* Notes *
Werther, in a brand new production, opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. The set, designed by Louis Désiré, involves a rather large platform with a grove of telephone poles meant to be trees, lots of stairs, a mountain of luggage, and a creepy basement downstage where Werther lives. Periodically one of two large rectangles would come down, suspended from the ceiling, to indicate the seasons. They seemed to be covered in cheap leaf-motive wallpaper or some chintzy seasonal cotton print. However, the lighting design, from Duane Schuler, pulled all these elements together. The overall effect was both curiously elegant and nightmarish. Francisco Negrin's direction seemed to concentrate on the psychology of Werther himself. The use of live video capture was restrained, and the doubles for Werther were intriguing. One appreciated that there were no projections or other distractions during the overtures.
Emmanuel Villaume conducted the orchestra, which sounded shimmery and full. The strings and harp glimmered, and the brass was warm. It was startling to hear the alto saxophone, but probably only because one is not accustomed to hearing it in opera. The design of the set may have caused the balance to be off on the ground level, and instead of being supported by the instruments, the singers were often overwhelmed. Perhaps it sounded better in the balcony.
Adlers Susannah Biller (Kätchen) and Austin Kness (Brühlmann) looked and sounded lovely in their small roles. Robert MacNeil and Bojan Kneževiċ were charming as Schmidt and Johann. Christian Van Horn, as Charlotte's father, the bailiff, sounded clear. Brian Mulligan was robust as Albert. Heidi Stober (Sophie) chirped and fluttered nicely. Alice Coote made for a vaguely boyish Charlotte, perhaps because of the way she carries her shoulders and neck. Coote has a pleasant, warm tone. Ramón Vargas likewise has a pretty sound, though I did find him more sympathetic in a role like Nemorino than the melodramatic Werther.
* Tattling *
I had the pleasure of greeting the San Francisco Opera Music Director at intermission, and also managed to find many friends in the press room. The audience was fairly subdued. There was at least one watch alarm at 9pm, and some squeaking from either microphones or hearing aids. Several people commented about how weird the production was, mostly in a negative way. The production team was booed.