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.
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is opera on a grand scale. Only a really big company like the Met could possibly afford to stage it. Yesterday’s performance used a chorus of 110, a larger orchestra, at least twelve soloists and a bunch of dancers. It also lasted 5 1/2 hours including the intervals. Was it worth it? For the most part I’d say yes.
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
Francesca Zambello’s Carmen for the Royal Opera House has more going for it than is immediately apparent. On the face of it it’s a very traditional, conservative production; period costumes, literal sets, hordes of kids in Acts 1 and 4, live animals, but a close look reveals rather more. Zambello reveals her intentions during the overture where we see a manacled, distraught Don José dragged to execution by a masked executioner. This is going to be Don José’s story rather than one that focuses almost exclusively on the title character. What we see here is a stark contrast between what Don José really wants; respectability, an obedient wife, conformity with the Church, honour and what key choices, accidents and conflicts drive him to; criminality, liminality, execution and, we may suppose, damnation. The staging subtly highlights each of the key moments in Don José’s descent; his arrest and demotion in Act1, the fight with Zuniga in Act 2 and the realisation, in Act 3, that Carmen will never be the women he really wants reinforced by Micaëla’s aria that ironically offers him the choice he can no longer make and does so unmistakeably in terms of Catholic eschatology. There is so much more going on here than a sexy woman and some pretty tunes.