Saturday, June 05, 2010

Fanciulla Dress Rehearsal

San Francisco Opera
La Fanciulla del West
Giacomo Puccini

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Lorenzo Mariani

Minnie: Deborah Voigt
Dick Johnson: Salvatore Licitra
Sheriff Jack Rance: Roberto Frontali
Nick: Steven Cole
Sonora: Timothy Mix
Ashby: Kevin Langan
Joe: Brian Jagde
Harry: David Lomelí
Trin: Matthew O’Neill
Handsome: Austin Kness
Sid: Kenneth Overton
Jake Wallace: Trevor Scheunemann
Happy: Igor Vieira
Larkens: Brian Leerhuber
Wowkle: Maya Lahyani
Billy Jackrabbit: Jeremy Milner
Pony Express Rider: Christopher Jackson
José Castro: Bojan Kneževiċ

Dress Rehearsal
4 June 2010 2pm

Whiz KidAnticipation was high for yesterday afternoon's dress rehearsal of La Fanciulla del West at the SF Opera. The house staff was ruffled by the audience's eagerness to get seats. An usher demanded to know how long I was going to save the 2 seats next to me, though I explained that someone else had dropped her jacket on them & left.

Fanciulla is not a strong opera, lacking arias & memorable scenes, but Maestro Luisotti made a good case for Puccini's orchestral writing at least. He got a stunning effect right from the start, with a big sound from the orchestra. His conducting emphasized the colorful writing & rolling climaxes. He rearranged the orchestra yet again, with double basses on the inside left while cellos were on the outside on the right. The brass were split, with the horns on the left & the trumpets & trombones on the right. There was a relatively large woodwind section in the center, all of which may have accounted for the fullness of the orchestral sound, which sometimes drowned out the singers.

The 3 principals were solid. Deborah Voigt sounded hale & hearty. Even though it seemed like she was not using much effort this afternoon, her high notes always came through, even above a big climax with orchestra & chorus in Act III. Salvatore Licitra has a smooth, almost silky voice, though he had a moment at the beginning of his duet with Minnie at the end of Act I when it sounded like he was about to balk at his 1st high note but then managed to squeeze it out. Roberto Frontali has a dark voice, & I liked his singing & acting in his Act II showdown with Minnie. Secondary roles are well-cast too. I could not help noticing Bojan Kneževiċ, Kevin Langan & Maya Lahyani, excellent in their small roles.

The production looked slapdash & even a bit unfinished. Scenically dominated by huge cliffs, it opens inexplicably with a bunch of rock climbers & ends with a wagon ride into the sunset being blocked by the sudden appearance of an Alfred Bierstadt painting. No doubt the most watched element of this staging will be Ms. Voigt's Act III entrance astride the horse Whiz Kid, a pretty Austrian Haflinger. Ms. Voigt caused applause at her mounted entrance, & she even dismounted unassisted. At the dress rehearsal the horse caused additional delight to the audience when we realized he had crapped onstage.


Gavin Plumley said...

Sorry to hear that you don't rate FANCIULLA. I think it's a superb piece... less assured dramatically, perhaps, in parts than its predecessors, but a masterpiece musically. And of course it does include the supreme aria (familiar to many through Phantom of the Opera). I've written a programme note for the SFO performances, so I hope you enjoy that.

Axel Feldheim said...

I am probably more positively disposed toward Puccini than I care to admit, but I remain unconvinced by Fanciulla. Maybe I get distracted by its attempts to be American. It's pretty silly when the chorus is singing "Hello!" all over the place, & the repeated references to Wells Fargo sound like an operatic version of product placement. & then there's that Indian squaw that goes "Ugg."

I did not know about the Phantom of the Opera connection, but it does explain a comment that my concert companion made after the performance. He thought that one part sounded like Andrew Lloyd Webber!

I do look forward to seeing your program notes. We must figure out a way to convince the opera to get you here for pre-performance lectures as well.