Last time I spoke to Opera 5’s Aria Umezawa she was about to head off to San Francisco to join SFO’s Merola program. Now she’s been named as an Adler Fellow for 2017; the first stage director since 2002 to be named to the program. She’ll be joined by pianist/coach Jennifer Szeto, also of this parish, and another Canadian; Vancouver soprano Sarah Cambridge. I have greatly enjoyed Aria’s work with Opera 5 and hope that this is a step on the road to a major career as an opera director. The full story on this year’s Adlers is here.
Boito’s Mefistofele is a rather odd work. It’s truer to the original Goethe than other operatic versions of the Faust legend which means it’s very episodic and focuses on the Faust/Mefistofele relationship rather than on Margherita. In fact she’s dead with an act and an epilogue still to go. It’s hard to categorize musically too. Some parts are rather bombastic, vulgar even, yet at other times we seem to be drifting into bel canto territory. So it’s a bit uneven; listenable enough but not very memorable.
The story line for Bellini’s opera I Capuletti e I Montecchi will be familiar enough though it’s very condensed and based on the earlier source by Bandello rather than Shakespeare’s more elaborate reworking. So, lots of feuding but no back story, no balcony scene, no friar’s cell. But (spoiler alert) the ending is the same. Vincent Broussard’s production, originally from Munich but filmed in San Francisco in 2012, sets the work around the time of its composition and seems at times to reference that it was composed for the Venice Carnivale. It also veers around between being quite literal and trying to make the story something going on in Romeo’s head. The production is quite influenced visually by the fact that the costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix and it’s unclear whether he’s trying to support the production concept or promote his brand.
Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess has a really interesting history. It was always intended as a “grand opera”; pretty much the first American one. It was written for the Metropolitan Opera but not performed there until 1985 and between it’s Boston debut in 1935 and a production in Houston in 1976 it was virtually always performed in a much cut edition designed for Broadway. In fact by the time of the Houston production it was being done much at all; being seen as dated and dealing with issues of race that were particularly highly charged in Civil Rights Era America. It took a bold, young Deneral Manager, David Gockley, and a Gershwin enthusiast, John DeMain, to recreate an opera rather than a musical. It’s been following them round ever since and so, not very surprisingly, Gockley, now in charge in San Francisco, chose to stage it there last year in a new production by Francesca Zambello with DeMain conducting.
Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia is based on one short episode in the storied life of the famous female pharmacist. In it she twice poisons her son; once at the insistence of her husband, the second time by accident. The second time her son refuses the antidote preferring to die with his equally poisoned buddies but learns in his dying breath that Lucrezia is indeed his mother. It’s pretty unusual for a bel canto opera in that the leading female role (a) has agency, (b) doesn’t go mad and (c) doesn’t die.
The audience at this 1988 San Francisco Opera production of La Bohème clearly thought very highly of it. There is even some applause for the scenery. I’m less impressed. Seen as a star vehicle for Pavarotti and Freni it’s quite adequate, though both are decidedly on the mature side for Rodolfo or Mimi. Other than that it’s rather dull, the video direction doesn’t help it any and the technical quality is no more than adequate. Continue reading
The 1993 San Francisco Opera production of Strauss’ Capriccio is about as literal a take on the work as one could imagine. Stephen Lawless’ production sticks to the stage directions as laid down with an almost fetishistic fidelity. This is backed up by highly decorated costumes and sets firmly placed in a slightly over elaborated 1775. The traditionalists dream? I suppose so if one thinks that Strauss and Krauss meant the work to be taken literally. I don’t. This is an opera about an opera about opera. It begs to be deconstructed and the time and circumstances of its composition tend to reinforce the idea that all is not as it seems. To take it at face value is actually a bit absurd but that’s what happens here and the result is rather dull and unsatisfying. Continue reading