Monday, September 15, 2008

The Bonesetter's Daughter

There was plenty of excitement and anticipation involved with San Francisco Opera's ninth world premiere in its history, "The Bonesetter's Daughter" with a libretto by Amy Tan and music by Stewart Wallace. Because so many of the performers were direct from China, the opera company had even put up signage translated into Chinese all over backstage directing people to stage left and stage right.

I've seen all of San Francisco's world premieres since Andrew Imbrie's "Angle of Repose" in the 1970s, which was a huge bore since there are certain composers who are just not meant to be opera composers and the late Imbrie was one of them. Writing well for the operatic voice is a special gift, and he didn't seem to have it. Neither does Stewart Wallace, who penned the the drab docu-opera "Harvey Milk" in the early 1990s, and now is giving us another effort that is almost as bad. General Director David Gockley actually turned down the idea some years ago while he was still in Houston, but decided to give the green light when he moved to San Francisco since author Amy Tan is something of a local celebrity. He should have listened to his first instincts.

The opera is occasionally filled with actual Chinese music and musicians, and every time they are featured, you realize how interesting the story could have been with another composer. The production itself is fairly fabulous, with every singer doing a great job with their meager musical material, and director Chen Shi-Zheng enlivening the stage with projections and acrobats.

A couple of Asian-American bloggers, who are two of the smartest people about classical music that I know, were so flabbergasted by the final dress that they decided to describe their reaction in pictograms. Check it out. (Click here for "The Standing Room" and click here for the "Opera Tattler," who is pictured above, and who wrote a more measured review which you can get to by clicking here).

My only real questions are "why was the mink coat pinkish red?" and "did somebody really sing 'I want to vomit all over your family' or did I imagine it?" and "why does Stewart Wallace continue to get opera commissions?"


The Opera Tattler said...

It was so nice to giggle about this opera with you. Antics! The pink-red mink was very odd, I really should have written something about the costumes, but there was just so much to write about, it was a bit overwhelming.

Ced said...

Another real question: "why do the Merc, the Chron and the LA Times somewhat like it?" It seems that most bloggers hate it, but the big newspapers don't dare say so.

Cute pictures of the Tattler.

Civic Center said...

Dear ced: Good question. I think they are trying to be encouraging to new work, but there are certain artists who really shouldn't be encouraged.

zoo said...

sf mike,
"there are certain artists who really shouldn't be encouraged.", ain't that the truth?

AlbGlinka said...

I didn't think it was that bad, but I guess what do I know-- I was in "Harvey Milk" and liked it, and I hated the critically acclaimed "Dr. Atomic." I guess my taste in new music must suck.

Civic Center said...

Dear albglinka: Taste in music is all subjective, so your new music enthusiasms don't necessarily suck. And the music to "Harvey Milk" and "The Bonesetter's Daughter" wasn't awful, it was just so bland and innocuous on just about every level that I wondered why I was wasting my time listening to it. I didn't much care for the "Doctor Atomic" production, but I thought the music was extraordinary. It's going to be around for a long time.