A production of Händel's Alcina from Stuttgart opened yesterday at San Francisco Opera. It garnered enthusiastic and cheerful (perhaps that was just me) booing at the end when the production designer, Anna Viebrock, came out for her curtain call.
What a self-indulgent, pretentious, inaccessible staging! It wasn't so much the modern dress, or the little junk room with peeling wallpaper, or even the huge and silly frame that was meant to be a mirror that really bothered me. They just made all the characters less than human, doing illogical things like undressing when angry, throwing things while music was going on, scuttling across the stage, and so forth. It made people laugh, when there was beautiful music going on, and seriously detracted from any sort of edification that could be happening.
Catherine Naglestad, as Alcina, had the strongest voice. It has rough edges and her diction isn't the best, but her projection is incredible. She did move like a wounded animal, especially when she first appeared intertwined with Ruggiero, shuffling along the floor. Part of the problem is that Naglestad is an adorably chubby girl with wide hips and skinny calves, so when she was barefoot for most of the production, wearing her innumerable mid-calf length black cocktail dresses, she just looked awkward and inelegant. The line between hip and foot was no good for an enchanting sorceress, however cute. Then they had her shuffling around on the floor for no reason, reminiscent of spiders.
The choreography and staging favored falling or throwing bodies and objects to the ground for no apparent reason, and frenetic stomping, hitting walls, choking, binding, and other such movements.
There were also two gunshots fired, that were quite loud and unnecessary.
Alice Coote was a fine Ruggiero, her voice warm and dark, and her movements utterly boyish. On the other hand, Catriona Smith was a prissy Morgana, and her upper range was absolutely shrill. They had her sing some of her part on the floor, and she doesn't have the voice to carry this at all.
The music was sublime. Roy Goodman conducted well, and it sounded very much together.