Simon Boccanegra Final Dress Rehearsal

* Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Simon Boccanegra was impressive. Elijah Moshinsky's Covent Garden production is the one that premiered at San Francisco in 2001 during the Verdi Festival. The sillier parts of the production were removed, Verdi does not appear, and no one is wrapped in blue fabric. The transitions between scenes are smooth and quiet. The set, from Michael Yeargan, does look a bit worse for wear, some of the walls are warped in places.

The orchestra sounded fairly clear, particularly the trumpet and bassoon. There were times when the orchestra was overly loud or not with the singers, but by Friday they should have it together. All of the singing is very fine.

* Tattling *
There was a strange altercation between two women in the Grand Tier. I was looking for a place and was told by one woman that the empty seats in the second row were all saved. The woman behind her told me that I should sit there anyway, and they argued back and forth. In any case, I sat where I was not directly in front of anyone, and this way I did not have to remove my rather fancy topper. After everyone was seated, I noted that I was acquainted with a few of the people whose seats were being saved.

Final Dress Rehearsal of Ariodante

Copleysinging * Notes *
If the final dress rehearsal of Ariodante last night was any indication, I will likely go to as many performances of it as possible. The cast is strong, of course Susan Graham and Ruth Ann Swenson are wonderful, but debuting Sonia Prina, Veronica Cangemi, and Richard Croft are not disappointing either.

The orchestra sounded pretty good, the brass section was slightly rough at times, but not as much as in the premiere of Das Rheingold. Patrick Summers took the tempi quite fast. The style of playing was appropriate for the type of music at hand.

The production certainly looks like it is from the 80s, which can be pleasantly absurd, but more discussion on that after the opening, which is, incidentally, Sunday, June 15th.

* Tattling *
Before the rehearsal a person behind me insisted that if "the terrorists" decided to bomb the War Memorial Opera House, it would be no great loss, as it is, in his opinion, the worst opera house in the United States as far as acoustics and comfort are concerned. He was also adamant that the duets in Ariodante are very unusual for Baroque opera and he repeated this statement in between acts. It made me think of the duets in Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare, which was just confusing because those earlier works than Ariodante, since Senesino was singing those and Giovanni Carestini sang in the latter.

Yesterday was director John Copley's 75th birthday, and after the bows we sang "Happy Birthday." I've now sung with Ruth Ann Swenson and Susan Graham, which is probably not going to happen again.

Macbeth Final Dress Rehearsal

Macbeth* Notes *
Verdi's Macbeth opens tonight at San Francisco Opera, with
Thomas Hampson in the title role. I was fortunate enough to attend the final dress rehearsal last Sunday, and was at least impressed with Hampson. David Pountney's production, directed by Nicola Raab, is the consummate Regieoper that San Francisco seems to dislike so. I overheard it called "alienating" and "weird." It reminded me a bit of that misquote of Tolstoy in Nabokov's Ada, except substitute "opera production" for "family." I felt I had seen many of the same devices before, and I'll try to keep just how rather general so it won't be spoilt for you, gentle reader. The camouflage fatigues, unexplained props, odd projections, sets that look worse for wear, meandering child supernumeraries, noisy choreography, fake breasts, paper, and drunken staggering all gave me a sense of déjà vu. I was just waiting for my friend Chattering Teeth Head and a few couches suspended from the ceiling to show up. It is not surprising at all that the production is from Oper Zürich.

* Tattling *
There were a gaggle of high school students at the dress rehearsal, but they were well-behaved. I sat next to a pair of rather loud women speaking Russian, but I did not silence them as it seemed futile, given that the production team obviously spoke during the performance. Somehow I managed to dress in a manner not unlike the witches and overheard someone comment on that as I left the opera house.

Final Dress Rehearsal of Appomattox

* Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of Appomattox was last night. On the whole, I found the music, libretto, and production rather dark and a bit heavy-handed. The music, unsurprisingly, is reiterative and the singing style more declamatory than lyrical. There are no soaring high notes, but this does keep the text clear, at least when the balance between orchestra and singers was right. The two male leads are both baritones, but their voices are distinct enough from each other. The soprano role of Julia Dent Grant is significant, she begins the piece a cappella, there is no overture at all, and she ends the opera along with a women's chorus.

The choral parts are lovely, especially the Civil War era "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" at the end of Act I Scene 1, the black Union soldiers singing in Act I Scene 4, and the song concerning Jimmie Lee Jackson in Act II.   

The set has a modern sensibility, lots of metal and such, but with period furniture and costumes. There were disturbing visual elements such as the cart full of amputated body parts in the Prologue and dead horses hanging from the ceiling in Act I Scene 4 and the Epilogue.

Though Act I is completely set in April 1865, Act II is interspersed with scenes in the from Reconstruction, the Selma to Montgomery marches, and a present day first-person account of the Mississippi civil rights worker murders. Though it is true that the ramifications of the American Civil War exist even now, these jarring direct links provided by the libretto are somewhat preachy and disconcerting.

I have not a few impressions on the singing thus far, but will wait until after the opening to solidify my opinions.

* Tattling *
There were several groups of students at this performance and they were somewhat loud and had to be hushed several times. For the most part they were quiet after that except during Edgar Ray Killen's aria at the end of Act II. The opera has ten instances of American English's most troublesome racial slur, more than half of which are in the aforementioned aria.

Baritone Thomas Hampson, who just sang in "Das Lied von der Erde" last week at San Francisco Symphony, was in attendance, as was Amy Tan, whose book The Bonesetter's Daughter is to be premiered as an opera next year.   

Der Rosenkavalier Final Dress Rehearsal

* Notes *
My enthusiasm for opera is well-known enough for the people around me to have picked up on it. It was my good fortune to be given a staff guest ticket for the final dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier last Wednesday. I have been to dress rehearsals before, but only in the Grand Tier or Dress Circle, so I was looking forward to seeing what happened down on the Orchestra level where the production team is.

The experience made it evident just how many people it takes to get a production to its final state. I sat behind the wardrobe people, and there were such a lot of them discussing how the costumes looked and what adjustments needed to be made.

The production is standard fare, much like Thierry Bosquet's other work I have seen. The set involved trompe-l'œil, just like his 1997 Tosca, 1990 Die Fledermaus, and 2000 Don Giovanni. All the singing was good, Joyce DiDonato seems like a fine Octavian and Kristinn Sigmundsson sounds better as Baron Ochs than as the Commendatore. The orchestra also sounded quite together.

* Tattling *
The production team spoke a great deal during the rehearsal, as is to be expected. One of the best things I overheard was one woman telling the tailor "That cravat is amazing!"

I must admit, I am not terribly fond of Richard Strauss or of this particular opera. The first time I heard it, I was struck by how dissonant certain parts are. But after this third go, I was able to to find something in it that was moving.

Forza Working Rehearsal

Forzaacti_5San Francisco Opera's new production of La Forza del Destino opens next week on Wednesday, November 2nd. The opera company invited subscribers to see a working rehearsal yesterday, and the experience certainly was educational. One could hear the director, Ron Daniels, screaming at the performers, and this is quite a different view than one usually has, to say the least.

The production looks to be an odd mixture of time periods, there are swords and machine guns, Preziosilla wears a red vinyl corset and trousers with a long black vinyl coat, but the dancers in the same scene wear long black gowns with ruffled petticoats. The scenery is bizarre, in the background of the first two scenes is a triumphal arch toppled over, the last scene features an enormous white sculpture of 3 beams leaning on each other like oversized sticks for a campfire. In Act II, the part which occurs in the forest near Velletri, Italy, the floor is covered with a camouflage design.

Though it is perhaps not fair to judge the singers based on this rehearsal, I found the Leonora, soprano Andrea Gruber, to be lacking. She doesn't seem to have much control of her vibrato, and her voice has a breathy, gasping quality. She did have sufficient volume. She fell out of character at times, brushing her hair off her face at inopportune moments, but this may not be representative of what will happen at the actual performances. Don Alvaro was sung rather well by tenor Vladimir Kuzmenko, who also has a good deal of volume. I most enjoyed the Padre Guardiano, bass Orlin Anastassov, but he only sang for Act I Scene 3, the rest was sung by an understudy or stand-in. Fra Melitone, sung by baritone Lucas Meachem, was a good actor, but he is a bit quiet, which was fine for Act I Scene 3, but for Act III Scene 1 he sang with most of the orchestra playing, and one could not make out much of his voice over the din.

The opera itself is strange, the main singers are kept off the stage for many scenes and only sing together at the beginning and the end. Musically, the ending is weak, it simply sputters out into silence. But it may well be I need to listen to this again.