Deborah Voigt

Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa

Verdiballo1* Notes *
A Washington National Opera production of Un Ballo in Maschera opened the new season in San Francisco under the direction of Gina Lapinski. Entirely traditional in set and costume design, it was a spectacle quite pleasing to the eye with much Louis XIV splendor. There are six scenes but only one intermission, so it was no mean feat having nearly each one rather different than the next. The least fleshed-out scene is Act III Scene 2, when Gustavus is musing in his quarters before the ball. A black screen simply hides the upstage, and a desk and chair are downstage. The last scene emerges when Commedia dell'arte characters dance out and pretend to lift the screen, revealing the splendid hall with a balcony on the upper floor and large chandeliers.

Marco Armiliato did not seem to have complete control of the orchestra, they seemed just slightly off from the singers, particularly in the first act. The singers were all reasonably good, though of course, Deborah Voigt stands out, as her voice has a good deal of volume and command. Her voice is not flashy, but elegant and solid. It may not be worth mentioning, but Ms. Voigt had gastric bypass surgery and went from a size 28 to a size 14. A few years ago her contract with the Royal Opera, London was canceled because their production of Ariadne auf Naxos involved a little black dress that they felt would not work on Ms. Voigt. Her surgery, thankfully, has not ruined her voice.

Other fine singing came from soprano Anna Christy, who made a trim and dashing Oscar. Her bird-like voice has a charming effervescence. Former Adler Fellow Joshua Bloom sang well as the Count Ribbing. Bloom has had six roles at San Francisco Opera in the last two years, and I look forward to hearing him in a larger role soon. Current Adler Fellow Eugene Brancoveanu also shows promise as the sailor Christian.

None of the four singers who made their San Francisco Opera debuts with Un Ballo were terribly striking. Tenor Marcus Haddock (Gustavus III) was slightly quiet and reedy; baritone Ambrogio Maestri (Anckarström) was lackluster at times. Mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn may have produced fireballs on stage as Madame Arvidson, and though her voice does not lack fire, her singing was a bit rough and gasping. The other Adler Fellow, Jeremy Galyon, was adequate as Count Horn, but did not make a strong impression.

This is the first production of Un Ballo I have managed to see. In 2003, I had a ticket to this opera in Munich, but instead went to Venice for a few weeks. Verdi's 21st opera is based on an incident in 1792. For the premiere in Rome, Verdi was obliged to change the names of the characters and set the opera in colonial Boston instead of 18th century Stockholm. The music often has simultaneous elements of tragedy and comedy, to great effect, as seen in the finale of Act II, "Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa." The conspirators Ribbing and Horn think they've discovered Anckarström's assignation with his own wife, while Anckarström mistakenly believes that his wife and Gustavus have had a tryst. The jesting of Ribbing and Horn as Anckarström vows revenge and Amelia grieves makes for a distressing irony.

* Tattling *
The side supertitles have been removed this season and are replaced by four small screens under the boxes so the titles are nearly unavoidable. The new general director is has also concerned himself with the length of the performances, he favors early curtain times during the week, and fewer intermissions. The sentiment is a fine one, however, many people were arrived late and naturally they chattered in standing room during the first scene. During the September 13th performance I heard no less than three cell phones, one of these was from a latecomer right next to me. The audience this day was quite absurd in other ways, they applauded when Deborah Voigt made her entrance midway in Act I Scene 2, before she had sung a note. Perhaps they did not notice she is billed last in the program, as the cast is listed by vocal appearance. They also clapped for the scenery of the last scene, the ball room. In addition, they giggled at the supertitles for Madame Arvidson's line "Perchè possa rispondere a voi è d'uopo che innanzi m'abbocchi a Satàno." Apparently reading the word "Satan" is simply hilarious, for this happened at the September 20th performance as well.

Ich habe nichts mit dieser Welt gemein! Wozu leben in ihr?

Ariadne auf Naxos is an odd little opera with only one act, but has a prologue that lasts about 30 minutes. It is more or less an opera about opera, and is quite diverting. The juxtaposition of opera seria and opera buffa produced some entertaining effects as well. All together Ariadne pointedly shows the nature of opera to be collaborative. The prologue starts backstage, and the manner of the staging never let one forget that one was watching a performance. This quite reminded me of Bertolt Brecht's theory of drama, especially since I have been reading about his collaboration with Kurt Weill, particularly in the opera Mahagonny.

The staging was done very artfully, and was beautiful. The various pieces of the stage within a stage were nicely painted, and the cloud hung from ropes that Echo sang in was particularly amusing. The costumes were lavish but in subtle colors. The choreography came off very well, Laura Claycomb (Zerbinetta) moved in an especially delightful, lilting manner, and Deborah Voigt (Prima Donna/Ariadne) impressed me with her regal bearing, even turned away from the stage, the way she held her head and back was simply resplendent.

I do wish that they were better at moving the sets more quietly at the San Francisco Opera. It is an opera, sounds are of the utmost importance, one would think. During Bacchus' approach to Naxos, there was a switch of the stage such that the audience was backstage once again, and the clatter that ensued was most indelicate.

As for the singing, most everyone in the production was quite good. The mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke as the composer was surprisingly wonderful en travesti, she played the over-sensitive, melodramatic role well, and her voice was strong. Deborah Voigt is as accomplished as her reputation would have her. Tenor Thomas Moser is not as renowned as Voigt, but I found his voice well-paired with hers. Laura Claycomb, while quite charming, does not have a voice to vie with these others, it is thin, though pretty it was overwhelmed by the orchestra at times, especially in her higher range.

The somewhat sparse and talkative audience seemed far more moved by the text which they read as supertitles than the music. Unfortunate, since Strauss seems to have a good sense of humor. The music in the prologue was at times humorously overblown. I also quite enjoyed the overture to the opera proper, and by some magic the audience was silent for the whole of it. I believe this is because the curtain was intentionally pulled up as they had supernumeraries fuss around with the stage, perhaps to heighten the sense that the audience is watching an opera. This served to prepare the audience and they were all settled down by the time the music started. I believe I prefer Strauss to Puccini. I also like the audience members in standing room better than in the Grand Tier, as they were more respectful of the artists and the people around them.