MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Setting Sail with Billy Budd: A Selective Overview of the Opera’s Production History

Here’s an article I wrote for San Francisco Opera’s upcoming production of Billy Budd, which opens on Saturday.

The late New Yorker critic Andrew Porter deemed Billy Budd “musically the richest and most arresting” of Benjamin Britten’s fifteen operas. It is also arguably his most provocative and challenging. While the novella Billy Budd became enshrined in the canon shortly after the belated publication of Melville’s unfinished text in 1924 — boosted by a dramatic reappraisal of the author following a long period of neglect — the opera has taken more time to find a place in the repertory….

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Filed under: Britten, San Francisco Opera

Review of San Francisco Opera Season Closers

Orlando-Sasha Cooke as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro in Handel's Orlando.

Sasha Cooke as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro in Handel’s “Orlando.” Photo (c) Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In addition to the wondrous Rusalka that was — by consensus, it seems — the highlight of the 2019 summer season — I wrote for Musical America about the company’s productions of Carmen and Orlando here

Overall, I found the Carmen deeply disappointing on account of misguided direction — direction that also worked against the cast. Orlando, on the other hand, was engaging and beautifully produced. Despite some miscasting, it offered an insightful interpretation of one of Handel’s richest scores.

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Opera made a bold move when it last presented Carmen only three years ago, at the end of the David Gockley era. It marked the first-ever North American platform for the highly controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito, and — in spite of some flaws (the revival was actually directed by a longtime Bieito associate) — offered genuinely fresh perspectives.

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Filed under: directors, Georges Bizet, Handel, Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

More Than a Pretty “Song to the Moon”: Rusalka as a Dark Parable

Rusalka-Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Rusalka and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Vodník the Water Goblin in Dvořák’s-credit-Cory Weaver

Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Rusalka) and Kristinn Sigmundsson (Vodník the Water Goblin); photo (c) Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

David McVicar and San Francisco Opera have been a winning combination in recent seasons. Here’s another to add to the list along with Meistersinger and Les Troyens: the company’s staging of Rusalka in June. My review for Musical America (with another on Carmen and Orlando to follow):

SAN FRANCISCO — After he returned from his sojourn in the New World, Dvořák ceased writing symphonies and turned for inspiration to Czech legend and folklore: first, in a brilliant quartet of symphonic poems — still too infrequently programmed — and then in a pair of operas.

It’s not surprising that Rusalka, the second of these, has found its place in the international repertoire as the most popular of Dvořák’s ten stage works. Along with offering a poetic variant on a universally resonant archetype (the folktale of the mermaid), Rusalka fuses Dvořák’s disparate musical influences into a versatile musical language ideally primed for narrative effectiveness.

That said, Rusalka, which premiered in 1901, suffers from some basic dramaturgical weaknesses as well as stretches of second-rate musical inspiration. But the production presented by San Francisco Opera — only the second time Rusalka has been staged by the company — swept these shortcomings aside to reveal a richly layered and fully engaging work…

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Filed under: Antonín Dvořák, directors, review, San Francisco Opera

SFO’s Newly Forged Ring: Siegfried as More Than a Prequel

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Daniel Brenna as Siegfried and David Cangelosi as Mime in Wagner’s “Siegfried.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Continuation of my coverage of San Francisco Opera’s Ring for Musical America:

SAN FRANCISCO—From an emotional force akin to Greek tragedy to the straightforward exploits of a superhero: for a director, one of the main challenges posed by the Ring’s third evening is how to bridge that gulf, all the while clarifying the stakes in Siegfried so that the audience will buy into the return to full-on tragic mode in the cycle’s mammoth finale….

continue [behind Musical America‘s paywall — but will be open access Friday afternoon]
Part 1 here

Filed under: Musical America, review, Ring cycle, San Francisco Opera, Wagner

San Francisco Opera Reforges Its Ring

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Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde and Greer Grimsley as Wotan in Wagner’s “Die Walküre.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Here’s Part 1 of my review for Musical America of San Francisco Opera’s Ring, directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Donald Runnicles:

SAN FRANCISCO—One sure gauge of a successful Ring production is when it consistently leads you to a liminal state: to a kind of hovering between rapt focus on the moment and deliberation about what it all implies. Over the course of San Francisco Opera’s Ring, I found myself taking that threshold for granted, encouraged to ponder the connections, musical and dramatic, that are essential for Wagner’s project to make its desired impact.

continue [behind MA’s paywall]

Filed under: directors, Musical America, review, Ring cycle, San Francisco Opera, Wagner

The Memorable Women at San Francisco Opera Continue, with La Traviata and Turandot

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Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Part two of my reviews of San Francisco Opera’s fall season is now posted on Musical America:

SAN FRANCISCO—Along with a sensational production of Elektra , San Francisco Opera’s lineup so far this season is spotlighting some of the art form’s most gripping female …

continue reading (behind Musical America‘s paywall)

Filed under: Puccini, review, San Francisco Opera, Verdi

High-Voltage Elektra at San Francisco Opera

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Christine Goerke; Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

New review for Musical America:
SAN FRANCISCO—“The museum is closing…” The Elektra presented as part of San Francisco Opera’s new fall season takes place in the midst of a fictional exhibition of Mycenaean-era artifacts. But this Keith Warner …

continue reading (paywall)

Filed under: review, San Francisco Opera

Don Pasquale and Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

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In addition to Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, I reviewed September’s other two productions at San Francisco Opera: a winning Don Pasquale (in which Larry Brownlee made his company debut) and a weak Andrea Chénier. The review is online at Musical America (subscription required):

SAN FRANCISCO—Was it merely coincidence or a cleverly tucked-away reference by way of programming? Regardless, San Francisco Opera opened its new season with a trio of operas in rotation … »Read

Filed under: Lawrence Brownlee, Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s Dream of the Red Chamber

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Pureum Jo as Dai Yu (c)Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

My review of the world premiere production of Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber at San Francisco Opera has now been posted on Musical America (behind paywall):

SAN FRANCISCO—By its very nature, opera is a medium well-suited to synthesizing widely varied traditions into fascinating new hybrids. Dream of the Red Chamber, which received its world premiere production by San Francisco Opera in September, seeks to adapt one of the most beloved works of Chinese literature to the musical and theatrical dimensions of Western opera.

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Filed under: Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

SF Opera Carmen: Bieito’s U.S. Debut as Gockley’s Swansong

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Irene Roberts (Carmen) and Brian Jagde (Don José) ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

My review of Calixto Bieito’s Carmen — his official U.S. opera debut, in a production revived at San Francisco Opera — has now been posted on Musical America (behind paywall):

SAN FRANCISCO—An icon of iconoclasm, Calixto Bieito has been alternately demonized and deified for the challenges his stagings pose to business as usual. Kudos to San Francisco Opera, in this final hurrah from outgoing general director David Gockley, for becoming the first North American company to give the Catalan director’s work a platform. “Carmen,” which both opened and will close SFO’s 2016 summer season (with a free “opera at the ballpark” live simulcast on July 2), marks Bieito’s absurdly belated U.S. opera debut — a dozen years after his Abduction From the Seraglio at the Komische Oper Berlin sparked outrage and international headlines.

 

Filed under: Calixto Bieito, directors, review, San Francisco Opera

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