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August 2007
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October 2007

Tannhäuser Opening at SF Opera

Petra Maria Schnitzer, photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Graham Vick's production of Tannhäuser opened at San Francisco Opera yesterday. Designed by Paul Brown, this co-production with Dallas Opera strikes an elusive balance, it is neither cloyingly traditional nor starkly contemporary. The bacchanalia is one of the weaker points, Ron Howell's choreography here looks to be inspired by Graham and West African dance, but somehow is vulgar, more so than same scene in the recent
Los Angeles Opera offering earlier this year. However, the rest of the choreography is solid and works well with the lighting, designed by Adam Silverman. The entrance of the men's chorus in Act I was particularly beautiful with the light streaming in through the windows one side and the singers emerging from the glow. The pacing of the staging was excellent, there was enough action but it was not superfluous.

Runnicles conducted well, the orchestra was together and the tempi were brisk. I was quite worried that Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser) and his vibrato would annoy me all evening, but he sounded better in this space. Perhaps the Dorothy Chandler is less forgiving, but Seiffert sounded warmer than I remembered, though he did wobble a great deal. Petra Lang was not the most alluring Venus, her shrill voice and her unflattering bed sheet costume were both less than ideal. I had liked hearing James Rutherford at Opera in the Park, but as Wolfram I found his voice lacks heft. On the other hand, Ji Young Yang sounded just as bright as the Shepherd as she had in Golden Gate Park. Her control is imperfect, at times she shrieked a bit. Petra Maria Schnitzer was good, she seemed better matched in this production than in Los Angeles, her voice did not stand out quite as much.

* Tattling *
The San Francisco audience for Wagner tends to be rather quiet, though I did hear, albeit very faintly, a watch alarm. I commend the audience for not applauding for the horse with the hunting party. Such restraint! In standing room man inserted himself next to my companion and the person to her left, he interrupted our conversation to mention the "X-rated" production in Los Angeles. He repeatedly rubbed his arm during the performance and muttered a few times, but this was pretty minor as I could not discern what he was saying. He probably found a seat after Act I, for we did not see him after the first intermission.

Samson et Dalila at SF Opera

Rembrandt_2* Notes*
San Francisco Opera opened the 2007-2008 season with Samson et Dalila on September 7th. This 1980 production, by Nicolas Joël, was last revived in
2001. Douglas W. Schmidt's sets look dated from close up, they are a bit flat and at odd angles. The costumes also have suffered in the 27 years since Carrie Robbins designed them. They look like the Alma-Tadema paintings they were inspired by, but every piece of cloth used seemed to have a pattern on it. It looked like the chitons were made of leftover fabric for Easter dresses. However, from the back of the orchestra everything does look lovely, and this time around they managed to get the scrim working properly, it did not get caught on anything in the three performances I have seen.

Olga Borodina's voice is a bit rougher than I remembered, it has some harsh edges when she sang in the higher range at full-volume. She was still a rather sultry Dalila. Clifton Forbis was not inspiring as Samson, his voice was strained but otherwise passionless. In contrast, Juha Uusitalo (High Priest of Dagon) has a beautiful voice, and sings with much more ease. Disappointingly Oren Gradus did not quite have the lower range for the Old Hebrew. I was pleasantly surprised by the Abimélech, Eric Jordan, and curious to hear him in a more challenging role.

* Tattling *
I saw the final dress rehearsal during a corporate event and found it curious that Forbis did not sing full out, as he needed to save his voice for the opening. Borodina also saved her voice somewhat, but did sing audibly.

Everyone was all aflutter for the opening, two couples in standing room tried their best to block me out of my spot and could not be silent. They were repeatedly hushed. It was a good night for looking at fancy dresses and obvious plastic surgery. The flowers on the boxes were a bit naff this year, large squares of pink roses, lots of rose garlands, and random bits of greenery.

I was pleased to note that for the third performance, the scrim was not lowered until after the music ended for Act I, so that the audience, good monkeys that they are, refrained from clapping over the orchestra.