It was an usually hot day, but as the sun began to set, thousands gathered at AT&T park for a live simulcast of San Francisco Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor. The opera’s melodramatic story line of competing clans, forbidden love, passion and grand tragedy was perfect for this gigantic venue. The story is filled with big emotions, grand gestures and high drama. I haven’t seen any crowd counts, but they easily could have doubled last year’s attendance of 15,000.
The crowd at the ballpark was fully engaged in the story, and after particularly thrilling arias heartily applauded and shouted along with the audience at the War Memorial Opera House. Director Graham Vick and Natalie Dessay have created a Lucia that is memorable and sure to become a classic. In the midst of the intense and furious emotions of Edgardo and Enrico, Lucia’s descent into insanity is played in a lower key– the effect is shattering. The sound-image of Dessay, as Lucia, amidst the blood-red heather of the moor, gripped by visions, singing a duet to the haunting sounds of a glass harmonica is unforgettable.
David Gockley’s vision of bringing opera back to the people is a good one, both for SF Opera and our city’s culture. Live opera has become a rare experience, but it’s an art form that has so much to offer to people across the spectrum. Touring Opera companies came to San Francisco along with the gold rush, and San Francisco Opera was founded in 1923 by Gaetano Merola. Our city has a long and celebrated history with Opera.
In the end, it’s about the music, the performances, the drama, the singing. Does the passion and electricity generated up on the stage make the leap across the fourth wall to connect with the audience? Even in that large venue, the knowledge that you’re watching a live performance makes all the difference. On one balmy night in June at the old ballpark, the audience connected via simulcast, and walked away smiling.