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September 2003
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January 2004


Staatsoper Stuttgart's production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk came to San Francisco for six performances last November. The set was stark and geometric. The choreography was highly artificial and omnipresent, at times it was effective.

Soprano Solveig Kringelborn was excellent as the lead, Katerina Lvovna Ismailova. Her voice was powerful, but she had good control as well. Christopher Ventris as Sergei was one of the better tenors I've heard this year, his voice is very pretty indeed. Also strong was mezzo-soprano Jane Dutton, who had the small part of Sonyetka in Act IV. Her duet with Sergei was the high point of the opera.

Shostakovich's music was at times melodramatic, but on the whole, it was rather good.

From 3. Sérénade

Les cités nouvelles
Où Dieu me guida
Ne me semblaient pas belles,
Tu n'étais pas là;
Tout durant l'absence
Est indifférence.

Fromental Halévy's La Juive, a grand opera in five acts, premiered in 23. February 1835. Günter Krämer's production just finishing up now at the Metropolitan Opera first premiered on 23. October 1999 at the Wiener Staatsoper. I attended the 69th performance of this opera at the Met, and the man from Baltimore just to my right said he had waited more than 30 years to see it. This is no surprise, as La Juive was last seen at the Met 68 seasons ago. Its last performance in the United States was in 1973.

As soon as I learnt that the production was from Vienna, I kept my expectations for the staging very low. The opera takes place in Konstanz (in Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland), and the costumes were mostly Dirndl and Lederhosen for the German Christian characters. Since the opera is in French, this is something of a surreal experience. The Jews wore modern suits, but the title character's black dress looked more like it was from 1940. It was somewhat depressing to compare these costumes with Caruso and Ponselle's for the 1919-1920 production on display in the lobby.

The set was sparse and uninspired, the opera opened with a wall of glass doors.

The music itself was beautiful throughout, nothing overwrought, at times less than compelling.

As for the singing, I was most impressed by the American tenor Neil Shicoff (Eléazar), whose voice was powerful and had an intensity that I have rarely heard from a tenor. Soile Isokoski was adequate as Rachel, Elizabeth Futral was a slightly shrill Princess Eudoxie, and Eric Cutler was a somewhat dull Léopold.

Don Carlos

Way back in November 2003 I attended a couple performances of Don Carlos at San Francisco Opera. They did a five act French version, which is unusual. The two leads, Marina Mescheriakova as Elisabeth and Mark Duffin as Don Carlos, were not particularly impressive. The former was shrill and stiff, the latter was too quiet. Bo Skovhus (Rodrigue) was solid as always, though his movements were somewhat arachnid-like. Violeta Urmana (Princess Eboli) was excellent, her voice was strong and fiery. Her acting was also very good.

The sets and costumes were pretty but not particularly exciting. I found the auto-da-fe to be overly stylized, instead of burning the victims alive, they have them attached to wires and they float away.