Opera in San Francisco

San Francisco, War Memorial Opera House, 23 September, 2006
Un ballo in maschera

The opera was given in the Swedish version; however the text was sometimes using the Boston text for the names of the characters. Surprisingly, the sets and costumes by John Conklin and the production by Gina Lapinski were traditional and in good taste. Of the singers, the only real opera size voice of the cast was that of Ambrogio Maestri as Renato. He delivered a very powerful and deeply felt Eri tu. He got the greatest ovation of the evening after the aria and at the final curtain. Deborah Voigt as Amelia got entrance applause and took the last solo curtain for unknown reasons as it should be Riccardo. Her voice has diminished in power recently, and she delivered an average performance. Marcus Haddock started as a lyrical tenor, now he pumped his voice up and got through the performance without problems, but without any particular distinction either. Oscar was sung by Anna Christy. She is small both in stature and voice size. She delivered her high notes with great accuracy, but she should rather be in concert. In the past, singers like Frieda Hempel were singing that type of parts. Tichina Vaughn was Ulrica. The comprimari were fine: Joshua Bloom (Samuel), Jeremy Galyon (Tommaso), Daniel Harper (Judge), Eugene Brancoveanu (Silvano), and Colby Roberts (Servant). Marco Armiliato conducted a fine performance.

San Francisco, War Memorial Opera House, 13 November, 2003
Don Carlos

This was the five acts version sung in French, with cuts though. This made for a very long evening. Personally, I would have preferred the Italian version as I do not particularly like the first act, and in view of the singing, four acts would have sufficed. The sets were doing their job most of the time. There was a wooden model of a castle sitting in the middle of the Fontainebleau forest, I do not know why. The autodafé scene seemed to take place in the middle of a small Spanish village rather than in the capital city of Spain. But on the whole, the production was acceptable.

There was only one singer up to the task. It was Violeta Urmana as Eboli. She has a great voice, power and could be heard in this acoustically not well designed auditorium. She easily overpowered the rest of the cast. The Carlos, Mark Duffin, was the cover as I understand it. He was called to duty, singing all performances, when the tenor hired to sing Carlos was let go. Apparently according to the program notes, Mr. Duffin sang Bacchus. This is not quite believable in view of what he did with Don Carlos. Basically, Mr. Duffin is a light lyric tenor, at least two sizes below the necessary vocal requirement of the part. He managed to get through it without any disaster, which will though follow if Mr. Duffin keeps singing similar roles.

The baritone Bo Skovhus was the Posa. Mr. Skovhus has a voice capable of singing Eisenstein. He does not have the heft for Posa. He acted well, got through the part without any particular distinction. He was vastly inferior to the veteran Bruson that I heard about two years ago in the same role.

The Elisabetta, Marina Mescheriakova, was a bore. She did not seem interested in the proceedings during the whole evening. She distilled complete boredom through her small scale voice. At one time, I thought she had no voice at all for such a large house. However, during the last act she revealed that she could do a lot better singing, but this was short lived.

The Filippo, Stephen Milling, did not demonstrate any particular insight in the part. His Ella giammai m'amò went for nothing, no power, no feeling for the words. The other bass, Attila Jun, as the Grande Inquisitore, was better but only marginally, a smaller house would have been better for him. Their duet was not as impressive as it should be. The third bass, Gregory Stapp (as un Frate) was past his best vocally and was rough on top of the voice.

As for the comprimari, they were a mixed bunch: Anne-Sophie Duprels was barely audible, Eric Fennell (Lerma) sounded funny, Richard Walker (Herald) was another funny sounding singer, and Elizabeth Caballero (Celestial voice) was good.

In view of this weak singing team with one exception, the conductor (Donald Runnicles) must take part of the blame, he should have toned down the orchestra's sound to better support the singers, but he did not. He should stick to conducting in the symphony hall.

In short it was a long boring evening with one exception.

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