Previous month:
June 2002
Next month:
October 2002

More Notes on the San Francisco Opera Opening Night

I had planned on purchasing proper tickets for the opening night, but the San Francisco Opera Web site did not operate properly the day single tickets became available, and they were sold-out quite quickly. I fear the telephone and I didn't muster enough energy to go to the box office in person, being that it was a Monday. So I decided I would get standing room tickets, since they only go on sale the day of the performance and the event was on a Saturday. I did not have a good idea of how early I would have to get to the box office, but 8:30 am sounded like a nice round number. I went to the box office, and saw that no one was there, which made me feel, for the first time truly, that I was perhaps somewhat mad. Then I noticed that the box office at that location was not in operation on the weekend, and that I should go to the actual opera house. There were assorted old coots lined up there, and I was comforted somewhat.

I sat quietly and read, earplugs in to muffle the sounds of chatter. The line grew and grew, full of what would appear to be eccentric old persons and middle-aged gay men.

I managed to secure myself a good standing room ticket that assured that I would be able to find a good place at the back of the orchestra. Near the middle, and against the low wall separating the seats from standing room. I much enjoyed being by myself, being able to quietly observe people.

Ich habe nichts mit dieser Welt gemein! Wozu leben in ihr?

Ariadne auf Naxos is an odd little opera with only one act, but has a prologue that lasts about 30 minutes. It is more or less an opera about opera, and is quite diverting. The juxtaposition of opera seria and opera buffa produced some entertaining effects as well. All together Ariadne pointedly shows the nature of opera to be collaborative. The prologue starts backstage, and the manner of the staging never let one forget that one was watching a performance. This quite reminded me of Bertolt Brecht's theory of drama, especially since I have been reading about his collaboration with Kurt Weill, particularly in the opera Mahagonny.

The staging was done very artfully, and was beautiful. The various pieces of the stage within a stage were nicely painted, and the cloud hung from ropes that Echo sang in was particularly amusing. The costumes were lavish but in subtle colors. The choreography came off very well, Laura Claycomb (Zerbinetta) moved in an especially delightful, lilting manner, and Deborah Voigt (Prima Donna/Ariadne) impressed me with her regal bearing, even turned away from the stage, the way she held her head and back was simply resplendent.

I do wish that they were better at moving the sets more quietly at the San Francisco Opera. It is an opera, sounds are of the utmost importance, one would think. During Bacchus' approach to Naxos, there was a switch of the stage such that the audience was backstage once again, and the clatter that ensued was most indelicate.

As for the singing, most everyone in the production was quite good. The mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke as the composer was surprisingly wonderful en travesti, she played the over-sensitive, melodramatic role well, and her voice was strong. Deborah Voigt is as accomplished as her reputation would have her. Tenor Thomas Moser is not as renowned as Voigt, but I found his voice well-paired with hers. Laura Claycomb, while quite charming, does not have a voice to vie with these others, it is thin, though pretty it was overwhelmed by the orchestra at times, especially in her higher range.

The somewhat sparse and talkative audience seemed far more moved by the text which they read as supertitles than the music. Unfortunate, since Strauss seems to have a good sense of humor. The music in the prologue was at times humorously overblown. I also quite enjoyed the overture to the opera proper, and by some magic the audience was silent for the whole of it. I believe this is because the curtain was intentionally pulled up as they had supernumeraries fuss around with the stage, perhaps to heighten the sense that the audience is watching an opera. This served to prepare the audience and they were all settled down by the time the music started. I believe I prefer Strauss to Puccini. I also like the audience members in standing room better than in the Grand Tier, as they were more respectful of the artists and the people around them.

Perché un dì nella reggia m'hai sorriso.

Opening night of the opera is splendid event. Everyone dresses up in a most lavish manner, and there are flowers everywhere. This year red roses decorated the boxes and filled enormous vases in the halls. I spent a half hour before the performance and both the intermissions simply gaping and tittering at all the splendid gowns and so forth. I particularly liked a muted gold gown that resembled an egg carton, but more pointy. I laughed every time the lady who wore it came within my view, which probably was extremely rude, but I really could not help myself.

Turandot is not my favorite opera, and Puccini is not my favorite composer of operas. For one thing, Puccini's overtures are incredibly quick affairs that only confuse me, and Turandot's were no exception. The set design and costume design of this production was absolutely lurid, perhaps because of the oriental aspect of the setting. The backgrounds that were meant to look faux Chinese were very flat and not unlike paper cut-outs. Everything was very red and green and pink. There were absurd death heads hanging from rafters above in the first act that were a special annoyance to me for some reason.

Nonetheless, the singing was very good. Jane Eaglen (Turandot), Patricia Racette (Liù), and Jon Villars (Calaf) all had gorgeous voices. I found the music for Ping, Pang, and Pong rather adorable, and Hernan Iturralde, Jonathan Boyd, and Felipe Rojas did a fine job with the choreography, acting, and singing. They had a good dynamic together.

The libretto is full of holes. In this production Turandot intially looked quite joyed by Calaf's correct answer to her last riddle, and then frightened and enraged only later, which seems like an attempt to make her change of heart in the end more plausible.

I liked the acrobats. This was something that simply thrilled my blood.