Thursday, September 15, 2011

SF Opera's 9/11 Part 2: Opera in The Park

Opera in the Park was started 40 years ago by the longtime San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, and the free Sunday concert in Golden Gate Park has become a beloved, popular institution.

Tens of thousands bring blankets, portable picnic tables, food and drink to listen to a program that usually consists of a parade of well-known arias and duets by opera stars who are singing in the opening operas of the fall season.

This year the City and County of San Francisco and the San Francisco Interfaith Council partnered up with the opera to present a "Civic Observance Commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11," hijacking the usually festive occasion for an overlong, solemn bore punctuated by dreary speeches from political dignitaries such as appointed Mayor Ed Lee (above) and various religious leaders.

The performance started with the orchestra playing the interminable, dull "March of the Priests" from Mozart's otherwise sparkling Magic Flute. This is a slow, Masonic march written so that that the chorus and supernumeraries can get into position on the stage, or in this case so a procession of political and religious dignitaries can make their way through a pathway in the large crowd.

Nowhere in any of the subsequent speeches was it acknowledged that faith-based true believers were mostly responsible for the 9/11 disaster, nor was there any sensitivity to those in the audience who might be offended that religion was being shoved down their throats at an official government commemoration. More than half of the faiths on display, for instance, still look upon homosexuality as an abomination. As a gay man, I felt more in common with the crazy drag queen who was wandering around the concert above than I did with any of the religious speakers.

Happily, I was invited to a picnic by a group of opera supernumeraries who had set up camp near the stage, including the glamorous Jenny Jirousek above.

SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti led us in yet another rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and then into a performance of Mozart's Requiem. Though bowing to nobody in my love of Mozart's music, the lugubrious Requiem is not a favorite.

The chorus, under director Ian Robertson (above right), performed heroically after a week of daily rehearsals and evening performances of Turandot, Heart of a Soldier, and Lucrezia Borgia. The four soloists, Nadiene Sierra, Maya Layhani, Daniel Montenegro and Ryan Kuster sounded great but they were hidden behind the orchestra while the interfaith leaders were seated in front. This made it easier for the latter to go to the microphone and give a reading between each movement of the Requiem, which helped to make the piece feel even more interminable than usual.

After intermission, a Fire Department official above offered a long, mawkish speech about our heroic public safety workers.

This was the point where the beautiful and kind Irene Bechtel, above, finally lost a bit of her patience. "This is turning into overkill," she said.

SF Opera General Director David Gockley above has been doing a great job in his position over the last five years, wooing wealthy patrons into major donations and keeping a sharp eye on artistic quality. This Opera in the Park concert was a miscalculation, though, with enough maudlin flag-waving and uplifting Americana tunes in the second half of the program to stuff a Thanksgiving turkey.

Though it was a treat to hear great singers such as baritone Thomas Hampson above, the injection of solemnity into Opera in the Park was just wrong, no matter what the date. This is not Texas but San Francisco, where many of us associate 9/11 with the beginning of an unending, amorphous War on Terror that is politically, morally and strategically dubious, and certainly not as something to be celebrated. For an interesting take on the 9/11 commemoration, click here for Jan Adams' Enough Killing, which pretty much says it all.


janinsanfran said...

I see they imported the guy who carries the mace from the Episcopal Cathedral. Imagine that means the event also got the Bishop.

Thanks for the shout-out. The weekend was awfully wearing. I've seen it suggested elsewhere that we've now made a practice of memorializing the hijackers ... sigh.

Civic Center said...

Dear Jan: Yes, Bishop Andrus was there.

And thanks for all your work at your blog, which continues to be filled with intelligence and information.

Ced said...

Hi Mike. The event was not touching, I have to concur with you. It was too beautiful a day in the park to be sad. I kinda appreciated the oecumenical display, and all preached tolerance. I liked the first text ("we remember"). Still, I feel they could not go ahead with the usual opera in the park and handled it as well as they could, sneaking in a little nessun dorma at the end to break the all-flag-waving theme.

Now, regarding the Heart of a Soldier, hearing that big Rescorla aria a second time: "I'll be there, I'll be there" just reminds me of the Friends theme song and the inadvertent metrosexual vibe in the middle of all this macho bravura just makes me giggle.

Civic Center said...

Dear Ced: There were so many other things they could have done: operatic arias touching on war, peace, commemoration, but instead it was that endless mournful, lugubrious, Americana nonsense. Even one my favorites, the Bernstein "Make Your Garden Grow" near the end, was in a bloated and pompous arrangement.

And though it's hard to believe, I've never watched an episode of "Friends."