Piotr Beczala

Opening of Die Zauberflöte

Die Zauberfloete Animals, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Peter Hall's 1992 production of Die Zauberflöte opened at San Francisco Opera last Saturday. It certainly was odd to see all of Gerald Scarfe's funny designs again, for this production was my first at
Los Angeles Opera, and I did not enjoy it particularly then, as I was even crankier in my youth. The cartoon aesthetic is at times grating, particularly the ridiculous faux East Asian meets Star Wars costumes, beards, and Playmobil hair on the chorus. The hybrid animals in Act I Scene 15 are charming, but it might have been nice if they had moved more with the music. The feather-covered costumes are excellent for Papageno and Papagena, as are the spooky contours of the Queen of the Night's gown. The Dea Ex Machina entrance of the Queen of the Night in Act I is both effective and striking, and generally the staging is good, visually the scenes change nicely and without much fuss.

The cast is certainly the best I have heard sing Die Zauberflöte. Piotr Beczala is nearly perfect in the role of Tamino, his volume is good and his vibrato in control. There were times when he spoke that I had a difficult time discerning the German, but his diction in his singing is clear. I was disappointed that Rebecca Evans took ill and canceled as Pamina, but Dina Kuznetsova is admirable in the role. She  has slightly more vibrato than I enjoy, and her German diction is not crisp, but otherwise she turned out a fine performance. Christopher Maltman makes a hilarious Papageno, his diction is precise and his voice warm. Erika Miklósa hit every note as the Queen of the Night, and never sounded as if she were straining terribly. She was somewhat quiet in her first aria, perhaps because she was suspended upstage from the ceiling. Bass Georg Zeppenfeld lower notes as Sarastro are quiet, but otherwise he acted and sang well. Many of the other roles were filled with Adlers, Elza van den Heever, Kendall Gladen, and Katharine Tier were adorable as the Three Ladies, sprightly and not shrill in the least. I actually liked Rhoslyn Jones as Papagena, her vibrato did not drive me crazy and her voice was not noticeably louder than Maltman's. I was disappointed by the Three Boys, they were not exactly together, but perhaps that will be worked out in time.

* Tattling *
There were quite a lot of people on the orchestra level, standing room looked full, though Row ZZ was not. There were some whispers, but it was only in Row ZZ that people actually seemed to speak aloud, despite repeated hushings.

The scene changes were, at times, audible. There seemed to be a frightful amount of crashing behind lowered screens.

The use of a green costume for Monostatos side-stepped the racial stereotype, and "grün" replaced "schwarz" in the text.

Eugene Onegin

The Netherlands Opera production of Eugene Onegin ended its run at San Francisco Opera today. Director Johannes Schaaf finally brought us something that is stripped down but works, unlike the ugly minimalism of Kát'a Kabanová, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, or Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The lines are clean, but one doesn't feel as if one is stuck in an IKEA furnished flat in Berlin. The birch grove in the first scene is pretty, but not ornate. Undoubtedly, the designer who worked on this, Peter Pabst, had a part in making the set so. The highlight of the staging for the audience was in Act III. An enormous chandelier was lit from below, causing a chain reaction all the way around and up. Bambi Uden did a good job with the choreography, especially in Scene 4, during Tatyana's birthday party, when the chorus linked arms and danced.

In the title role for the first seven performances, baritone Russell Braun was a bit on the quiet side, this was noticeable as it is usually the tenor with this problem. Lucas Meachem also seemed to do well as Onegin, but I was in the orchestra, and the sound is somewhat distorted there. In contrast, tenor Piotr Beczala was absolutely wonderful, his tone sweet and volume powerful. Soprano Elena Prokina was also excellent as Tatyana, very convincing. Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy was charming as Olga, her voice was lovely in the opening with Prokina, and her acting was fiery in Scene 4.