Saturday, April 25, 2020
Sunday, April 05, 2020
SF Opera archive, my indifference to the 1974 season looks laughable since it was filled with one legendary singer after another performing signature roles. It began with Leontyne Price in Puccini's Manon Lescaut, followed in order by Thomas Stewart, Kurt Moll, and Eva Randova in Wagner's Parsifal, Leonie Rysanek in Strauss's Salome, Renata Scotto in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Jess Thomas and Birgit Nilsson in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Frederica von Stade in Rossini's La Cenerentola, Joan Sutherland in Massenet's Esclarmonde, James King and Pilar Lonrengar in Verdi's Otello, Katia Ricciarelli and Luciano Pavarotti in Verdi's Luisa Miller, and Beverly Sills in Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment. But it was Don Giovanni that hooked me. Experiencing Mozart's extraordinary music and Da Ponte's subversively brilliant libretto for the first time brought on a moment of sudden, stupefying enlightenment, "Oh, this is supposed to be great, life-changing art. I had no idea." (Pictured above are Sara LeMesh as Zerlina with Mitchell Jones as Masetto, her sweet, oafish betrothed.)
Having now seen the opera an uncountable number of times over the years, I wasn't expecting to encounter anything new at the barebones production of Pocket Opera, but soon realized I had never heard the work in English before. Though most Italian opera librettos don't translate well into sung English, this rendition by company founder Donald Pippin is ingenious and musical. For instance, in the famous Catalogue Aria, Leporello informs Donna Elvira that she is merely one in a very long list of seduced and abandoned women in Don Giovanni's wake, detailing how many in each country, and climaxing with "Ma in Ispagna son gia' mille e tre" (literally "But in Spain there are already one thousand and three"). There are five syllables in "one thousand and three" and only three syllables in "mille e tre", and Pippin's solution was to use the fact that "mille e tre" is sung twice, making up six syllables which he turns into "thousand plus/one, two, three," a witty and musically elegant solution.