SF Opera's The Magic Flute (Bowden/Shafer)
October 21, 2015
* Notes *
A revival of The Magic Flute opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The production has been beset with casting changes since August, and two more were announced from the War Memorial stage by General Director David Gockley before the performance. Adler Julie Adams sang First Lady for Jacqueline Piccolino and Kathryn Bowden filled in for Albina Shagimuratova, both replaced artists were apparently ailing. All four substitutions were more than adequate, in fact, Efraín Solís as Papageno and Sarah Shafer as Pamina (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver), standing in for former Adlers Philippe Sly and Nadine Sierra, may have stolen the show.
Solís has a ton of charisma, and is an absolute delight. His voice has much warmth and liveliness. Shafer gave a distinctive and emotionally nuanced performance, quite a feat as Pamina can be a pretty flat character. Kathryn Bowden muscled through her arias, her Queen of the Night did not sound ravishingly beautiful but she definitely hit every note and it was impressive, if not a bit terrifying.
The three ladies, Julie Adams, Nian Wang, and Zanda Švēde, sounded wonderful and there was no shrillness at all. Greg Fedderly perfectly reprised his role as Monostatos and was entirely hilarious during the magic bell scene when Papageno enchants him and the male chorus. Paul Appleby was fine as Tamino, though somewhat wooden, his sound is bright and has good volume.
The orchestra did not shine under the baton of conductor Lawrence Foster. There were a lot of obvious errors, the balances were off and the playing was sloppy. In fact, the chaos made me feel seasick, and I had to close my eyes to regain a sense of stillness.
Jun Kaneko's production is still as adorable as ever. It is not a dramatic rendering and does not help explain what is going on in this opera, but the abstractness of the design helps keep the action moving and is attractive.
The English translation is awkward but seems to engage the audience. I often indulged myself in thinking of the original German lines as the performers sang. One has to feel for the non-native English speakers in this piece, accents are fairly noticeable and the words are a compromise at best, so can sound stilted even when sung by Americans.
* Tattling *
There were some whispers but the back of the balcony was relatively well-behaved.