Sunday, July 02, 2006

Ruth Ann and Relyea ROCK!! (and roll, at times)


"The Marriage of Figaro" (by W.A. Mozart; Production: San Francisco Opera; Director: John Copley; Conductor: Roy Goodman) played it's final performance this afternoon to a standing ovation at the San Francisco Opera, War Memorial Opera House. Firstly, I am not going to recap or dissect the material, as there are HUNDREDS of years of analysis available. If I were to say anything about the Three Hours and Forty Five minutes of music, it would be, "There are too many notes." However, with as many notes as there are, and with an army of principles singing, director John Copley has crafted an entertaining ensemble comedy.

I LOVE John Copley's work at the opera! I have seen his brilliant stagings of "Semele" and "Giulio Cesare" (both of which also featured Ruth Ann Swenson) as well as his production of "Peter Grimes". I loved all three of these and add this production of "The Marriage of Figaro" to that list. Copley concentrates more on the performance of the drama, than the presentation of the music, which I love him for! There is no need to have the soloist(s) stand still, face forward and sing away, while any other characters zone out into the background so we can concentrate on the notes. In Copley's productions, the characters are having interior monologues running at all times, whether they are singing or not. And if they are singing, the voice doesn't seem to matter as much as the content, which if under less capable performers could be disastrous.

At today's performance, one of my true goddesses of the opera house,Ruth Ann Swenson, seemed to be having a bit of vocal difficulty. She played the Countess, which is rather deep and low for Swenson and has the added liability of entering nearly an hour into the production (Act 2 of 4). Her opening aria was just a shade flat. (This I confirmed with my opera buddy, Gretchen.) She recovered for the rest of the act, and tonally for the rest of the opera. However, deep into Act 4, she would again be a bit 'off', sounding almost as if she were fighting a cold. Usually such conditions are announced. However, that said, what slender flaws she may have had vocally, she had none in her acting. Swenson is a consummate actress who risks her technical skills to the character, which is awesome! Facially, she is incredible! Her huge eyes play the script so well, one almost needn't look up at the supertitles flashing on the proscenium above her. I. Love. Her!

John Relyea as 'Figaro' and Peter Mattei as 'The Count' cut quite the dashing figures on stage! Relyea was particularly yummy in his shirtless entrance, believe it or not! I think we can say farewell to the days of Tubby Tenors and Bearish Baritones. The two male leads also handled the acting with aplomb, Mattei with head-smacking intensity! Camilla Tilling as 'Susanna', our ingenue, sounded simply lovely and pulled out all the stops by Act 4 and proved herself to be more than just a pretty woman with a lovely voice, but a good comedienne and actress. Catherine Cook as 'Marcellina', Susanna's nemesis, gets to truly spotlight her comic abilities which have only been hinted at in her small roles in previous company productions. She was a HOOT! Claudia Mahnke in the pants role of 'Cherubino' sounds quite lovely and does a reasonable job. It is not until the character is instructed to cross-dress that Mahnke's acting skills get any kind of spotlight, as she quite convincingly pulled off the 'woman as a man as a woman' moment that can seem silly. My only hesitant mention in the cast is Dale Travis who played 'Dr. Bartolo'. The role is unfortunately saddled with patter numbers and in the lowest of bass ranges, so nearly any singer would be anchored down there. Even with that, he does pull off the Act 3 revelation with some aplomb.

This ensemble moved like clockwork as far as the physical farce elements were concerned. Copley manages to get everyone running behind the screens, draperies, doors, trees, etc. with farcical precision. The set designs are fairly routine, however, but that only adds to the focus and enjoyment of the performances. Swenson's gowns were gorgeous, and were probably the only truly outstanding pieces on stage. The lighting was workmanlike, though Copley managed to get some artistry from it during the final tableau, which was lovely!

Now. The conductor. It was a long afternoon, made only longer by the tepid pacing with which Roy Goodman conducted the production. I sensed it at intermission and Gretchen fully voiced and confirmed that. There were moments when some cast members were obviously glued to Goodman during the midst of the phrases, as if they weren't sure WHAT the tempo might be at any given moment. However, Goodman never over played the cast on stage, so at least that was a good thing.

Overall, it was perhaps the finest example of ensemble acting and singing I've seen at the opera house! The audience confirmed that with a partial standing ovation, which almost NEVER happens at the Sunday Matinees!

1 comment:

Maxxxxx said...

Doobie Doobie dooo-oooo!