* Notes *
Washington National Opera's production of Lucrezia Borgia opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. The performances mark the return of Renée Fleming, who has not sung in an opera at the War Memorial for more than a decade. John Pascoe's designs for Lucrezia are rather puzzling. The set is oppressive and the different scenes do not always look distinct from one another. The fanciful costumes have often been executed in shiny fabrics. The attire for the diva herself is indeed whimsical, her Act III outfit (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) seems more suitable for a super hero than a Renaissance duchess. Pascoe's direction is consistent with his design aesthetic. The choreography, though synchronized, seemed contrived. The final scene was utterly baffling. The entrance of the chorus was awkward. The motivation for dragging the corpses back onstage was unclear. Why were the five singers carried out through the upstage doors only to be pulled back from the downstage wings?
The orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Frizza, played fleetly, and was often ahead of the singers. The volume had a tendency to overwhelm the singing. However, the harp had a beautiful lucidity in Act I, and the brass was clear in Act III. Many of the young cast members showed much promise. In the smaller roles, Brian Jagde (Oloferno Vitellozzo) and Daniel Montenegro (Rustighello) stood out. Jadge's voice has brightened and opened during his Adler Fellowship, and he could be heard in Act I over the orchestra. Though a bit light, Montenegro's voice has a mournful sweetness.
Vitalij Kowaljow made for a fittingly brutal Duke Alfonso, his voice has strength and depth. Also strong was Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini), who has a gorgeous sound. Her singing was clean, but she dropped out near the end of Act III's "Minacciata è la mia vita" with Michael Fabiano (Gennaro). Fabiano looked visibly confused by this, and also stopped singing until they could both get back on track for the final notes of the duet. Other than this misstep, Fabiano sounded very good. His voice has heft and beauty. In contrast, Renée Fleming was disappointing. She does have a lovely ease and pleasing timbre. However, she seemed a bit tepid. Her relatively minor intonation errors were more glaring than they would have been if she had projected more confidence. She was engaging in the final act, and her soaring high notes were effective. Oddly enough though, at the end, the orchestra seemed to just swallow up her voice.
* Tattling *
There was whispering and unwrapping of cough drops during the music, but no discernible electronic noise, at least on the orchestra level of the opera house.