Monday, November 21, 2005

La Forza Be With You -or- JF's Parents Guest Blog

So, in Alex's absence this week, I decided it was time to get creative. A few guest IM's, reports on Alex's European whereabouts, Thanksgiving Dinner Background Music tips, etc. (tho I will just get this out on the table now: Thanksgiving dinner--the opera is turned off and the Carpenters Christmas Portrait is turned ON).

I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, in northern California. My parents, Sal and Carol, still live in the house where my sisters and I grew up. Enthusiastic and critical opera buffs, their nearest "international level" opera house is in San Francisco, about two hours to the north. Yesterday they attended the new SF Opera production of Verdi's La Forza del Destino (though the San Francisco Opera continually insists on using opera's English titles in most publications and on the web). I asked them to send me their reviews...which they did, and promptly at that!

I told them I planned to post them and they suggested I edit at my discretion. However, I found I quite like them as they are. So here, in their entirety, are Carol and Sal Ferrantelli's reviews (in that order) of San Francisco Opera's La Forza del Destino.

Ok, call me old and old fashioned, but it drives me nuts when we can’t quite make up our minds to stage an opera in the original period or in a modern setting. The opening set design was by far the best of the afternoon at the SF production of La Forza del Destino. It consisted of a small table and chair and one gigantic window. The SF Opera magazine states, “Our new production – sleek and arresting – propels the central characters inexorably to an unforgettable end.” I’m not sure, but sleek and arresting may be artsy fartsy speak for virtually non-existent sets during the remainder of the production…lots of army camouflage.

Here is another thorn in my opera-going side.…Preziosilla’s costuming was a big distraction for me. It was an Ethel Merman meets Cyndi Lauper look. Hot pink hair, vinyl coat and a figure-hugging bright fuchsia ensemble. This modern-day meets period costuming doesn’t work for me. I miss what is happening on stage stifling laughter and trying to figure out “what were they thinking?” Again, later in the production two of the main characters, Don Alvaro and Carlo, are seen in period costumes wielding swords while their fellow soldiers are on stage decked out in ‘Desert Storm’ uniforms complete with boots and packs??? In Act II Preziosilla’s cadre of prostitutes are dressed in grey, with what appeared to be ‘enhanced’ breasts that did not have the pleasure of lift and separation, but were sadly sagging under snug t-shirts along with cargo pants and long coats. Again, “what were they thinking?” The singers more than made up for the lapse in artistic direction. Apparently three and a half hours wasn’t quite enough forza because upon returning home we promptly popped in the DVD of the 1984 Metropolitan Opera production and viewed the magnificent overture and all the tenor arias.

FYI – The cough-a-rama is not exclusive to the Family Circle – there was a whole lot of coughin’ goin’ on in the Dress Circle at the War Memorial Opera House Sunday afternoon. Perhaps cough drops should be mandatory before one can be seated. (Mom)

It was a rare treat to hear a dramatic tenor of tremendous power and ring whose voice production seemed, at the same time, effortless. He matched up well with the Leonora (Andrea Gruber), but totally out muscled the baritone and bass soloists who, though they sang intelligently, simply couldn’t match the tenor for size and presence. The result, dramatically, was that their characters seemed to lose some authority by comparison. The orchestra (and the conductor) performed competently and the opera was paced well, but they didn’t have dramatic fire like that of the Met production of 1984 with James Levine (with Leontyne Price, Giuseppe Giacomini, Leo Nucci).

The tenor’s voice had a fine tone as well as power. I would have wished that either the tenor or the conductor had gloried in the climactic moments of a number of the well-known phrases (i.e., in “O tu che in seno degli angeli”, “solenne in quest’ ora”). The tenor would often approach the note and just as quickly leave it, never really having established it’s dramatic effect.

Andrea Gruber was at her best in high lyric passages. In these moments her vibrato was faster and well within the pitch. The happy result was: you knew what the pitch was supposed to be. In her middle and upper middle register, especially in more dramatic passages, the vibrato covered nearly a minor third. The melody became unintelligible.

The acting was, on the whole, convincing, although the tenor moved somewhat in the mold of 1930’s Beniamino Gigli. That is to say, being portly, he tended to waddle a bit from position to position. A funny thing happened while Leonora was putting on her monk’s robe to live her life as a hermit in a cave. The music created an atmosphere of solemnity. All was hushed in the audience and on stage. And then, the robe somehow got caught on Leonora’s head. She couldn’t find the hole for her head and she seemed to panic, flailing her arms underneath the robe. The audience snickered. So much for solemnity. In spite of some flaws, this was still a good performance over all. (Dad)

Sounds like an enjoyable evening overall. Makes me all the more curious to see the Met's production in the Spring with Debbie Voigt (who I think is really quite well suited for this role). Thanks to mom and dad for their thoughts! Expect more next week after they attend Opera San Jose's production of Un Ballo in Maschera!

1 comment:

Gregory said...

You officially have the coolest parents ever.