Monday, September 26, 2005

Rodalindaauuugh... (SF Opera)

The 'opening' of my season at the San Francisco Opera this year was:
"Rodelinda" by Handel. Briefly: It sucked. Gretchen LOATHED it. Here's why:

First, I really like Handel. His music, anyway. There's something about baroque fugues that makes me twitter! There's a lot of that going on in "Rodelinda" and I appreciated it. However, the man simply couldn't write a libretto. NOT that I am an expert on Handel operas, mind you, but this is the 4th or 5th one I've seen, and only 2 of those ("Semele" which was brilliantly directed and performed and "Julius Ceasar" which at least had characters we're familiar with!) made any sense what so ever. This thing has a cast of only 7 characters, so you'd think it would be easier to keep track? Well, no. I'm not even sure I want to go into a synopsis. However, I must, it seems...

Rodelinda (competently performed by Catherine Naglestad) believes her husband (who was king of ??? We dunnno...) is dead. Some Duke (dully performed by Paul Nilon) has plans to ascend the throne. (Who he is and how that is able to happen?? We dunno...) Meanwhile, her sister-in-law (Phyllis Pancella, attempting some sort of misdirected comic relief) seems to be plotting on becoming queen herself by seducing the Duke's right hand man (yet another DULL bass, Umberto Chiummo). (Why seduce him? We dunno...) In the meantime, Rodelinda's husband does pop up along with HIS aid (wonderfully sung by TWO countertenors: David Daniels and Gerald Thompson!) and then chaos and confusion really begins to ensue. Oh, their son is on stage too, as the 7th character, but he's just a prop.

So, you've got this story about royal intrigue, more or less. Which would naturally lead any contemporary director, in this case, David Alden (remember that name! The Guilty Party of this fiasco) and his design staff to stage it in 1940's film noir. Yeah. That's it! Baroque = Film Noir!! The entire stage is grey. EVERY INCH OF IT. Except for a splash of red in the third act. So, we've got these gorgeous baroque fireworks coming from the pit and the singers and they're just standing in front of a HUGE grey brick wall. For most of the first hour, anyway. It does fly away to reveal two more HUGE grey brick walls, that will 'symbolically trap' our characters. Then there are the cubicles in Act 3...

As far as costumes, except for a brief appearance in a red dress by the sister-in-law (apparently her cue that she is 'comic relief'?) and a stunning silver sequined gown she gets in act 2, EVERYONE is in black and grey. On top of the grey set and the black and grey clothes, it was of course lit from the sides and below. In harsh whites. No pinks. In fact, the side lighting was so harsh and extreme, we got to watch the cast obviously maneuver themselves out of each other's shadows. It sort of made me giggle at one point as they were shuffling around trying to keep out of each other's light.

So, this silly attempt at 'updating' Handel to a "...a sinister setting that Raymond Chandler would have loved..." (the SFO Press Release) only got sillier. As we visit our characters who are in cubicles (why? we dunno...), our thought to be dead king 'finds' a knife. That knife is being dangled by some guy from behind the set over the top of his cubicle. It was the silliest bit of 'stagecraft' I have possibly ever seen. At that point, the audience started laughing. I think we were laughing AT it, and not with it, as the director might have hoped? From that point on, the thing just fell apart dramatically. The single death is committed by a shooting. This is only significant in that the gun is left on stage and picked up by the (mute) son and aimed at some of stage target, during the overjoyous finale, in an attempt to darken the whole thing up again.

So, three and a half hours of music and I haven't even really mentioned the singing? THAT is how frigging distracting this production was! The sopranos and countertenors did wonderful jobs, really. The two other guys were dull. However, the entire cast looked uncomfortable. They knew this was wrong.

(I've just read what I've typed here and it's as much of a mess as the production. Garbage in - Garbage Out!)

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