Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cirque du Stravinsky

The Canadian theatrical genius Robert Lepage (click here for his website) has just directed his third opera, a new production of Stravinsky and W.H. Auden's 1950s opera about 18th century London which is sort of a mashing together of "Don Giovanni" and "Faust" with its own astringent flavor.

The new production has been cosponsored by the San Francisco Opera along with Brussels and Lyon, which have already performed it, and it's easily one of the most witty, colorful and intelligent opera productions I've seen.

As Leon Dubois (above) noted, the David Hockney production which the San Francisco Opera has used for the last twenty years was quite beautiful, but we were tired of it. Lepage's version is amazing, with magical transformations between scenes that are funny and mysterious.

The production is set in the 1950s in the modern Southwest, with a working oil derrick setting the scene from the beginning. The concept works beautifully, and without unnecessary underlining, makes clear that Oil and Hollywood are just two very modern versions of age-old vices: greed, licentiousness, avarice and stupidity.

The only scene that didn't work for me as well as the old Hockney production was the final one set in Bedlam, which needed both more stylization and more tenderness.

This was also the best cast I've ever heard in this strange, wonderful Stravinsky score. Steven Cole (above on the left) played the small part of the Auctioneer as if he was channeling both Hugues Cuenod (the originator of the role) and Little Richard.

The part of Anne Truelove seemed to be wrong for Laura Aikin (it really does require a dramatic soprano) but she has a sweet, beautiful voice which was fine, while Denyce Graves as Baba the Turk was funny, in superb voice, and with the best English diction of the evening.

The happiest surprise was James Morris as Satan aka Nick Shadow, who seems to have made his own pact with the devil. For the last decade, Morris' voice has been a bit woolly, but on Friday he was booming through the opera house like a young man.

My friend Sidney thought the orchestra could have been a little "crisper," but I thought Runnicles and his troupe were extraordinary. There are only five more performances. Be sure to check it out (click here for tickets).


Matthew Hubbard said...

Thanks for the review, Mike. I think I speak for people of all genders and persuasions when I wish that you had a closer view for the second picture on the list.

Enough beefcake and cheesecake for any taste, but the picture is too small and too blurry.


sfphoneguy said...

Hi Mike-

I caught the dress and I agree with you completly - Rake was a most entertaining opera, certainly the wittiest production of the season. In the second act I felt like yelling for the lifeguard to GET OUT OF THE POOL, but I realized that uber-hunk Carmichael Blankenship (he was also in Samson and in Appomattox this season) was already drawing too much focus - he's the sexiest guy to hit the opera stage since Mark Sommerfeld popped up as young Baccus at the end of Salome!

sfphoneguy said...

oops...I meant Semele, of course!