Saturday, September 09, 2006

Opening Night at the Opera 2

The corporate influence at San Francisco Opera's Opening Night extended to the outdoor balcony on the Grand Tier level...

...which had been commandeered for some "Private Corporate Reception."

The Reception didn't seem very popular, however... everyone was rubbernecking each other in the Box bar...

...or in the large marble lobby, which was beautifully lit this evening.

As usual, the opening night crowd was a terrible audience for the opening night opera, which happened to be Verdi's masterpiece, "Un Ballo in Maschera."

It's a tricky opera to pull off in any case because there are so many different tones, from the sparkling music of the doomed Swedish King Gustavus to the sinister occult of Ulrica praying to The Devil, not to mention the huge romantic duet for the tenor and the soprano in the graveyard where criminals are hung.

The audience dutifully clapped here and there throughout the performance, but one had the feeling that the actual watching of the opera was a chore to be endured for a large percentage of the crowd.

Perhaps, though, the audience was merely being discerning since the less said about the opening night performance the better.

The tenor and soprano singing King Gustavus and the Page Oscar repectively were okay, but not much more that, in roles that can steal the show in a second.

In roles that were written specifically to steal the show, the mezzo singing Ulrica the Fortuneteller and the baritone singing Gustuvus' best friend and eventual assassin ranged somewhere between mediocre and awful.

The superstar of the production, Deborah Voigt, fresh from her obesity surgery, has one of the world's most beautiful voices, and I've heard her live at the San Francisco Opera giving definitive performances of Elizabeth in Wagner's "Tannhauser" and the title role in Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos."

She probably shouldn't be singing Verdi, however, who requires a completely different voice and style than Ms. Voigt.

The conductor, in the quicker sections of the score (and there are many), was completely out of sync with his principal singers...

...and the production, direct from the "Florida Grand Opera," couldn't have been clunkier or more provincial-looking, and the direction/staging was inept, with some of the clumsiest chorus entrances and exits I've seen in some time.

None of this is the fault of the new General Director, David Gockley, who has inherited one of the dullest, most conservative-looking seasons on record from the supposedly cutting-edge Pamela Rosenberg, who fled back to Germany after her five-year tenure here.

To give Gockley credit, the new mini-supertitle screens in the back of the Orchestra section have made those seats (with their muffled sound from the overhang) quite a treat, since you can finally read the supertitles again.

Maybe the "Un Ballo" production will improve during the course of the run, with a better audience and better musical coordination. However, I needed to go home and put on a great old bargain recording with Leontyne Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Shirley Verrett, Robert Merrill, and Reri Grist with Leinsdorf conducting, just to get a good performance back into my ears.


JoannaO said...

Thank you for your beautiful photos. I remember my mother taking me to the Opera when I was 11 or 12, back in the early seventies, and being dazzled by the glamorous crowd (later I learned to appreciate the music). I live far away now, so it's great to see my home town through your eyes.

cedichou said...

The season is not as exciting as the last. It is not entirely true that Gockley inherited it. He made a few changes as well.

Gockley swapped a new, challenging production of I believe Manon, a la Pamela, for a more staid one.

Also, I notice just now that we were supposed to see a somewhat new Seattle prod of Tristan and Isolde, which was quite exciting, instead of the old L.A./Hockney one (which I have seen in 96 I believe at the Dorothy Chandler pavilion).

Trevor Murphy said...

This season desperately needed at least a token 'modern' opera. You'd think they'd have learned from St. Francis that new music can pack a house.

AlbGlinka said...

Somehow, the happiest-looking people here are the two supers you photographed! And the ceiling of the lobby has never looked better.

Thanks for your knowledgable music review. I still want to see the pretty costumes.

Florida Grand Opera??? Is there such a thing?