Showing posts with label opera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label opera. Show all posts

Monday, June 22, 2009

Frameline 33 (SF LGBT Film Festival, 2009) - Day 5

Frameline 33: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the world’s premiere showcase for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema, runs June 18-28, 2009, with screenings in San Francisco at the historic Castro Theatre, Roxie Theater and the Victoria Theatre, and in Berkeley at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood. Tickets are available via the website 24 hours a day, via fax, or in person at the Frameline Festival Box Office Counter.

MAKING THE BOYS (dir. Crayton Robey, USA, 2009, 90 Mins.) Though it is simple to describe as a documentary about the creation of the play THE BOYS OF THE BAND, director Crayton Robey has done an extraordinary amount of research to place it, as well as its author Mart Crowley, in historical perspective. In fact, he has the seeds of a multi-part documentary here: a biography of Mart Crowley; the culture at the time of the creation, development and production of the play; the play itself; the cultural reaction to it; finally, the film and reaction to that as well. Though it's running time is only 90 minutes, it does feel a bit longer, as Robey attempts to cover so much ground. However, it would appear to be necessary, as his prologue includes a series of man-on-the-street surveys with Gay Pride participants who surprisingly have never even heard of THE BOYS IN THE BAND, much less seen it or even value it's significance for gay visibility. It is an entertaining and exceptionally educational documentary, even as it screened here as a "work in progress." During the following Q&A, which was sort of a mess, I have to admit that even I contributed to the semi-chaos, when I asked how long he had been filming since he included the deceased Edward Albee. Uh, Albee is still alive... Ah well... (Oh, the answer was approximately two years.) There was also an extensive 'discussion' from the audience from Bay Area Reporter film critic David Lamble about the availability of William Friedkin to discuss the film. I think he might be 'legally tied' to the DVD extras to comment in a separate documentary, though. (As K.C. Price was about to introduce the director and film, my friend Andy noted that he needs to work on his "ums" during his speaking. From that point on, that is all I heard! Damn you, Andy!!)

I attempted to follow the screening with the next program, El Niño Pez, from the director of XXY. However, I fell asleep during the first few minutes. I was out so deeply, that when I woke up, I had no clue what was happening and decided to pop back home for a REAL nap to get ready for the evening.

FIG TREES (dir. John Greyson, Canada, 2009, 104 Mins.) This is a work of ART. I absolutely LOVED it, though I understand why a few people walked out. It is self described as a "doc-op about AIDS, pills and Gertrude Stein" and that probably sounds as hideously pretentious as those who walked out may have felt it was. I was completely taken away and transported by its operatic ("doc-op" is short hand for documentary-opera, I believe) structure and the music (composed and adapted by David Wall) that ran nearly the entire of the film, which included a great deal of Stein and Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts. Director John Greyson treads treacherously into Peter Greenaway territory with his over abundant use of split screens and subtitles, which at one point become graphic art in themselves. It may seem a stretch at first, but think it bears repeated viewings to understand how he relates musical palindromes of classical, modern-classical and pop music to the ironic plight of AIDS patients, as they face pharmaceutical and governmental structures that seem intent on keeping them from obtaining treatment. The cinematography by Ali Kazimi, Jesse Rosensweet of Bill Layton's production designis beautiful and seamless between the two of them. I assume one was responsible for the operatic sequences and the other for the interviews. Ah, the interviews. The documentary portion include interviews of a number of activists, most extensively with Zackie Achmet (who is the central figure of the operatic sequences), Tim McCaskell and Gugu Dlamini, among others. The concentration of the documentary is really upon Africa, however it does relate to McCaskell's work in Canada. There was a moment towards the last quarter of the film that I began to become emotionally and physically moved by the weight of all the preceding painful beauty of the piece and actually started to become choked up! Though Greyson's work can be a hit (LILIES), miss (PROTEUS) or mixed (ZERO PATIENCE), this has pulled the best techniques and qualities he possesses to create, what was for me, an extraordinary experience!

Maxxxxx says
re both films: "Dooby dooby dooo-oooo!"

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

San Francisco Opera - PORGY AND BESS (restored)

PORGY AND BESS (By George and Ira Gershwin and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, Conductor: John DeMain, Production/Director: Francesca Zambello, Washington National Opera production) In the midst of a film festival, I took a breather to spend a (long) afternoon at San Francisco Opera's (restored) PORGY AND BESS. Now, I only mention "long" and "restored" as I was expecting Executive Director David Glockley to have transferred the lauded Houston Grand Opera production up here. Instead, this was the Washington National Opera production, which restores the score from the 150 minute "Broadway version" to a 195 minute version (that is still short 45 minutes from the first score, which apparently received only a few, early stagings). Personally, I am OK with the shorter version, as the additional material does not seem to be all that overtly exceptional, except for a trio near the finale that I do not remember as being part of the earlier versions I have seen. Anyway...

Eric Owens does a robust job as Porgy, who in this production is given a simple crutch and not the traditional "goat wagon" to work from. Laquita Mitchell is able to compensate for some unfortunate costuming as Bess. She is dressed as either Carmen or Mother Mary, depending on the portion of the performance we're in, and it is just too obvious. She is able to sing past it, and we are given a great deal of character without the indications given by her dress. Also standing out in the supporting cast are Karen Slack and Alteouise deVaughn, who join Owens for a simply fabulous trio near the end of the opera. Sportin' Life is sung, acted and danced by Chauncy Packer. Now, Sportin' Life is a really odd role within the piece. Firstly, it is as if they wrote all the Tin Pan Alley numbers for him, and his songs really do not fit within the fabric of the opera, in my humble and non-operatically educated opinion. However, that might be the point, as he is this external force that acts as the Devil to Bess' Faust, in what is one of a few sub-conflicts. In fact, in this expanded version, Bess is faced with no less than three men and lives from which to chose. Needless to say, tragedies ensue. Her third nemesis is Crown, sung here by Lester Lynch, who regretfully does not have a "big number" by which to be overly memorable. However, he does take part in a really skillfully and surprisingly physical fight between him, Porgy and Bess. The chorus is simply excellent, particularly during the two prayers in the second act, which I always forget about, and am always blown away by!

The setting by Peter J. Davison and lit by Mark McCullough are really fascinating and really BIG! We are set in a factory, more than a port, but it works. The staging and movement are unusually choreographic and handled with requisite vigor and efficiency by the chorus. In the end, though, I would have to say that I now no longer need to see another PORGY AND BESS, unless it is the more operatic excerpts.

Maxxxxx says
re PORGY AND BESS: "Dooobie dooo-oooo-oooo!"

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

THREE DECEMBERS, followed by Three Courses!

My Christmas gift from Gretchen this year was attending THREE DECEMBERS and then dinner at Bay Wolf!!

San Francisco Opera presented THREE DECEMBERS (Last Acts) (composer: Jake Heggie; libretto: Gene Scheer, based on a play by Terrence McNally; conductor: Patrick Summers; director: Leonard Foglia), a new piece by Jake Heggie (DEAD MAN WALKING), which premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in March of this year, featuring its world premiere cast: Frederica von Stade, Keith Phares and Kristin Clayton. Yes, it is only a cast of three in this chamber opera which would probably work better on an Off-Broadway stage than it does in a place as cavernous as Zellerbach Hall, in Berkeley. However, since Heggie is considered a "modern operatic composer", his sentimental, little piece is relegated to the massive halls, voices and expectations of the opera houses around the country.

The drama is about the relationship between a Broadway musical star (Frederica von Stade) and her two adult children. Essentially, if you took "Glamorous Life" from Stephen Sondheim's "A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC" and extended it for two hours, you would have this opera. In other words, the plotting is slight, so there is an increased pressure for characterization. However, the libretto tends to focus on a lot of off-stage events and exposition, in which the three characters literally narrate via the device of the mother's Christmas letters. The opening duet in which brother and sister are on the phone with each other, singing the first letter, straight out, is an exceptionally ineffective way to launch what should be an intensive three-part character study. It insists that the performers infuse the words of their mother with their attitudes about her and musically mocks someone we have not met or heard from yet. In other words, the audience must begin to make assumptions during the opening moments, instead of concentrating on the characterizations and the musical structure. The piece does not really begin to take life until late in the first act, in which the brother and sister have a beautiful duet about their father on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The second act, comprised of two scenes, each ten years apart, work much more effectively, as Heggie is no longer bound to the family's emotional exposition. The "shoe duet" (for lack of a better description), in which the children mock their mother's shoe-shopping-as-therapy habit, is delightful and oddly reminiscent of another Sondheim piece ("A Little Priest"), and von Stade is given a gorgeous lullaby to perform. There is much to like in the score. However, it never crosses that line of "ecstasy" that feels necessary in opera, or musical theater in general. In other words, to perhaps over simplify the case, the mother never has the "Momma Rose Moment"! Though there is emotional resolution, which is sentimentally well done, the cathartic climax (when the truth about the father is revealed) comes as yet another piece of exposition. The mother is only given the opportunity to encapsulate why she did what she did, so her eventual capitulation seems unsatisfactory, since she is not allowed to fully express the emotional toll it took on her and her relationship with her children. Regardless of the many beautiful moments within the work, it just can not withstand the scrutiny of the particular arena it has been placed and the dramatic demands that are required of it.

However, the requirements of our dinner at Bay Wolf Cafe' and Restaurant were successfully met! The avocado, pink grapefruit and roasted beet salad with arugula and creamy anise dressing, which both Gretchen and I had, was incredible! I could have stopped there! However, I moved on to potato gnocchi with butternut squash, and Gretchen had the crusted salmon and risotto cakes (which I had an extra side of!). The gnocchi was rich and, for lack of another term, beefy! The desert featured eggnog ice cream sandwiches! Gretchen had the chocolate bouche. She also ordered a half bottle of Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), which topped things off, nicely! I LOVE Bay Wolf!!

Maxxxxx says
re THREE DECEMBERS: "Dooby dooby doo-oooo"
re BAY WOLF: "Breakfast?!"

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Monday, February 04, 2008

P.D.Q. Bach in Atlanta

I've been one of the adoring faithful of Peter Schickele since I was 14 years old, when I had chicken pox and was laying there, listening to the local PBS radio station and they played "Ipheginia in Brooklyn". I was in a hysterical delirium! For those of you in the know who are adding up the years, yes, this would make Professor Schickele a fairly old man, today. When once he would make his entracne from the audience balcony on a rope, this past Friday night, he ambled on, fumbling with the curtains to find his way on stage. Though his long time associate William Walters is still present, his participation was limited to the "Manager of the Stage" and shuffling around instruments and furniture, albeit in trademark deadpan fashion.

Professor Schickele was introduced to the audience at the Ferst Center for the Arts (at Georgia Tech in Atlanta), by David Dusing, who would be the featured tenor of the evening's program "P.D.Q. Bach: "What's Your Sign?". He would be later joined by "off-colorara soprano" Michele Eaton and the company was accompanied by Margaret Kampmeier on keyboards. After his typical punfest of a monologue, featuring a nifty jab at Fred Thompson (the "newly elected president of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople... The groundskeepers union needed someone to bring the lawn in order." har!), the program began with the Allegretto Gabinetto, for plumber and itinerant keyboarder (S.2nd door on the left), featuring the professor performing on the pipes, as it were.

Though the centerpiece of the evening was Twelve Quite Heavenly Songs (Arie Prporio Zodicate), S.16, the program included pieces that Schickele took direct credit for. In fact, he set quite a personal tone as he performed pieces written for family and friends, including a song for his grandmother's 80th birthday and his Songs From Shakespeare, which are soliloquies he gave jazz arrangements to while he was in college. In fact, of the program, Schickele performed only one other P.D.Q. Bach piece in addition to the two previously mentioned: The Art of the Ground Round.

Kampmeier was more than capable on the keyboards, though nearly invisibly so. Dusing's tenor was a bit long-in-the-tooth, and conspicuously enough that soprano, Eaton, was comically used to cover up his shortcomings. Eaton is an exceedingly pleasant performer. Perhaps almost too much so, as some of the vintage humor of P.D.Q. Bach comes from the austere professionalism, bordering on snobbery, of the performers. Schickele himself has mellowed his performance as "P.D.Q.'s artistic vigilante" to professorial musings on his past and the works of "P.D.Q.". The cynicism and faux bitterness of his mission has been replaced by an evening of nostalgia.

Though he has amassed quite a catalog from which to "pitch" the audience, the great news was that after a ten year "sabbatical", he has released a new P.D.Q. Bach album: P.D.Q. Bach: The Jekyll & Hyde Tour!!

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oh, Manon, oh, Man, oh!

Due to scheduling conflicts, my opera half-season literally occured in one week, with the productions of "Manon Lescault" and "The Barber of Seville".

"Manon Lescault" (Composer: Giacomo Puccini; Conductor: Donald Runnicles; Stage Director: Olivier Tambosi; Production Designer: Frank Philipp Schlössmann; Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler; Production from Lyric Opera of Chicago; 3 hours) looked great, and I PREFER Puccini operas over most, but I just can't toss this one on my pile of favorites, i.e. "Turandot". He usually has a knack for 'tunes', however I found myself becoming bored and the final scene, what seemed like a 30 minute death aria, was just too ludicrous for me to accept. Vocally, Karita Mattila's 'Manon Lescault' was quite lovely and her performance captured the adolescent zeal in which the character escapes a convent, is seduced by the wealth of 'Geronte' (ably performed by Eric Halfvarson), only to be imprisoned and exiled to her death in the "Louisiana desert". Her love interest, 'Des Grieux', was sung with chainsaw-like buzz by Misha Didyk. So annoying was his vocal placement that it has been described as "bellowing" by the local papers. It is a BIG voice, however that buzzing overtone was nearly painful to listen to. Not to mention, that as far as being the 'ingenue love interest' he was physically and vocally shown up by one of the lesser roles, 'Edmondo', who was performed by a stunningly handsome and vocally appealing Sean Panikkar. Panikkar is part of the SF Opera's "Adler Fellows", which is sort of the apprentice program. With his combination of matinee-idol looks and his solid voice, he has a fabulous future ahead of him, not unlike Nathan Gunn. Speaking of...

"The Barber of Seville" (composer: Gioachino Rossini; Conductor: Maurizio Barbacini; Production: Johannes Schaaf; Stage Director: Roy Rallo; Set Designer: Hans Dieter Schaal; Costume Designer: Yan Tax; Lighting Designer: Robert Hill; Original Lighting Design: Paul Pyant) features Nathan Gunn as 'Figaro', and quite a striking Figaro he is! Gunn and the entire cast were actually a hoot. Bruno de Simone was possibly the BEST 'Dr. Bartolo' I will ever get to see! He was almost an operatic Phil Silvers. Allyson McHardy did more than fulfill the role of the ditzy 'Rosina'. If anyone were a bit 'off' it would have been John Osborn's 'Almaviva'. Some of his music is incredibly difficult, though, and the role itself is perhaps the least interesting of the lot (the 'heroic ingenue'). However, he did give a few good comic turns when he appears in disguise in the second act. It just isn't fair, though, to have him strip down in the presence of Mr. Gunn, who so totally 'out-hunks' him that you can't help but wonder why Rosina isn't throwing herself at Figaro instead. Catherine Cook, who stole the show in the 2003 production, seems to have been reigned in a bit this time as the maid.

The cast is not the only gorgeous element of this production. The set features a carousel of a modern Italian home. It. Is. MASSIVE! And it spins to nearly dizzying effect during the finale. Costuming, particularly Rosina's gowns, are quite beautiful. And the lighting of this outrageously difficult set is outstanding, though Mr. Osborn seemed to have a problem finding his light at times.

I have to admit that I was hesitant to see "Seville" again so soon since it's last production was only 3 years ago. However, it was well worth it!

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Due to ticket exchanges and what-not, Gretchen and I got a late start on this season at the San Francisco Opera, with this past weekend's matinee of "Tristan and Isolde" (Composer: Richard Wagner, Conductor: Donald Runnicles, Production Designer: David Hockney, Stage Director: Thor Steingraber, Production from Los Angeles Opera, Running time: 4 hours, 45 minutes). It has taken me a few days (we saw this on Sunday) to pull together my thoughts without OVERLY being glib about what is a great big chunk of musical theatre. It is a long 4 hours and 45 minutes. There are a couple of intermissions, though. And it does end with an ecstatic 8 minutes of musically dramatic bliss!!

I won't even attempt or pretend to analyze the score, except to say that the leitmotif that runs throughout the piece, is brought to an exquisite climax at the finale. Soprano Christine Brewer as 'Isolde' nailed that final moment. Good thing, too, otherwise one would have no other choice but to say that 'it wasn't over until the fat lady sings.' I do not mean to be harsh, but, Ms. Brewer has definitely gained some weight since her last appearance at SFO. I know it may sound terribly shallow when discussing a performer's physical attributes when she required to slam away at nearly FIVE HOURS of Wagner, however one just can't help but notice how physically uncomfortable she seemed at points. The set was at quite a rake and Ms. Brewer had a scary time negotiating the 'downhill' portion at one point. Not to mention, the costume design was simply NOT flattering. She was simply dressed in drapery. And there is the logistical problem involved in having cast Thomas Moser as 'Tristan', who is equally rotund, therefore providing a certain challenge during the embraces. (Or as opera-pal Gretchen has referred to such situations in the past, "It's like watching the space shuttle dock.") The couple sang out front for the greater majority of the opera.

Vocally, Ms. Brewer was phenomenal. It is a HUGE orchestra that the cast is required to sing over and there was never a problem with hearing her. Mr. Moser, on the other hand, was drowned out more often than not. The supporting cast, most notably Jane Irwin as 'Brangane' sounded fine, but were awkwardly staged in tableaux during the duets between the lead couple.

The staging was pedestrian at best. Well, actually, had it been pedestrian, aka walked around a bit, that would have been more exciting. This was a big raked and empty stage upon which the performers stood still and sang at us. For FOUR HOURS and FORTY FIVE minutes. It was nearly a concert version, except for that big raked stage. David Hockney's design of this production is simply ugly. His choices of colors are typically BOLD, however due to the lack of action on stage, we are forced to just stare at that floor. And that weird tent-like-cut-out-or-whatever-it-was on the boat in Act One. And those 'Celtic trees' on the side of Act Two. And that hideous excuse for 'grass' that was laid out like bad carpet in Act Three. I hated looking at it. And since there is not much of a plot to it, I was able to close my eyes.

Full disclosure: I dozed through most of the second act. Act Two seemed to consist of T&I standing there, hand in hand (since they are unable to physically embrace each other - see above), singing at us. So, I closed my eyes and dozed.

However, as the saying goes, "Wagner has heavenly moments but hellish half hours." Those final eight minutes of the opera were exquisite, and for that the Wagnerites in the audience cheered like they were at a rock concert!

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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!

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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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