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.
Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick has been successful in a way few contemporary operas are. Since its Dallas premiere in 2010 it has been given in Adelaide, Calgary, San Diego and, most recently, San Francisco where it was recorded in 2012. It’s not hard to see why it has been a success. The subject is dramatic and has been skilfully compressed into a little over two hours by librettist Gene Scheer and the score steers the fine line between accessibility and triviality. Add to that a visually appealing production and it’s a winning package.