This will be a brief report on my experience attending opera in San Francisco, June 23-25, 2015.
First of all the opera house. The War Memorial Opera House is as beautiful and engaging as ever. Built in 1932, this opera house was the first municipally owned and funded building of its kind in North America. The design is of French Beaux Arts and reflects the elegance and even grandeur of that architectural style. I might mention that the opera house is directly across from San Francisco’s very grand city hall from the same period. Being at the War Memorial Opera House seems like being home to me, since I have been there many times over the years. The first time I entered those marvellous doors was in 1947!
TWO WOMEN (LA CIOCIARA)
This was a brand new opera, commissioned by San Francisco Opera, by Marco Tutino. The composer has written several operas and has had considerable success in Italy. It was truly a no-holds-barred production, magnificently well sung and dramatically staged. In other words, San Francisco Opera gave it their very best shot. It was certainly worth it, though perhaps with some reservations. My friends and I felt that it was over-composed, over-orchestrated. While the orchestral playing was of the highest possible standard, the music was thick and dense throughout, though there were many beautiful lyrical moments. It’s hardly possible or fair to judge such a work on only one hearing, and I would happily see or hear it again. The music is what I what I would call post-modern late Puccini. If Puccini had lived he might well have written something like “Two Women”. The lead role of Cesira was sung by Anna Caterina Antonacci. What a discovery! Here is a woman with a glorious voice and powerful acting skills. She also sang Cassandra in “Les Troyens”. More of that later. Nicola Luisoti conducted and Francesa Zambello directed.
THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better production, maybe equals but never better. The production is a mainstay of San Francisco Opera, the sets and costumes are fitting to the rather shabby state of Almaviva’s Villa, a place where the nobility freely associate with the servants and wander, without compunction, into their quarters. The cast included Philippe Sly as a vigorous and attractive Figaro, Lisette Oropesa, a delightful Susanna, Kate Lindsay as a love-crazed teenager, with Luca Pisaroni and Nadine Sierra as the Count and Countess. All were outstanding, both vocally and dramatically. Of special delight were the characters of Marcellina (Catherine Cook), Dr. Bartolo (John Del Carlo), and Basilio (Greg Fedderly). The gentle and always-tasteful humour kept the audience engaged and amused throughout. The superb orchestra was conducted by Patrick Summers, and the staging was by Robin Guarino.
LES TROYENS (THE TROJANS)
Seeing this seldom performed masterpiece was our main reason for making the trip, and, without question, it was worth every minute and every penny (Yes, they still use those in the U.S.A.). We saw the next to the last of six sold out performances, and it was glorious! The performance and the huge orchestra were conducted by Donald Runnicles in a style befitting the grandeur of Berlioz’s score. The gigantic set, complete with the Trojan horse and numerous fires, was most spectacular, matching what is a truly spectacular score. The chorus was also the largest I’ve ever seen on any stage, producing when called upon a sound of overwhelming majesty. As I mentioned earlier Anna Caterina Antonacci delivered a flawless and emotional Cassandra, well matched by other member of the cast of the first part of the opera. We were sorry that Bryan Hymel was indisposed and replaced by Cory Bix. Bix, stepping in at the last moment, gave a fine a valiant performance. This meant that the peerless Susan Graham as Dido carried the show through the second half. Many of us have seen her in this role in the Met in HD performances, but live on the stage she was a force of nature. This was an unforgettable experience, one of the highlights of my opera-attending career.
Opera is alive and well in San Francisco!
And I should mention that we also attended a concert performance of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” by the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The enlarged chorus and orchestra delivered a splendid and trnasparent sound, while Nina Stemme as Leonora and Brandon Jovanovich as Florestan sang magnificently. I would also mention Alan Held as a very strong and threatening Pizarro.
If I sound rapturous about the entire experience, I can only say that it was!
And I travelled by train. I’ll create a post about that pretty soon.