Though lovely, San Francisco Opera's opening night performance of Simon Boccanegra did not quite catch on fire, despite the heat and an apparent earthquake. The production, directed by David Edwards, is pleasantly simple and Michael Yeargan's serviceable set is both attractive and quiet. Peter J. Hall's period costumes are gorgeous, but best of all is the lighting design from Christopher Maravich. Light is very much a unifying aspect of the production, pulling together the set, the music, and the text.
The orchestra sounded lucid under the direction of Donald Runnicles, and for the most part they were synchronized with the singers. There was a moment when the chorus was not quite on beat in the prologue, but the finale of Act I "Sia maledetto!" was perfect. The brass and woodwind solos were all strong and in tune.
For the most part the singing was very good. Patrick Carfizzi (Paolo) was a fine villian, his acting was convincing and his voice is appealing, but still conveys a certain unctuousness necessary for this role. Vitalij Kowaljow was likewise solid as Fiesco, his voice unflinching but also beautiful. Marcus Haddock (Gabriele) has a strong voice though a bit stiff. He did sing "Sento avvampar nell'anima" well. Barbara Frittoli's San Francisco Opera debut was shaky during the cavatina "Come in quest'ora bruna." Her voice has a nice timbre, a pretty warmth, but her vibrato can be overwhelming. She did sound splendidly lyrical during the recognition duet between Amelia and Boccanegra. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was impressive in the title role, displaying the range of his acting ability and singing well throughout. His breaths were somewhat loud, but this is, of course, a minor quibble.
* Tattling *
The audience whispered too much during the scene changes, but not a phone nor watch alarm was heard. A woman in Row Z Seat 4 of the orchestra was fiddling with her mobile phone during Boccanegra's Act III "M'ardon le tempia." The light from the device was distracting, and she was asked to put it away.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was in attendance, and I walked right by her during intermission on the box level. As for other brushes with fame, I met opera lecturer Evan Baker, who was signing autographs after his pre-opera talk. I also finally had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Hirsch of Iron Tongue of Midnight.