Denyce Graves

Don Quichotte at San Diego Opera

Don-quichotte-sdo * Notes * 
Massenet's Don Quichotte opened at San Diego Opera on Valentine's Day, after a nearly 40-year absence from that opera's stage. Ralph Funicello's scenic design for this production is much in keeping with a very traditional aesthetic and Missy West's costumes invoked the ineluctable Gustav Doré illustrations of Don Quixote, though the influence of Velasquez and Murillo was also evident. Each scene began with a relevant quote from Cervantes translated into English and projected on the scrim. This was interesting in that the libretto of this opera is fairly different from the novel, for one thing, Dulcinea does not exactly exist in the latter, whereas she is quite present in the Massenet.

Denyce Graves is an arresting Dulcinée, though her voice is breathy and not smooth, she is incredible. She certainly does not sound like anyone else. Likewise, Ferruccio Furlanetto was fully engaging in the title role, completely embodying the long-faced knight. The duet in Act I between the two leads was quite effective, and Furlanetto was plaintive in Act III's "Seigneur, reçois mon âme, elle n'est pas méchante."

The rest of the singing was perhaps not as amazing, but perfectly fine. Eduardo Chama was charming as Sancho Pança, though his French diction was unclear and he did lack a certain resonance. Bryan Register started off sounding a bit distant as Juan, but did well. The French of the chorus members as bandits in Act III left something to be desired.

The choreography from Nicola Bowie was strong, the dancers were together and on beat. Only their hand movements were not completely exact. Karen Keltner kept the orchestra synchronized with each other, though not perfectly with the singers. There were moments that were somewhat sluggish, though the overture to the last act was exceedingly pretty.

* Tattling * 
Though there were no watch alarms or mobile phone rings, some audience members seemed to have difficulty being silent. The scene changes took some time to complete, and during the first one the ladies behind us in Row S of the orchestra commented that they should have played music. Naturally once they did play music for the second scene change, they expressed their approval aloud, but once the music stopped, everyone was perfectly quiet.

More alarmingly, the couple in Row Q Seats 7 and 9 not only spoke when Denyce Graves was singing and whenever else they felt like it, but also kissed rather loudly throughout the evening. They left before Act V.

Washington National Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 13- October 5 2008: La Traviata
September 20- October 7 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 1-17 2008: Lucrezia Borgia
November 8-19 2008: Carmen
November 21- 22 2008: Petite Messe Solennelle
March 21- April 6 2009: Peter Grimes
May 2-17 2009: Siegfried
May 16- June 4 2009: Turandot

Renée Fleming has her WNO debut in Lucrezia Borgia. Denyce Graves sings the title role of Carmen, in the Zambello production from ROH. The Zandra Rhodes production of Les Pêcheurs de Perles is the one we had here in San Francisco in 2005.

Opening of The Rake's Progress

Laura Aikin and William Burden, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress opened yesterday in a co-production with
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Opéra de Lyon, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and Teatro Real Madrid. The opera was taken from the 16th century into the 1950s, so taken from when Hogarth's paintings are set to when the opera was premiered. The effect makes Stravinsky's self-consciously Baroque/Classical style, complete with harpsichord, somewhat nonsensical. The English countryside is reimagined as Texas, Nick Shadow takes Tom Rakewell to London to become a movie star. Carl Fillion's sets are exceedingly charming, it seems that every scene had something terribly clever in it as far as staging. Especially amusing were the bed that Tom and Mother Goose dally in, the inflatable movie trailer, the dollhouse meant to represent the Trulove home, Anne's flyaway scarf as she makes her way to London, and the swimming pool of the Rakewell home. Boris Firquet's video design was excellently incorporated, the scene changes that used this were seamless, and the only time the rather horizontal screen really bothered me was the movie marquee scene (Act II Scene 2), because naturally the eyes go up to see the rest of the building, and it is just blank black space. The lighting design, by Etienne Boucher, was blinding as Nick Shadow filmed Tom in Act I Scene 2, but was otherwise good.

Runnicles and the orchestra were not in their best form, they overwhelmed the singers, they were not always together, and the horns sounded rough. Both William Burden (Tom Rakewell) and Laura Aikin (Anne Trulove) sounded clear and bright. Burden sang quite plaintively, and Aikin sounded perfectly angelic and bell-like. James Morris was a placid Nick Shadow, his lower notes were slightly gravelly, though his higher range was pretty. Denyce Graves played Baba the Turk to a tee, her powerful voice has a wonderful warmth and was appropriately gruff in this role. In the smaller roles, tenor Steven Cole stood out as Sellem, his acting in the auction scene was hilarious, and though he was slightly quiet when he moved upstage, his voice is pleasing. Besides Ms. Graves and Mr. Cole, the acting of the principals was rather subdued. It was difficult to see how Tom's actions were motivated, Morris was particularly ambiguous, in playing the Devil himself, though unctuous, he did seem rather cold and bored.

* Tattling *
Because this opera opened the day after Thanksgiving and my family is not in the Bay Area, I had to convince a friend to get a ticket for me in the morning. Someone managed to sneak past her into the building and I got the following text message at 10:22 am: I had to beat a queue-cutting coot to get your #1 ticket. I hope you're happy!

Standing room was only moderately full, and the rest of audience was somewhat sparse. Everyone was pretty quiet, I heard no watch alarms on the hour. Someone tore paper at one point in Act I, but this was only for a few seconds. The sign asking people exit from the side doors during the performance was knocked over twice. There was much applause for the set, and this obscured the music more than once.

I was given a lovely crocheted cupcake in standing room, for my efforts in depicting pastry. Certainly it was one of the nicest presents I have received at the opera.