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Category: opera

Lucia di Lammermoor: Simulcasting Performance

Lucia di lammermoor at AT&T Park

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.

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Pitching a Wagner opera parody for kids

There was a time when opera themes were well known by the general public. Wagner’s music was so well known that a Bugs Bunny parody was a big hit. Can you imagine pitching this idea today?

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SF Opera’s Macbeth: Full of sound and fury, passion

Verdi’s Macbeth SF Opera

Attended the first performance of San Francisco Opera’s Macbeth last night. This isn’t Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it’s Verdi’s. On opening night some of the staging was a little ragged, but the orchestra and the singing was exceptional. Thomas Hampson and Georgina Lukács were very impressive. Within an unconventional directorial approach they were committed actors and showed raw passion.

The production was raw, risky, big, wild and hypnotic. It had the audience buzzing at the intermission. I saw Donald Runnicles in deep, excited conversation with Alan Jones. This would be a challenging opera for newbies, but the strong visual design and passionate acting make it an exciting opportunity to get started with opera. Buy some tickets, they’re cheaper than you think.

In the theater, it’s called “The Scottish Play.” And unlike the opera, it’s often performed because it has one of the smallest cast requirements of any of Shakespeare’s plays. But the version of the story that made the biggest impression on me was Akira Kurosawa’s film, Throne of Blood. If you can’t catch the opera, put Throne of Blood on your Netflix list.

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Appomatox, An Opera by Philip Glass

Philip Glass

One of the great things about going to a premiere of a new opera by a living composer is that you have a direct connection to the life and times of the work. Walking into theater last night, I noticed that the guy in front of me was Philip Glass. He looked a little nervous. Frankly I don’t know how he could sit in the audience and just watch.

While I wouldn’t call “Appomatox” a masterpiece, I would say it’s a “must see.” It’s a very good and thought provoking piece. Robert Woodruff makes his opera directing debut and really delivers. And the set design has tremendous scale with visual and emotional impact.

Glass, Christopher Hampton and David Gockley are to be congratulated for their fearlessness in selecting a theme as big as the Civil War. It’s only through big risk that there is the potential for big rewards. It’s a big story that delivers on many levels. This county’s civil war left 600,000 dead, and that burden weighed down the souls of Lincoln, Grant and Lee. In a war where so many men die, it’s left to the women to tell the story and express the emotions of the nation.

Grant and Lee negotiated the surrender of the southern army and the basis for reconciliation. The opera goes on to tell the ways in which reconcilation failed. The negotiation was civilized and concluded in great hope. But we are only a nation of people—flawed, brilliant and inconsistent.

The orchestra was conducted by Dennis Russell Davies in his first engagement with SF Opera. A long time ago, Davies was the music director of the Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz. He’s conducted many premieres by Glass, and showed a real command of the music. If you’ve listened to a lot of Glass, you’ll hear many familiar themes. If you like Glass, you’ll like Appomatax. It probably requires several hearings for its full depth to come through.

All opera company directors are looking to broaden their audiences. They need to bring younger people in and win new converts. The house was packed and diverse. At the intermission, there was a real buzz. The opera provoked conversation and dialogue. I like seeing new work about american themes and history. There’s a lot of richness here that’s untapped.

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