Juha Uusitalo

Samson et Dalila at SF Opera

Rembrandt_2* Notes*
San Francisco Opera opened the 2007-2008 season with Samson et Dalila on September 7th. This 1980 production, by Nicolas Joël, was last revived in
2001. Douglas W. Schmidt's sets look dated from close up, they are a bit flat and at odd angles. The costumes also have suffered in the 27 years since Carrie Robbins designed them. They look like the Alma-Tadema paintings they were inspired by, but every piece of cloth used seemed to have a pattern on it. It looked like the chitons were made of leftover fabric for Easter dresses. However, from the back of the orchestra everything does look lovely, and this time around they managed to get the scrim working properly, it did not get caught on anything in the three performances I have seen.

Olga Borodina's voice is a bit rougher than I remembered, it has some harsh edges when she sang in the higher range at full-volume. She was still a rather sultry Dalila. Clifton Forbis was not inspiring as Samson, his voice was strained but otherwise passionless. In contrast, Juha Uusitalo (High Priest of Dagon) has a beautiful voice, and sings with much more ease. Disappointingly Oren Gradus did not quite have the lower range for the Old Hebrew. I was pleasantly surprised by the Abimélech, Eric Jordan, and curious to hear him in a more challenging role.

* Tattling *
I saw the final dress rehearsal during a corporate event and found it curious that Forbis did not sing full out, as he needed to save his voice for the opening. Borodina also saved her voice somewhat, but did sing audibly.

Everyone was all aflutter for the opening, two couples in standing room tried their best to block me out of my spot and could not be silent. They were repeatedly hushed. It was a good night for looking at fancy dresses and obvious plastic surgery. The flowers on the boxes were a bit naff this year, large squares of pink roses, lots of rose garlands, and random bits of greenery.

I was pleased to note that for the third performance, the scrim was not lowered until after the music ended for Act I, so that the audience, good monkeys that they are, refrained from clapping over the orchestra.

Der Fliegende Holländer at SFO

The last performance of Der Fliegende Holländer this season was this evening. The production came from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and was directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Raimund Bauer's set was stark and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's costumes were reminiscent of samurai from space. Denni Sayers' choreography was slightly clunky, the women spinning their hair was especially absurd.

Soprano Nina Stemme was good as Senta, her voice is has a fine clarity. Bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo was sufficient as the Dutchman, certainly a very strong voice, perhaps lacking in beauty.

The thing that struck me the most about this performance was not the production, but the music. It is filled with drama and excitement, it is more like opera than Wagner's later works. The lack of intermission made the whole work very immediate, one stays in the same world for 150 minutes.

Es riß!

Aldengoetterdaemmerung5Last Friday the Bavarian State Opera concluded their first run of Der Ring des Nibelungen as a cycle. This production of Götterdämmerung premiered 28. February 2003, and it was tamer than Die Walküre or Siegfried. Still a lot of drunken staggering, and cigarette smoking.

Musically more compelling than Siegfried, Wagner brings his epic work to a close using elements not heard in the first previous parts, most notably, the use of a chorus. The contrast of this gives the chorus a great deal of power.

The singing was, again, all quite good. Stig Anderson's voice was as sweet as ever, his death scene was excellent as far as singing goes. Baritone Juha Uusitalo, who was Donner in Das Rheingold, was adequate as Gunther here. Bass Matti Salminen was fine as Hagen, his voice isn't exactly full, but the volume is good. Franz-Josef Kapellmann was again wonderful as Alberich, his voice very distinct from Salminen's. Gabriele Schnaut sang well enough as Brünnhilde, but I always felt worried for her, because her voice wobbles and has so much power it threatens to overwhelm her. Nancy Gustafson seemed fine as Gutrune, she was Freia in Das Rheingold. Her voice provokes neither like nor dislike in me, it is a tad cold. Marjana Lipovsek has more emotion in her voice, she did well as Waltraute, and she was Fricka in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. The Rheintöchter were lovely again, mocking but otherworldly. Margarita De Arellano never seemed less shrill, and Ann-Katrin Naidu and Hana Minutillo both have incredible voices. The Norns were less impressive, but not bad.

The production did not make any departure from the usual fare of absurdness, though it was not quite as amusing for the audience. The basic set is a semicircular room. It starts off with a white, reflective floor and a white wall, a blue fluorescent light traces the edge of the wall in a half-circle. There is a chandalier with white fluorescent lights arranged vertically. The Norns are smoking on a couch covered with a sheet. They are dressed in pinstriped suits with vests and high heeled pumps. They are all wearing their hair in dark bobs with bangs. The third Norn is blind and wearing sunglasses, she staggers about. When the Loge music is played the three bring out lighters. Brünnhilde comes out during their music, she sits on the floor, downstage, a bit to the right, dressed in pajamas and a robe, drinking coffee. The floor slides open, mid-stage, a little to the left, and the Norns set out a desk, chair, and typewriter for Brünnhilde. They offer her cigars and coffee. One of the Norns is drinking, she staggers about drunken, naturally. There is a bed stage right, Siegfried is on it, in pajamas also, he and Brünnhilde sing, he changes into trousers, button down shirt, plaid sports coat, and fedora. Quite a change from Siegfried, in which he looks like an adolescent boy in modern times. The scene is changed by tuxedoed men. The Rheintöchter emerge from the floor with a model boat, a golden pirate ship with sails, they sail it about the room, dressed as they were in Das Rheingold.

Act I has some pillars emerging from a door upstage, a painting of a woman in falling out of bed stage right. Getrune huddles in the back, in a fur coat, hugging a teddy bear. Gunther is brought in in his bed. At some point he gets angry at Hagen and throws the bed over, Getrune jumps up and down on the bed. Siegfried emerges from the ground, the horse, Grane is the same dread-locked boy throughout the production, he throws streamers and confetti over Siegfried. Hagen takes him and ties him up by the pillars. Getrune coyly gives Siegfried the love potion, it makes him stagger around for the rest of the opera. The choreography for Getrune is childish, a lot of leg swinging, she's never actually sexy though, even though the character is wearing a little slip beneath her coat, and black stiletto boots. Siegfried and Gunther cut their hands over champagne glasses for the blood brother scene and when Siegfried leaves to fetch Brünnhilde, Hagen drags Grane from the back and throws him into the egress in the floor, where he and Getrune also exit.

Waltreute goes to see her sister Brünnhilde before Siegfried appears. This scene is fairly normal, though the characters never seem to be singing to one another. Waltreute is dressed as a soldier, with a long coat, and Brünnhilde is still in her pajamas.

After Waltreute departs, the fire that protects Brünnhilde is indicated by a line of fire, part of the floor, stage right, opens just a little bit and the fire spits out in a line. It dies down when Siegfried comes in, wearing a hockey mask which is supposed to be the Tarnhelm. His voice is a little muffled by it, which is unfortunate.

Act II starts off down stage, there is a carpet on the floor in red, there is a gray stone wall that hides the up stage. Hagen sits stage left. There is a painting the right of him, the one of a woman in white, falling out of bed, with a gnome sitting on her. This is Hagen's mother, Grimhild. Alberich, his father, is on the right, he has a human sized robotic white lab rat with him. As this scene progresses, Grimhild, played by the dancer Beate Vollack, emerges from behind the painting and dances around, eventually she brings out a knife and kills herself, falling to the ground. When the scene ends the gray wall lifts and Vollack brings the painting down on herself, crawling, she exits to the left. Alberich exits to the right, dragging the rat with him by the tail. It is the same semicircular room, but behind the white wall is a wallpapered one, the same wallpaper as seen in Mime's house and Sieglinde's house. The chandelier now has green lights. In the background is a huge comic book picture of a man who has killed a dragon with his sword, there are people rushing to meet him in the background. One of them comments, in English "How can you kill something that is already dead" and the title is "The Conquerer." Siegfried enters the scene by jumping out behind the picture and tumbling to the floor. Gutrune enters stage right, but first she throws her purse out, then one of her boots. She is neatly coifed and is wearing a blue suit with skirt. The male chorus comes out all wearing tuxedos and viking accouterments, they put on helmets with horns and so forth, and have shields and spears. Tuxedoed men come out with folding tables and orange plastic chairs. They set up a rostrum, and later, a dining hall. The female chorus is dressed in mid-calf length dresses circa 1960-70, holding champagne glasses, posing here and there. The male chorus passed around cans of Löwenbräu. Gutrune reemerges in a wedding gown of satin. Brünnhilde is brought out in her bed, with briefcase and papers, but still in pajamas. Siegfried wears a ruffled tuxedo shirt, and dinner jacket with sequins. When Hagen wishes to convince Brünnhilde to tell him Siegfried's weakness, he gets into bed with her, but not in a lewd way. Gunther hands Brünnhilde the teddy bear, whose head she rips off. Siegfried and Gutrune come back in and Brünnhilde kisses their cheeks, the three join arms with Hagen and Gunther and they make a ring, dancing around.

Act III has the floor back to being white and reflective, the white wall is gone, only the wallpaper remains. There are fish trophies on the wall, a pinball machine center up stage, and a table football game to the left and a pink refrigerator to the left. The chandelier now has gold lights. The Rheintöchter emerge from the floor. They are dressed as housewives, kerchiefs around the heads, they throw plastic fish out of their clothes. Their hair is now bobbed and black with bangs, while before one was redheaded, another dark, the last blond. They change on stage, two of the maidens have their sequined dresses on underneath, another is only wearing a swim suit, but she puts on her dress as well. Siegfried comes looking for a bear and he is wearing a hunting vest over his regular clothes. They disappear for a bit and reemerge, one from the left, another from the right, and the another from the center, and they are wearing the pinstriped suits now, like the Norns.

Siegfried finds the hunting party, which consists of the male chorus, Gunther, and Hagen. The chorus is dressed in lederhosen for the most part. They bring in dead animals, pose with them, have their picture taken. Siegfried is killed with spear, Hagen dumps him into the refrigerator where he sings as he dies. Hagen kills Gunther with a gun, the noise of it going off was quite unpleasant. Brünnhilde kills herself by slashing her wrists, and then sitting just left of center down stage, in the lotus position. Her horse comes out when she calls him, he sits to the left. Hagen shoots himself with the gun, instead of drowning in the Rhein. The wallpaper comes down, and a platform comes down, it has several human sized white lab rats on it, and in the back, the theater from Das Rheingold reappears, Walhalla on the chairs, burning.

Other notes, petty:
The young couple in front of me, as I've mentioned, talked a lot during Das Rheingold, in which the male half of the couple left in the beginning of the fourth scene, and to my great amusement, was not allowed back in. The female brought another girl friend for Die Walküre and they were silent. But during Siegfried, the male was back, and they talked more than ever. During Götterdammerung, they barely had a whisper between them, I have no idea why. In Act III, the boy fell asleep for at least thirty minutes, he slept though extremely loud music. The older couple to their left was also noisy, mostly because they couldn't stop laughing at everything.