Monday, September 20, 2010

San Francisco Opera's New "Werther"

San Francisco Opera's 2010-11 season is in full swing now, with Verdi's Aida and Massenet's Werther playing now and soon to be joined by Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.

Last Saturday, I attended the Werther performance and was deeply satisfied with the highly intelligent production and beautiful vocal, orchestral and acting performances.

Massenet, with his lush and melodic music, can sound saccharine and coy, if not presently well. Luckily, this run of this high-romantic piece, successfully avoided those traps and Massenet emerged as highly psychologically insightful composer.

The multi-leveled staging simultaneously presented the goings-on in Charlotte's house and the drab dwelling of Werther's and shows the intricate interactions amongst principals - Werther, Charlotte, her fiancé then husband Albert, and her sister Sophie. Francisco Negrin's direction was full of insight. I was particularly happy withe the treatment of Sophie, whose chirping music can make her very annoying. Here, she emerged as a sad character who was forced to emit joy. Albert has his extra layer of psychological insight as well. I particularly enjoyed the scene when Charlotte read letters from Werther aloud, to her husband, one after another! It was indeed passion went mad. The scenery and lightening designs all contributed to the success.

The orchestra played beautifully under the baton of Emmanuel Villaume. Ramón Vargas sang a beautiful Werther, though at times, his voice didn't project enough power and his demeanor was hardly dashing. Alice Coote was a complete Charlotte. Brian Mulligan (Albert) and Heidi Stober (Sophie) contributed wonderfully to the evening's first-rate performance.

The part I didn't like so much was the long scene of the "happy" domesticity in Charlotte's home, which Werther admired so much. But the fault lies on the librettists and the composers. However, it didn't take joy (or depression) away from the masterpiece.

SF Opera's Aida, has garnered praises as a gaudy delight. I'm sure Zandra Rhodes won't disappoint. You can see some of her design below:

San Francisco City Hall _8744
San Francisco City Hall, facing San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera _8746
Banners for San Francisco Opera, against the background of San Francisco Opera House and San Francisco Symphony Hall

San Francisco Opera _8750
Billboards and Entrance to San Francisco Opera House

San Francisco Opera - Aida Constume Design by Zandra Rhodes _8752
Costume Design for Aida by Zandra Rhodes

San Francisco Opera - Aida Constume Design by Zandra Rhodes _8755
Costume Design for Aida by Zandra Rhodes

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