Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Lucia di Lammermoor at SFO

Unexpectedly found myself in San Francisco last Friday and caught the current Lucia production from standing room at the War Memorial Opera House, which FWIW, is quite pleasant. The standing section may not have the velvet armrests of the Met, but it's only one row deep, and each side has its own little dedicated supertitle screen. It's also far preferable to paying hefty sums for the back of the distant War Memorial OH balcony and enduring the indignity of those jumbo-trons.

Nadine Sierra, the young American soprano filling in for Diana Damrau in this production (though they are still handing out Damrau flyers in the lobby...totally awkward, guys) certainly proved she can hold her own in this demanding role. Its a very pretty, pure sound with the right delicacy needed for Lucia and the coloratura moments, especially the mad scene, were all very solid and appropriately intoxicating. If today she perhaps lacks that extra bit of panache/swagger that makes for a really memorable assumption, she has quite the formidable foundation to build on and deepen in the role. She also felt a bit under-powered in the ensembles, grasping a bit for a sustained line to cut through the thick of the orchestra and the rest of the crowd, though she apparently had some indisposedness going on that evening, which may have contributed.

Piotr Beczala's Edgardo was a welcome chance to hear him, though it was hard not to feel at times that he was shoehorning the very wonderful things he does into a role that doesn't quite fit. While his golden middle range always seduces, he tends to run out of ping at the top--hardly a dealbreaker in Verdi or something, but that flood of bel canto dopamine that doesn't require too much thinking is kind of the whole deal with Edgardo. Beczala also has a tendency to phrase with a sort of impatient declamation, which, at the volume he can deliver, is certainly very exciting. So exciting one forgets sometimes that you're missing the long-lined phrasing needed in this music.

Perhaps the strongest link in a pretty strong cast was the Enrico of Brian Mulligan, which shouldn't have been a surprise for me at all, since apparently I enjoyed him in the same part at WNO just a few years ago. Well, mea culpa for not getting it at the time, but Mulligan's sound is incredibly special, a rich, resonant baritone that tackles the expressiveness and the legato of the role as though no one's told him he isn't a tenor. Please come back to WNO soon we promise we won't take you for granted this time. Of the rest of the principals, Nicolas Teste's commanding Raimondo also deserves a shout out.

Appreciated the chance to get to hear Luisotti conduct, who had a great idiomatic feel for the catchy little figures that pepper the score. The production was...fine. Basically one of those why-even-bother updatings that could have easily time-traveled from NYCO circa 2002 (minus the slick video-projections). Its chief effect was to make me feel better that SFO is just as good at turning out a nondescript stinker as the local team (my last SFO visit was for that gorgeously stylish Mattila Makropolous production). Random points--fun "in the near future" gowns in the wedding party crowd scene; drawing in the stage side panels to "frame" Lucia's Act 1 garden scene arias felt like watching it being filmed on your iphone held the wrong way; and, if Scotland degenerates into some kind of clan-based fascism in "the near future" are they really going to do a National Socialism throwback thing? Really? Whatever. Like I said, fine.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Rienzi with the National Philharmonic

I was hoping the National Philharmonic's presentation of Wagner's Rienzi this past Saturday would have signaled the end of my Rienzi virginity, but due to circumstances beyond my control I was only able to see the second half. Add to this the fact that the deeply (and wisely) cut score for this concert staging basically constituted a highlights show, and, well, I think I can only claim second base.

Rienzi is perhaps best understood as what would happen if you took Tannhauser and subjected it to the Hollywood producers that give notes on stuff like Fast and Furious 7. There are really a huge variety of interesting musical ideas, and lots of delightfully recognizable Wagnerisms, but any breathing room in the drama has been rigorously excised in favor of nonstop grand opera thrill ride action, an event-heavy plot, and stock characters that leave little to the imagination.

But music certainly worth hearing, especially with the compelling forces marshaled by National Philharmonic chief Piotr Gajewski. The big draw of the evening was Issachah Savage in the title role, who I think its fair to call a DMV favorite, but has also recently appeared in things like the Goerke Toronto Walkures last year. His big irresistible tenor fits beautifully in the Lohengrin/Walther/etc Wagner parts, with enough heft to impress but still sweet and ringing throughout. Rienzi's big 11 o'clock number in the Fifth Act, which recalls the familiar motif of the overture was a gorgeous showcase for his sound and was met with appropriately thunderous applause. Here's his Mein Lieber Schwan. Oh and a little big of his great sounding Bacchus here. You know you want more.

Also notable were Rienzi's ladies--Mary Ann Stewart gave a passionate account of heldentrouseren role Adriano, while Eudora Brown impressed as Rienzi's sister, Irene. They cut that slightly creepy "Shades of Walsungen" scene in the Fifth Act with Rienzi (again, wisely), so by missing the first half I probably missed a lot of the Irene stuff that remained, but thankfully got to hear her soaring contributions in the latter half ensembles. Gajewski led a rollicking account from the Philharmonic and assembled choral forces, delivering what can only be called a crowd-pleaser--something I'll wager Rienzi is not often accused of.