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October 2002
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On Friday, May 3, 1996 I saw half of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, with dance choreographed by Mark Morris, at Zellerbach Hall. This was my first operatic foray. I liked Euridice's blazing orange colored shift.

On Friday, September 27, 1996 I went to San Francisco Opera's production of Thomas' Hamlet at the Orpheum Theatre. Ruth Ann Swenson's voice was stunning.

On Tuesday, October 22, 1996 I heard Carmen at the Civic Auditorium. I enjoyed the sets.


A production of Händel's Alcina from Stuttgart opened yesterday at San Francisco Opera. It garnered enthusiastic and cheerful (perhaps that was just me) booing at the end when the production designer, Anna Viebrock, came out for her curtain call.

What a self-indulgent, pretentious, inaccessible staging! It wasn't so much the modern dress, or the little junk room with peeling wallpaper, or even the huge and silly frame that was meant to be a mirror that really bothered me. They just made all the characters less than human, doing illogical things like undressing when angry, throwing things while music was going on, scuttling across the stage, and so forth. It made people laugh, when there was beautiful music going on, and seriously detracted from any sort of edification that could be happening.

Catherine Naglestad, as Alcina, had the strongest voice. It has rough edges and her diction isn't the best, but her projection is incredible. She did move like a wounded animal, especially when she first appeared intertwined with Ruggiero, shuffling along the floor. Part of the problem is that Naglestad is an adorably chubby girl with wide hips and skinny calves, so when she was barefoot for most of the production, wearing her innumerable mid-calf length black cocktail dresses, she just looked awkward and inelegant. The line between hip and foot was no good for an enchanting sorceress, however cute. Then they had her shuffling around on the floor for no reason, reminiscent of spiders.

The choreography and staging favored falling or throwing bodies and objects to the ground for no apparent reason, and frenetic stomping, hitting walls, choking, binding, and other such movements.

There were also two gunshots fired, that were quite loud and unnecessary.

Alice Coote was a fine Ruggiero, her voice warm and dark, and her movements utterly boyish. On the other hand, Catriona Smith was a prissy Morgana, and her upper range was absolutely shrill. They had her sing some of her part on the floor, and she doesn't have the voice to carry this at all.

The music was sublime. Roy Goodman conducted well, and it sounded very much together.

But that was not what I was going to say.

San Francisco Opera's current production of Leoš Janáček's Káťa Kabanová starts off with words projected on the scrim, from Alexander Ostrovsky's The Storm, on which the libretto of Káťa is based. This is during the overture, which could not be more than 5 minutes long. I found the staging to be quite ugly, something about it looked institutional, which in all likelihood is intentional. Especially horrid was the ending scene which had a huge metal-looking sculpture shaped like an abstract bird. This sculpture took flight just before Káťa throws herself in the Volga, which amounted to her flinging herself down into a puddle at the center of the stage. Then doctors and emergency workers came out with a metal bed that turned into her coffin, and the focus was so much on this that it took all the power away from evil mother-in-law Kabanicha's last lines of cold thanks.

The stage had a room that was moved across and around. It was even more quiet than the platform in Saint François d'Assise.

The costumes were exceedingly silly. Especially the two servant girls' costumes, Feklusha and Glasha wore fifties styled cafeteria lady dresses, black with yellow trim, and had jackets with black and yellow stripes at a slant. Also, Boris was in a jacket that was too large and of a strange light grey color that stuck out badly.

The opera was terribly brief, not even two hours long but having three acts. The libretto is not paced well, but I doubt that Janáček's music could have been interesting for any longer than two hours. The music was fairly dull, an odd mix of melodic and dissonant. The prettiest music was in the songs of Vanya and Varvara of the second scene in Act II.

Soprano Karita Mattila (Káťa) has a fine voice, clear but slightly subdued, never shrill in the least. Her movements were a bit awkward, especially when she was rocking in a chair in and when she pretends to be a bird, both in the first act. But she was very good at doing dramatic falls.

Tenor Raymond Very (Vanya) was the only other singer that struck me as having a beautiful voice. Everyone else was adequate.