Olga Borodina

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.

Sundry Performance Notes

Yesterday someone pulled the fire alarm at just ten minutes before curtain time for the last performance of L'Italiana. Everyone filed out in an orderly fashion, but it took quite a long time to get back inside and settled in again. During the performance I wanted to note that in Act II, Vivica Genaux does a pivot with floreos where Olga Borodina did a cute head slide gesture that went with the music better. Also I would like to remember how nicely William Burden and Ricardo Herrera danced throughout, but especially when they are explaining to Mustafà about the Papatacci, their dance that involved pesk horns at the end was charming.

The latter part of Act II bears a striking resemblance to parts of Così fan tutte. The scene in which Isabella sings "Pensa alla patria" has a choral part like "Bella vita militar!" When Taddeo gives Mustafà the oath of the Papatacci, "Di veder e non veder," it is somewhat like the scene Così where Despina pretends to be the notary.

Additionally, Patrick Stewart was at the symphony the night before last. I believe he had a box. He probably couldn't hear Leon Fleisher's vocalizing from so far away. Though the acoustics at Davies are rather special.

Cra cra cra

The alternate in the title role for San Francisco opera's production of L'Italiana in Algeri is excellent. I was not impressed by mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, but I think her voice is better suited to something airy and light like L'Italiana. Her voice was incredible in the role of Isabella, her ornamentation was good and her bird-like voice is prettier than Borodina's. Genaux does seem more awkward than Borodina, almost boyish, she doesn't have that swagger and sass. Also to be noted, the other alternate, bass Dean Peterson, was pretty good as Mustafà, but still not perfect.

I was glad to see that some of the choreography was changed to suit Genaux and Peterson, it makes more sense than forcing them to do movement that worked perfectly on Borodina and Abdrazakov. For example, at the end of Act I when Isabella is first presented to Mustafà, Borodina slyly steals Mustafà's turban and pushes him off his velvet throne. On the other hand, tiny Genaux could not carry this off, so instead she climbs on the throne and and steals the turban from there. Genaux does not quite have the same confidence in movement as Borodina, but she did rather well, considering she is an opera singer, and Borodina certainly is an exception.

The performance solidified my admiration for tenor William Burden, his voice is certainly worth hearing again.

L'Italiana in Algeri

The production of Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers currently at San Francisco Opera belongs to Santa Fe Opera, where it was premiered in 2002. The style of director Christopher Alexander is possibly more suited to this comic opera. The last opera he directed at San Francisco was Turandot in 2002, which looked like something from the circus, but this can be squarely blamed on David Hockney's lurid set and costumes. The set of L'Italiana was designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, and consisted mainly of a huge pop-up book with one scene of arcades. Also included was a crashing plane and hot air balloons. The costumes, designed by David C. Woolard, were from 1920. The choreography throughout was done quite well, and all of the singers were proficient at movement, they performed splendidly.

As for singing, mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, as Isabella, was in good form. Her voice is strong, dark, and piercing. At times it is slightly breathy. Tenor William Burden was impressive as Lindoro, his first aria "Languir per una bella" was excellent, his tone exceedingly sweet and sufficiently loud. Bass lldar Abdrazakov sang adequately as Mustafà, the part is demanding, and Abdrazakov's voice is not exceptional. He is , however, a fine actor. Bass Ricardo Herrera sang the buffo part of Taddeo well, his duet with Borodina in Act I, Scene 2 was good. Soprano Jane Archibald was fine as Elvira, nothing flashy, but she was the anchor of the finale in Act I.

The first half of the opera is stronger than the second musically, Act II just doesn't come through on the promise of Act I. The end of Act II is simply not strong, neither musically nor dramatically. Though the libretto has much in common with Die Entführung aus dem Serail, L'Italiana is mere farce.

The matinee audience was fairly well-behaved, with a notable exception. Some person had an altercation with Sharon, one of the people who heads the ushers. She apparently asked him not to lean against the wall during the overture of Act I and he had a fit which involved him speaking at full volume and calling her a "pain in the ass."

Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix comme s'ouvre les fleurs

Yesterday I went and saw Saint-Saëns most famous opera Samson et Dalila with my father, who was here for the weekend, ostensibly for a pre-auction showing at Butterfields that didn't happen. The opera was the best one overall that I've seen this season. The music and singing were all fairly good, and Olga Borodina, the mezzo-soprano who played Dalila, has just an incredible voice. She's a good actress too. Sergey Larin has a nice voice as well, but he was only really brilliant in the first scene of Act III, when he laments to God as he turns a millstone in prison. He was able to sing beautifully despite being in some odd doubled-over positions that probably aren't ideal for singing. Timothy Noble (Priest) and René Pape (An Old Hebrew) had very lovely voices that were consistently good throughout the performance. There were also two ballets in this opera, and the corps du ballet was quite good as they were in Arshak II. The dancers were the same as far as I could tell.

The only serious problem with the opera was the operation of the curtains. The placement of something must have been off because one of the curtains and the overscreen kept snagging each time they raised either of them. The audience was very immature about the whole thing, and whenever they mananged to get it okay, they would applaud. One would think that the stage crew would have it all set up correctly, as yesterday's performance was the last one.