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Da tempeste il legno infranto (Act III, Scene 7)

Da tempeste il legno infranto,
se poi salvo giunge in porto,
non sa più che desiar.
Così il cor tra pene e pianto,
or che trova il suo conforto,
torna l'anima a bear.

* * *

I managed to get a standing room ticket for last night's performance of Giulio Cesare, though I was somewhat intimidated by figuring out the process for such things. Apparently there are 200 standing room tickets for each performance, and they go on sale at 10 am the day of the performance. They let standees in a particular door 70 minutes before the curtain time, by number, and there is a numbered line painted on the ground outside of the entrance.

Kip Cranna, the Musical Administrator of the San Francisco Opera, gave a talk about Giulio Cesare before the opera. He gave a general history of the composition itself, the historicity of the libretto, and a bit about the musical form. I learned that this opera was originally written for three castrati, and the part of Sesto was actually en travesti, a role meant for a woman to play a young man. I also learned that Cleopatra was the first Ptolemy to actually learn Egyptian, and she spoke six other languages besides.

The production presented is owned by the Metropolitan Opera, and six arias are cut out of it, as are some of the repeats. Otherwise it would be much longer.

The performance was sublime. It was easier to see the facial expressions of the singers from the orchestra, naturally, and David Daniels is a better actor than I thought. Bejun Mehta was wonderful too, after seeing him twice my opinion has solidified, and I will get a hold of one of his recordings soon.


Last night I attended San Francisco Opera's production of Bizet's Carmen with a certain friend. We agreed that the program's cover, which has been used on every program all season, is hideous. The work featured is Diebenkorn's Blue Surround (1982), that involves color aquatint, spit bite aquatint, etching offset, and drypoint with scraping. The dimensions are 55.8 x 48.2 cm for the image itself. Since we are philistines, we do not enjoy such works, and this was discussed even before we got to the opera because on our way we saw an advertisement for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, whose tagline was something like "come be moved."

The opera itself was nice enough. The singing was fine, the music, of course, very familiar. The soprano Maria Bayo (Micaëla) has an exceptionally pretty and strong voice. Tenor Richard Berkeley-Steele did well in his role of Don José, his voice was not disappointing. Bass Denis Sedov was better in his role of Escamillo than as Achilla in Giulio Cesare. His voice was still a little thin.

Carmen herself, the mezzo-soprano Marina Domashenko, was appropriate to the role. Her voice was a bit throaty and lacked a certain prettiness, which is just as well.

The choreography was pretty good in this production, people seemed more committed to their movements than in Giulio Cesare. At times I did wish that Domashenko would stand up straighter, sometimes she was simply all shoulders, with her arms akimbo.

They did well with the sets and costumes, everything was pretty and there were no disasters. I must say it was more pleasant to see Carmen at the opera house than at the Civic Center Auditorium, where I last saw this production during the 1996-97 season.

Giulio Cesare

The San Francisco Opera performance that I had been waiting for all season finally arrived, and I was not disappointed. Händel's Giulio Cesare has quite a lot of beautiful and compelling music in it. It is an opera seria that premiered in 1724 at London's Royal Academy of Music, and the title role was created for a particular famous castrato, Francesco Bernardi (known as Senesino) of Siena. The female lead of Cleopatra was written for the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni.

The opera was a bit odd for modern ears, since so many of the main parts are high. One mezzo-soprano, two sopranos, three altos, and only two basses, no baritones or tenors at all. It took me some time to adjust, to figure out which voice went with which part. However the differences between the singers, especially countertenor David Daniels (Giulio Cesare) and the mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose (Sesto), were marked. Even though they can sing in the same range, and Daniels even sings a couple of the Sestos arias that on his Händel operatic arias recording. Daniels is simply a much larger person than Donose. The arias in question are "Cara Speme", in Act I, Scene 8 and "L'angue offeso", in Act II, Scene 6.

David Daniels and Ruth Ann Swenson (Cleopatra) both have gorgeous voices. Swenson's voice carries better though, and she has a lot of sass. Daniels was more stiff, and his arms sometimes appeared locked in space when he was singing something particularly difficult. Neither of them moved especially well, but Swenson was a better actor. The last time I saw Swenson was in Thomas' Hamlet as Ophelia, which was a much less demanding part.

Bejun Mehta (Tolomeo) and Ruxandra Donose (Sesto) both moved like water, they were very graceful. Mehta has a nice voice, but it is hard to tell since his part was on the small side. Donose was a little breathy and airy, but she sang her main arias well.

Felicity Palmer (Cornelia) was adequate, sometimes her voice sounded quite grand, and other times not so much. She moved stiffly, something about the way she carried her shoulders made her look uncomfortable or old.

Denis Sedov (Achilla) did not carry well in his low range, and it made him seem comical.

The set was not horrible except for a screen made of metal fashioned into a map of the Mediterranean. They also had problems with platforms that rumbled far too loudly when moved, even with the orchestra playing and singing, they were quite audible. One of the screens did not come down properly in the third act, it was a landscape of desert, but Swenson played it off rather charmingly.

The choreography was pretty poor, as usual. The movement in general looked unconvincing and unclear. The ballet dancer who played Terpsichore was rather delightful in her lightness though.

The costumes were amusing because they were Renaissance mixed with Orientalism, however, they were very pretty.