather play a peasant or a soldier than a pope or a king. The clothing is much more comfortable.

After walking in a religious penitents' procession to a spectacularly beautiful sensurround chorus (from onstage and off)...

...a few supernumeraries, including Ron Mann, become soldiers and they leave their penance behind in the excitement of war.

No comments: