Saturday, September 11, 2021

San Francisco Opera: The Homecoming

Vase of Roses
War Memorial Opera House
September 10, 2021
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Last night, SFO put on what would, in past years, have been a fancy opening gala. After the horrors of the last 18 months, the company sensibly opted for a less glittery affair. From a musical standpoint, the concert they presented was more satisfying than some opening nights I've been too, where the pre-concert speeches and slightly soused rowdiness of the crowd made the performances less enjoyable than they might have been.

The program showcased the company's new music director, Eun Sun Kim, soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, and wow, it was quite a showcase. Here's what they performed:

Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry), Franz von Suppé - Overture

La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi - “È strano … Sempre libera”

La Favorite, Gaetano Donizetti - “O mon Fernand”

Louise, Gustave Charpentier - “Depuis le jour”

Don Carlo, Giuseppe Verdi - “O don fatale”

Anna Bolena, Gaetano Donizetti - “Dio che mi vedi in core”

Aida, Giuseppe Verdi - “Fu la sorte”

Rusalka, Antonín Dvořák - Polonaise

Rusalka, Antonín Dvořák - “Song to the Moon”

Samson et Dalila, Camille Saint-Saëns - “Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”

Capriccio, Richard Strauss - Mondschein musik (Moonlight Music)

Norma, Vincenzo Bellini - “Mira, o Norma”

If you think you don't know the Light Cavalry Overture, believe me, you do; there's a section that I think I have never not known. Not only have I never heard it in concert before, unless I played it in the Teaneck summer band long ago, I can't remember seeing it on a program, though von Suppé's overtures used to be staples. That was a fun opening. 

The other orchestral excerpts were well played, though I am not a fan of Capriccio and I wish they'd played the "Royal Hunt and Storm" from Les Troyens instead, do need an offstage chorus for that ("Italie! Italie!). Anyway, Kim's conducting throughout was mighty impressive, in and of itself, for the musicality and beauty of the selections, and for her support of the singers. SFO is so lucky to have her, and I'm looking forward to hearing her in, say, Wagner and Strauss and more recent music, as well as the mostly-19th c. fare on this program.

The vocal excerpts....were uniformly stunning. I mean, is there anything that Willis-Sørensen and Barton can't sing??? Oh, probably, but this selection was great. I had no idea that Willis-Sørensen could move her voice so well; the fioriture in "Sempre Libera" were just fine, and to the other sections of the scene, she brought a world of colors. 

Barton is really a force of nature, spectacular inn "O don fatale" and luscious in "Mon coeur." (Speaking of Les Troyens, if I were hypothetically casting a revival of it, I'd ask her which of the leading mezzo roles she'd like to sing.)

The duets were great, and I was surprised at how well "Fu la sorte" worked for two voices that aren't exactly cut like Italian spinto voices. All in all, it was a very satisfying evening of music making.

Oh, you were wondering what they wore? Kim wore black trousers and a black jacket. Here are photos of the three stars. The sequins don't look as glittery as they should. 

First half of program. 

Second half of program


Posaunist said...

You've never heard Light Cavalry in concert before? Perhaps I'm dating myself, I'll admit it's been a while, but I've both heard and played it in concert. It's the kind of piece that ought to be heard occasionally, like the Polka and Fugue from Schwanda.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Not that I can recall. Those von Suppë overtures definitely deserve to be heard. Charming pieces!