* Notes *
The opening performance of Boris Godunov last night at San Francisco Opera was decidedly lackluster. Stein Winge's production, originally for the Grand Théâtre de Genève, is thoroughly undramatic. For the most part the singers simply wandered aimlessly or just stood and sang. The crowd in Scene 2 was especially pathetic. When Boris threw gold at them, they barely made an effort to pick it off the ground. In Scene 4 when Grigory was to make his escape, one of the supernumeraries got into place too soon, he could have easily caught Grigory if he had wanted to, and it was all very unconvincing. Also, having the Simpleton on stage so much was confusing. For one thing, the figure of the Holy Fool is not familiar to the Western audience, and was just a distraction given how many holes there are in the libretto and how many characters there were.
The set, by Göran Wassberg, looked like a rooftop with numerous trap doors. The scene changes were quite simple and not noisy. However, they were all so transparent, and it was difficult to become immersed in the world of this opera. For example in the transition between Scenes 3 and 4, the monks of the former scene take off their robes and become the revelers at the inn. This is, perhaps, intellectually interesting, but is dramatically weak. Kari Gravklev's period costumes were attractive enough, though Xenia's empire-waisted white dress with pink hem was unflattering.
Vassily Sinaisky's debut conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra was not particularly striking. There were times when the orchestra and singers were not quite synchronized, but this will probably improve as time goes on. The chorus sounded lovely, and more engaged with the work than many of the principals, though again there were times when they were not quite with the orchestra.
In general, the singing was pretty though not captivating. Catherine Cook was brash as the Innkeeper, she started off a bit harshly but did settle down by the end of her scene. Though his voice is beautiful, Vitalij Kowaljow was not terribly commanding as Pimen. Vladimir Ognovenko (Varlaam) sounded a bit constrained but was fine. Likewise John Uhlenhopp (Prince Shuisky) and Vsevolod Grivnov (Grigory) gave perfectly good performances.
The Adlers all did well, Kenneth Kellogg made the most of his small role as Nikitch, and Daveda Karanas had a strong debut as the Nurse. Ji Young Yang's bright tones were appealing for her role as Xenia. Best of all was Andrew Bidlack as the Simpleton, this is the first time he has really shone on the main-stage. His sensitive vocal portrayal was the most gorgeous part of the entire opera.
Samuel Ramey was a fairly wobbly Boris, though the warm resonance of his voice can be effective. The stage directions for him were laughable, he throws himself to the ground more than once and even rolls down the raked stage. He did seem committed to his character, at least.
* Tattling *
The audience whispered and talked during the music. There were no cellular phone rings, but at least one watch alarm on the hour near the back of the orchestra. Also, at least one person in Row X of the orchestra level was using a flashlight to read the program during the opera.
In the program, Scene 2 of the synopsis is missing a period at the end of the last sentence.