Monday, September 13, 2010
September 13 - Fresh vs Really Fresh
Write up the SFO gala --
'Opera repertory was already turning antiquarian in 1871, the year of La Scala Milan's European premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, in a season which also included:
Verdi - La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny, 1862)
Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) - Il giuramento (The Oath, 1837)
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)- Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville, 1825)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) - Der Freischutz (The Marksman, 1821)
Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1824) - Lucia di Lammermoor (1835)
If music drama was already the realm of dead guys then, how much moreso nowso in the San Francisco Opera's gala opening production, on September 10, of this Verdian tour-de-force. So how to bring a new spark to an admittedly still-great work?
Tart it up. But historically so, in a good way. It has been said that ancient cultures, such as that of Egypt, had more literally colorful palettes than their time-tarnished monuments would now suggest, and this version -- wonderfully realized by Production Designer Zandra Rhodes -- took this notion and ran with it. Here were blue pyramidal curtain draws, red hieratic script designs (the priestly cursive of hieroglyphics), a giant puppet elephant, dazzling golden (yet vaguely authentic) sacerdotal skirts, strangely sub-Saharan/Gypsy Ethiopian getups, and on and on. If the tomb scene ran out of scenic gas, well, the oxygen was getting thin, after all.
And the music? And the drama? Oh yes, hm, hm.
Pretty good. But if this work really defines Grand Opera, itself a strange cross-breeding of Italian and French values ("Le ballet! Il est necessaire que nous avons le ballet!"), perhaps SFO was right to put its money in the razzle-dazzle. It's sort of expected, after all, in a piece that has seen live horses and pachyderms parade across the stage, giant moveable statues, and nubile nudity.
Micaela Carosi and Dolora Zajick, as Aida and Amneris, respectively dominated fore and aft, reflecting the tension of the drama and music, where the latter woman ultimately wrecks revenge upon her rival and the object of their mutual affection: Radames (Marcello Giordani) -- caught between them in a demanding role both with respect to singing and acting. The fiery Marco Vratogna, as a demanding Amonasro (oh, these overbearing fathers in Verdi!), commanded attention and helped one forget the more somnabulant stretches (how about that very Catholic thrice-three ritual calling of Radames's name, as part of the after-intermission music at once intriguingly yet problematically influenced by Verdi's Germanic bete-noire Richard Wagner? And yet once again, the SF Opera's printed program misrepresented a work's structure, here characterizing the piece as three acts, rather than four.
Hao Jiang Tian and Christian Van Horn put in respectable turns as the High Priest Ramfis and The King of Egypt, and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, under the capable direction of Nicola Luisotti, provided a strong underpinning that at times was in danger of dominating all. Of course, sometimes that's appropriate, as in the triumphal music of the Triumphal Entry scene with six onstage banda trumpets rustically on the stereophonic mark. The Chorus, prepared by Ian Robertson, was also solid, and sometimes a solid mass of bodies that hardly knew what to do with itself in the cramped confines of the stage, still admirably managed by Director Jo Davies.
Original and revival choreographers Jonathan Lunn and Lawrence Pech took every pain to stay away from the odalisque presentations of some productions, indeed presenting "Dance of the Priestesses" of Act I Scene II, by an exclusively male contingent, and going for athletic and cute thereafter.
So, bells and whistles galore. But, got anything for us, in the spirit of Verdi at La Scala, written musically and dramatically afresh in the 2010-2011 Season?'
So much for the tirade.
As for the rest of the day, page 4 of Psalm 26, and two videos for
Duo Sonata No. 2 ("Wasatch") (I. Allegro and
III. Presto) Also Louis Borgeois Old Hundredth for Theory Dictation, Harmony, and Keyboard-Solfege, and work on the rehearsal schedule for upcoming San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra Animal, Vegetable, Mineral show.