* Notes *
Natalie Dessay had her long awaited debut at San Francisco Opera last night in the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor. Her voice has a marvelous incandescent quality, but also has a hard edge that borders on vulgar. Her movements are light and her acting is strong. She was completely convincing in her mad scene, and the use of glass harmonica rather than flute here certainly was effective.
Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti's debut was less impressive, though at least he looked fine paired with Dessay, as she is rather petite. His portrayal of Edgardo started off fairly well, his voice bright and reedy, though with a certain whining quality. The famous Act II sextet was his strongest moment, sounding particularly good with Gabriele Viviani (Enrico). However, he was nearly shrieking in Act III, "Fra poco a me ricovero" was not good. Viviani made for a threatening villain, his voice is not especially beautiful but is serviceable enough. Though his diction was precise, his intonation was not, which was clear in the duet "Se tradirmi tu potrai." Oren Gradus faired better as Raimondo, his light but warm tones were lovely.
As for the smaller roles, Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur (Alisa) did not distinguish herself. Her little shaky voice was hysterical at first, and inaudible in the sextet. Matthew O'Neill (Normanno) sounded fine, though he was a hair off from the orchestra at one point. Andrew Bidlack was a restrained and suitably stiff Arturo, and sang well in the sextet.
The chorus was excellent, though they were a bit fast near the end, or else the orchestra was somewhat slow. They were not, in any case, exactly together. The orchestra did sound crisp and in tune under debuting conductor Jean-Yves Ossonce.
Other production teams could really learn a thing or two from director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown. The set was gloriously quiet, and only made one cracking noise between the second and third scenes of the last act, and this was when there was no music to interrupt. Despite the silence of the set, the visual impact was utterly stunning. The gloomy elegance of the moving walls, the storm scene, and Lucia's entrance in the mad scene using a platform covered with heather (Calluna vulgaris) painted red were all gorgeous. Some of the effects with shadows were too much like caricature, they reminded me a bit of Kara Walker's work sans the incisive political commentary.
* Tattling *
The War Memorial looked quite full, and no rush tickets were available. Standing room was crowded, and is bound to become even more so. I'm sure this is the production that brings in so many people that there will be fainting in standing room, hopefully it will distract them so I can hear Ariodante in peace.
I only heard one mobile phone ring, and it sounded like it was coming from outside the hall, in the lobby. There were no watch alarms heard in the orchestra, and I didn't notice anyone talking.
Dr. Marcia Green's amusing pre-opera talk focused on the music of Lucia in film, of course bringing up The Fifth Element and the blue alien diva.