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Lo t'abbraccio

Aldenrodelinda1The production of Händel's Rodelinda currently at San Francisco Opera is one from the Bayerische Staatsoper, and I had attended a few performances of it in Munich a few years ago. It is one of the tamer offerings of this particular director, David Alden. The opera is set as 1930s film noir, Buki Shiff's costumes are rather pretty because of this, especially Rodelinda's dashing black evening gown in Act II. The set consisted of various brick walls that were strategically moved about, there was also a recurring black and white image of a man with his arms crossed in front of him. He appears in eight cut-out figures in Act I, the largest being around 16 feet tall, and the smallest about 7 feet. Later he shows up in Act III, but only as a half-length, and only seven pictures this time.

I objected to just how buffoonish they had Unulfo be, when his character is rather noble, he is loyal to Bertarido and is willing to die for him. Instead they have Garibaldo beat him up and stuff wadded up paper down his throat. It was annoying when Garibaldo sings an aria in Act II, Unulfo screams in pain during the music. Then in Act III when Bertarido mistakenly attacks Unulfo with a kitchen knife, the latter runs into a wall, making his wound all the worse. Of course the knife is simply placed under the arm, and this is made extremely obvious.

Another flaw in the staging occurred at the end of Act II, during the very end of the gorgeous duet between Rodelinda and Bertarido, "Lo t'abbraccio." Catherine Naglestad and David Daniels sang brilliantly, but the staging involved putting Bertarido in the trunk of the vintage black Mercedes on stage. This elicited titters from the audience, which is completely inappropriate considering both how moving and ravishing the music is at that point.

The choreography was perhaps too difficult for the singers, I remember choreographer Beate Vollack being quite a favorite in Die Fledermaus in Munich. The choreography, minus drunken staggering, could have worked with just the right cast. It was a stark contrast to the excellent movement in L'Italiana last weekend.

As for singing, Naglestad sounded unsure at the beginning, slightly shrill, her voice cracked a bit during her second aria. She doesn't make it seem effortless. But there were some beautiful moments later in the opera. Daniels had a good performance, his voice is powerful and resonant, no trace of grit today. When he occasionally moved into his chest voice one gets a sense of how much heft his voice has, it is incredible. Tenor Paul Nilon was rather colorless as Grimoaldo, his dancing also did not betray much verve. Mezzo-soprano Phyllis Pancella did not impress either, and her dancing was flat-out bad, her back looks incredibly stiff and she has slumped shoulders. Gerald Thompson showed promise as Unulfo, at least in his voice, his countertenor has a sweet tone.

L'Italiana in Algeri

The production of Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers currently at San Francisco Opera belongs to Santa Fe Opera, where it was premiered in 2002. The style of director Christopher Alexander is possibly more suited to this comic opera. The last opera he directed at San Francisco was Turandot in 2002, which looked like something from the circus, but this can be squarely blamed on David Hockney's lurid set and costumes. The set of L'Italiana was designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, and consisted mainly of a huge pop-up book with one scene of arcades. Also included was a crashing plane and hot air balloons. The costumes, designed by David C. Woolard, were from 1920. The choreography throughout was done quite well, and all of the singers were proficient at movement, they performed splendidly.

As for singing, mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, as Isabella, was in good form. Her voice is strong, dark, and piercing. At times it is slightly breathy. Tenor William Burden was impressive as Lindoro, his first aria "Languir per una bella" was excellent, his tone exceedingly sweet and sufficiently loud. Bass lldar Abdrazakov sang adequately as Mustafà, the part is demanding, and Abdrazakov's voice is not exceptional. He is , however, a fine actor. Bass Ricardo Herrera sang the buffo part of Taddeo well, his duet with Borodina in Act I, Scene 2 was good. Soprano Jane Archibald was fine as Elvira, nothing flashy, but she was the anchor of the finale in Act I.

The first half of the opera is stronger than the second musically, Act II just doesn't come through on the promise of Act I. The end of Act II is simply not strong, neither musically nor dramatically. Though the libretto has much in common with Die Entführung aus dem Serail, L'Italiana is mere farce.

The matinee audience was fairly well-behaved, with a notable exception. Some person had an altercation with Sharon, one of the people who heads the ushers. She apparently asked him not to lean against the wall during the overture of Act I and he had a fit which involved him speaking at full volume and calling her a "pain in the ass."


GheorghiumastromarinoThe current Los Angeles Opera production of Pagliacci is surprisingly good, especially when one considers the opera company is a mere 20 years old. Franco Zeffirelli brought the staging into the 20th century, the set was urban, the costumes were fit for a disco, but there was also a roller blader, so a bit of a mix. There were a bunch of acrobats, a person on stilts, a live donkey, drag queens, and confetti.

Tenor Roberto Alagna seemed somewhat hesitant at first as Canio. His voice is light with a slightly reedy nasality. But his voice came through for Recitar...Vesti la giubba at the end of Act I, and he sang well in Act II. Soprano Angela Gheorghiu also has a fresh light voice without much heft, but still has sufficient volume. She also is extremely attractive, and thus quite believable as Nedda.

Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien held his own as Silvio, this part is to be sung by Rodney Gilfry in the last two performances this season, but for now Gilfry is only singing in The Grand Duchess. Kwiecien was very good in La Bohème at San Francisco Opera a few seasons ago, and this time around I was impressed by how warm and rich his voice is compared to the two leads. On the other hand, though baritone Alberto Mastromarino acted well in the part of Tonio, he lacked control and was off key at times.

The choreography and costumes both came off well. The most lovely costume was Columbina's, a frothy pink skirt with black polka dots and swallows paired with a tight high-collared black blouse with pink-sequined trim.

The patrons of LA opera are terribly noisy, whispering a great deal, and applauding at every little thing. After the Act II overture there was so much clapping that the conductor had the orchestra rise to be acknowledged further. The opera also started with the Star-Spangled Banner, for Patriot Day, one imagines, but this was not stated.