Monday, July 16, 2007

Iphigénie & Don Giovanni at SFO

Still catching up with last month.

On the evening of June 26th I saw Iphigénie by Gluck at the SFO. This is an opera I had never seen or heard before, & I was a little apprehensive about it being too dry. It is very serious, no frills music, but it's also dramatic & direct. The stark, black-on-black production matched the music perfectly. There's been much commentary already on the luminous final moments of the staging; check out Opera Chic & Out West Arts. Susan Graham gave a totally commanding performance in the title role. She held my attention every moment. I was also very pleased to hear the solid-voiced Bo Skovhus as Iphigénie's brother Pylade & the lyrical Paul Groves as Pylade's friend Pylade.

Then on June 28th I was back in the Opera House for Mozart's Don Giovanni. I was disappointed that Donald Runnicles was not in the pit that evening. Instead the performance was led by Donato Cabrera, whom I had never heard before. My guess is that Runnicles would have led more vigorously. There were times in the 1st act when it seemed like the orchestra was not quite keeping up with the singers. The cast was uniformly competent & very even, & each singer did something to distinguish him or herself. Charles Castronovo as Ottavio has a light voice but is extremely musical. Kristinn Sigmundsson as the Commendatore is big in voice & stage presence. Luca Pisaroni as Masetto sings beautifully & is a terrific actor. His angry Masetto is no clown. Elza van den Heever was a huge-voiced Donna Anna. She appeared due to the puzzling, last-minute replacement of Hope Briggs.

Visually, it's a macabre production. The stage floor is fractured, revealing that the action is occurring over a field of buried skulls & bones. In the banquet scene the Commendatore is not a statue but a zombie with rotting flesh & exposed bone. Don Giovanni's death is presided over by a winged skeleton rising above the stage. I suppose it was a coincidence, but this production looked very similar to the Iphigénie. It was largely black-on-black, & in the finale the setting lifted to reveal a lit sky.

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