October 6th to the 11th, I attended the Ring Cycle at the Orange County Performing Arts Center featuring Gergiev & the Kirov Opera. The orchestra was the real star of the show. It's full of young, amazing musicians. This is one of those orchestra where everyone really plays out. The singers, with the exception of Domingo, were Russian, & all were terrific actors, which really went a long way, because this was the worst staging I'd ever seen for an opera. No director is credited. Apparently there was originally a German production team, but something must have gone horribly wrong, & they dropped out.
I'm a big fan of Gergiev, & he did not disappoint. His conducting is so muscular & exciting. He led a very speedy Ring, especially the Siegfried. None of the singers were Wagnerians in the traditional sense, so it was instructive to hear everything actually sung instead of declaimed or "barked". I was even happy with the two Siegfrieds we heard. Their competent singing & exuberant acting showed me that it is just possible to have a dramatically convincing & even likable Siegfried.
I was astounded by Domingo. He must be in his late 60s, but his singing was so romantic & ardent & his acting so convincing that there was no need to make any concessions for his age.
Incredibly, on one of their days off from Ring pit duties, Gergiev & the Kirov Orchestra gave a concert of Shostakovich Symphonies 6 & 5 across the street in the newly inaugurated Segerstrom Concert Hall. Their performance was strong & exciting. They have some really terrific players. At times I felt like I was hearing one outstanding solo after another. Still I can remember the beautiful harp solo & the piercing trumpet solo.
It is too disconcerting to record that the day after Götterdämmerung I drove to San Diego to spend the afternoon at Legoland marveling at incredible Lego models?
Attended a book event in the Haight on the 21st for the release of Best American Comics 2006 published by Houghton Mifflin. Local artists Justin Hall, John Porcellino & Esther Watson showed slides & talked about their work. It was nice to have something to look at. Comic book authors are not quite the same as literary authors, & it isn't always enough to hear them just talk. Harvey Pekar was also there to talk about editing the collection. As far as I can tell, he is exactly the cranky curmudgeon he appears to be in the American Splendor movie!
I heard Midori play the Britten Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony on the 25th. Her playing was as moving & exciting as always & showed off her gasp-inducing technique: Passages very high up, double stopped harmonics, left-hand pizzicato, left-hand pizzicato plus artificial harmonics...The piece doesn't miss a trick. Every time I hear her play a concerto, that piece instantly becomes my favorite violin concerto.
Sat in the dress circle at the San Francisco Opera for Tristan on the 27th. Runnicles was the star of this show. He lead a fluid & tender interpretation, & the orchestra played beautifully for him. I was disappointed by the aimless staging. The only directorial idea occurred at the very end when the already "dead" Tristan got up, walked over to Isolde & embraced her as the lights went down. I guess this is one way to give the story an uplifting ending, but the moment was unprepared for. I had high expectations for Christine Brewer's Isolde, but both she & the tenor Thomas Moser seemed to conserving their voices throughout the entire evening. It felt like they were singing with only a fraction of their true powers.
Saw the Silent Theatre Company's Lulu at the Victoria Theatre on the 28th. This was very cool. It was a staging of Wedekind's Lulu, inspired by the Louise Brooks movie. There was no dialog. Instead, the young & athletic cast mimed the action in the style of a silent movie. The costumes & settings were all various shades of white, black or gray, & the actors faces were painted silver. A pianist at the side of the stage provided a driving musical accompaniment that was in a modern jazz idiom that evoked the 1920s. They even had inter-titles that were projected above the proscenium. In fact, I think I spent a lot of time marveling at the precision of the timing of these titles. There would be a black-out on stage, the actors would freeze, & the titles would appear, all at the same time. & sometimes there were a lot of titles within a scene!
They had a very convincing Lulu who exuded a feeling of sex & flesh. The whole production had a strong physicality to it. The characters danced with each other, tussled with each other, made love to each other, abused each other. Lulu's murder was a visceral horror. Best of all, the cast seemed to be having a lot of fun. When the audience left the theater, they were waiting outside on the sidewalk to thank us for coming! At that moment I noticed a school bus, painted with signs for the show, parked in front of the theater. Did they tour with that bus?
On Halloween night, I had an orchestra seat for the SF Opera's revival The Barber of Seville. I'd seen this production when it premiered a few years ago, & I thought it would be fun to see that big, spinning 2-story house again. I'm a sucker for spectacle like that. I'm also a sucker for Nathan Gunn & his athletic stage presence. This time around I was impressed by the singing of a young baritone called Eugene Brancoveanu in 2 small roles.