Wednesday, January 10, 2018

And the Harder to Evaluate (2017 in Review)

I inadvertently omitted a couple of items about last year: West Edge Opera's overall season and San Francisco Opera's summer offerings.

For the last few years, West Edge Opera has generally had snappily performed, entertainingly directed operas during its summer season. This past year was an odd one: Thomas's Hamlet, Martin y Soler's The Chastity Tree, and Larsen's Frankenstein.

I've already commented that Frankenstein was a well-performed train wreck; in general, composers should not write their own librettos, unless they happen to be named Wagner, Berlioz, Berg, and sometimes Adamo. Larsen's literary abilities are not in that class. She is a fine composer, as I know because I have heard some of her other music. But usually it's a good idea to hire a pro to write your libretto. (ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME JOHN ADAMS????)

As for Hamlet, it has some good music and some good opportunities for scenery chewing. The staging was pretty good. The singing was outstanding: Edward Nelson as Hamlet, Emma McNairy as Ophelia, Susanne Mentzer as Gertrude, and Philip Skinner as Claudius. But unlike other reviewers, I just could not get to the mental point of regarding the opera as anything other than a crappy version of the Shakespeare play.

The Chastity Tree is a great rarity and a work of a type that really should be heard more: a good opera by a barely-known, but successful, contemporary of Mozart's. You need context to tell why the greats are great! The performance was great fun, the music sparkling, the performers lovely (and weirdly dressed).

Summer at SFO was...not what I'd hoped for. Rigoletto, with the fabulous Michael Yeargen sets making yet another appearance, was supposedly revised in some way from previous bring ups, but darned if I could see how. Nicola Luisotti was in good form; Quinn Kelsey was a terrific jester, Pene Pati, with a lovely voice, has not quite got his own style yet, and Nino Machaidze, making her debut at SFO, was weak. She's not a bad singer by any means, but largely because of her vocal character - dark, mature, perhaps a little too vibrant - she was not remotely convincing as Rigoletto's innocent young daughter.

I've already written about La Bohemenothing to add, though i will restate that it was an undistinguished bring-up.

And oh, that Don Giovanni: where on earth did the production come from? It was just ghastly looking; a nearly blank stage with mirrors going up and down behind the singers, and the occasional property showing up to sort-of-define the space as something particular. And because the "international version" was used, everybody got every last one of their arias, and the effect was of a badly-staged opera seria, with singers coming on, singing for ten minutes, and wandering off. There was little sign of direction.

The singing was pretty good, though....I thought Ana Maria Martinez miscast and Stanislas de Barbeyrac okay, not great. There were complaints about Erin Wall's audibility, but I could hear her just fine in Balcony Circle. Best of all was really Marc Minkowski's sharply brisk conducting. I hope he'll be back.

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