Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Maid of Orleans

Went to Friday night's performance of Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans at SFO. David Gockley made his presence known before the start of the performance when his disembodied voice made the turn-off-your-cell-phones announcement & invited us to "enjoy the show."

"The Show" is a vehicle for a powerhouse mezzo, & Dolora Zajick delivers. Her voice is strong & loud & especially thrilling when she's belting out the low notes. This is good old-fashion grand opera & has many lyrical moment as well as a very exciting act III ensemble for the soloists & chorus. There's even a mini-immolation scene at the end, when Joan is burned at the stake to the musical depiction of rapidly flickering flames. In fact it was so stolidly 19th century that I found myself wondering why we are still devoting so much of our attention to these works. The audience just laughs at the romantic cliches.

The staging was somewhat post-modern, but for no apparent reason. The chorus is on stage the whole time dressed as a "Modern-day French audience", witnessing the story of the opera played out on a bare stage-within-a-stage. In the final moments, Joan, tied to the stake, is engulfed by a huge plume of stage smoke. When the smoke clears, she has been replaced by a little girl who walks downstage & raises her arms to the heavens. It's a completely unprepared for moment & is rather eerie.

The supporting cast was even & very good. I enjoyed hearing tenor Sean Pannikar as Joan's rejected suitor. His sound is bright & clear & fluid. It was hard to understand why Joan had no interest in him.

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