Monday, March 02, 2009

Rinaldo at SFCM

Conservatory Baroque Ensemble
Corey Jamason and Elisabeth Reed, co-directors
Saturday, February 28, 8:00 PM
Handel's Rinaldo in its original 1711 version

I always forget that the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is a fine source for low-cost or free events. A friend of mine is a fan of student performances in general, since the musicians are too young to have become jaded! On Saturday night, I attended a staged presentation of Handel's Rinaldo, for free. The Conservatory's concert hall is an ideal size for this, even though the orchestra has to be on the floor in front of the stage. Someone even improvised a set-up to provide supertitles.

I was unprepared for the high level of singing from every member of the cast. As one challenging aria followed another, I kept thinking how hard this music is & how well it was being executed. Jennifer Panara in the title role nailed every number without tiring. Rebekah Kenote, as the love interest Almirena, has a voice I found warm & penetrating. The singers were supported by a keen & alert chamber orchestra, led by the conductor at the harpsichord. The effort deserved much better than the small turn-out on Saturday night.

Because the musical values were so good, it was very frustrating that the staging was more along the lines of hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show. Apparently, the cast was left more or less to its own devices here. When we giggle at the silly plots twists, the laugh is at the expense of the 18th century libretto. But I also snickered at some of the stage business the cast resorted to. This is not a feeling I like, because now I'm laughing at the performers themselves. We all would have been better served either by a concert version or by more resources being given to the theatrical dimension.

At the end of the 1st intermission, I discovered too late that there was a dessert buffet downstairs. At the next break I headed straight down there, but the refreshments were gone. My only disappointment of the evening.


Maura said...

The production was directed by the Conservatory Baroque Ensemble directors. I think they are probably more musicologists than stage directors.

Axel Feldheim said...

Fair enough. All the more reason to bring in some theatrical expertise as well.