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Se vuol ballere, signor Contino

FigaroactiA revival of Le Nozze di Figaro opened last Saturday, directed by John Copley. The production is of the standard traditional type, the setting is a Spanish villa, curiously there is no set designer credited. There are four sets, one for each act, none painfully elaborate, no moving parts, everything is quiet and simple. This is not to say the sets were not beautiful nor to suggest they were modernist in any way. The costumes were also 18th century, they were not striking but also not gaudy.

The cast is rather impressive, both vocally and dramatically. The only errors I noticed were minor. Camilla Tilling (Susanna) had her debut at San Francisco Opera with this performance. Her voice is pretty, though she has a bit of a raw edge. She cracked just slightly during Venite, inginocchiatevi in Act II, and she and Relyea seemed slightly off from the music in Act I, but just for a few seconds.

Peter Mattei sings Count Almaviva well, I have never heard him in another role, but I did hear him in Le Nozze at Bayerische Staatsoper. His voice is pleasing and sweet. He acts well even though he is terribly tall and gangly, he manages to look elegant. I first saw this production in 1997 with Bo Skovhus as the Count, so I'm a bit spoilt. Skovhus is amazing.

John Relyea is slightly more awkward as Figaro, though he is not as tall, I believe it is something about how he holds his hands. His voice is rich, he can hit all the notes in the lower range with enough ease to be quite pleasing. He is not terribly subtle in his shading, but it is Figaro, so this is fine. It is straightforward music.

Ruth Ann Swenson was a marvelous Countess Almaviva. Her voice is cold, sweet, and bright, never shrill, with great control. Her carriage is also good, clear even from the back of the balcony.

The audience was appalling. Apparently it is too difficult for certain people to arrive on time, and in the balcony, the ushers cordon off the seating and then watch the operas themselves. This leaves tardy and disgruntled patrons to wait in the standing room area. They are often disoriented, out of breath, and not particularly polite. They speak and one man decided that he was going to wedge himself between me and my companion. He apologized as he put his elbow between us, this was during Figaro's cavatina in Act I. I suggested that next time, he might wait until the music was over before he inserted himself between people. I do not enjoy talking during the opera, and what's worse this didn't make him leave. There wasn't enough room for him there, so my companion and I spread out just a little more so that he had to remove his elbow from the railing. He was pretty close to me, we were touching, but he was pressed up against my companion, and she had to kick him away. He wanted to intimidate us into making room for him, and possibly he did not know we were together. It was unpleasant but also humorous. He finally left after Act I, when he was seated.

During Act III, a young blonde wearing noisy high-heeled mules was late after intermission. She was uncomfortable and walked around a lot and also spoke to her friend, once loudly exclaiming "Totally!"

San Francisco Opera needs to keep late people in their own special section. Los Angeles Opera has a telecast in the lobby, and they simply don't let you in at Bayerische Staatsoper if you are late.

Milk-Punch, o Wisky?

Madamabutterfly1A revival of Madama Butterfly opened 27. May at San Francisco Opera. Directed by Ron Daniels and designed by Michael Yeargan, the production involves shoji screens that slide across the stage. This device was used quite a lot, and it was slightly tiresome. Also, the paintings and calligraphy on the screens in Act I were not good, and there were too many of them all bunched together without any regard. The stage creaked a bit, but at least the screens were mostly quiet. The choreography was not thoughtful, particularly ridiculous was when the chorus sang "Rispondi, Cio-cio-san!" and they all turned around and pointed their fans at Butterfly each time they repeated these words.

The singing was consistent, no one stood out, but no one sang poorly either. Everyone acted well. Pinkerton was sung by tenor Franco Farina, who had good volume but was somewhat late during a duet with Sharpless in Act I. Everyone was crazy for Patricia Racette, the Merola alumna who sang the title role. She received a standing ovation. Her voice isn't bad, she has too much vibrato when singing loudly, betraying a lack of control. Her voice is pretty but neither angelic nor sweet, and cold.

I must admit that Madama Butterfly is not my favorite, there is a lot of dissonance and only one aria, Un Bel dì, vedremo, that doesn't bore me. The snippets from The Star-Spangled Banner and the various orientalist motifs are tiresome. I do enjoy the interspersed English, including "America for ever," "Butterfly," and "Whiskey."

The audience was incredibly stupid. They laughed at the various interactions between Sharpless and Butterfly in both Acts I and II. The Act I laughter is understandable, when Sharpless asks if Butterfly has sisters and she responds that she does not, but she has a mother, but they laughed when they saw the supertitles, now both above the stage and on the sides, not when the words were sung. They also laughed when Sharpless guessed Butterfly's age as 10. However, in Act II, they laughed when Butterfly asked when the robins nest in America, and when she tells her child to say his name is Dolore, or "sorrow." I suspect many were there because of the geisha aspect of the plot.

Act I
E ci avete sorelle?
Non signore. Ho la mamma.

Quant' anni avete?
Quindici netti, netti;
sono vecchia diggià.
Quindici anni!

Act II
Mio marito m'ha promesso
di ritornar nella stagion beata
che il pettirosso rifà la nidiata.
Qui l'ha rifatta per ben tre volte, ma
può darsi che di là
usi nidiar men spesso.

Oggi il mio nomè Dolore. Però
dite al babbo, scrivendogli, che il giorno
del suo ritorno,
Gioia, Gioia mi chiamerò.