Friday, September 26, 2014

SF Opera: Susannah

Last week I saw Carlisle Floyd's Susannah at San Francisco Opera. I'd never heard it before, & neither had most opera-going acquaintances I asked. The story, set in a closed, traditional farming community, is straightforward, though bleak, & Floyd's music is pretty & lyrical. SF Opera's production was all of a piece. The austere yet picturesque sets nicely depicted the remote, rural locations, & the entire cast could have stepped out of a Grant Wood painting. Sharp-focused projections of natural landscapes provided cinematic backdrops & transitions. When the scene shifted from Susannah's cabin to a church dinner, the chorus was theatrically revealed to have been hidden on stage the whole time.

The performances put a priority on character, acting & projecting the text. In the title role, soprano Patricia Racette was completely convincing as a naive, innocent teenager. Though her high notes sometimes seemed pitchless, her singing was nonetheless persuasive, & her act 2 aria was expressive, sad & moving. Mezzo Catherine Cook was an almost comically judgy church lady, dripping with contempt for Susannah, as well as a bowl of peas.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich was a lovable lunk as Susannah's brother, & his voice was consistently radiant & smooth. Bass Raymond Aceto sounded fittingly orotund & dark as the internally struggling Reverend Blitch. Tenor James Kryshak gave an impressive physical performance as a skittish Little Bat, his voice sounding high & clear. I enjoyed hearing tenor A.J. Glueckert's focused & somewhat brassy sound as one of the community's crusty elders.

Conductor Karen Kamensek led securely & had the orchestra sounding lush. The flute & clarinet soloists sounded especially fine. The audience sat quietly during the silences between scenes & gave Ms. Racette a warm ovation. I watched the performance from balcony standing room, where there was plenty of room at the railing. I had fun trading Bayreuth stories with another standee, & I also could not help noticing that the Opera Tattler wore a blue square dancing dress whose color suspiciously matched the dress worn by Susannah in the opera's opening scene.

§ Susannah
by Carlisle Floyd

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Karen Kamensek
Director: Michael Cavanagh

Susannah Polk: Patricia Racette
Sam Polk: Brandon Jovanovich
Rev. Olin Blitch: Raymond Aceto
Mrs. Mclean: Catherine Cook
Little Bat Mclean: James Kryshak
Mrs. Hayes: Jacqueline Piccolino
Mrs. Gleaton: Erin Johnson
Mrs. Ott: Suzanne Hendrix
Elder Hayes: Joel Sorensen
Elder Gleaton: A.J. Glueckert
Elder Mclean: Dale Travis
Elder Ott: Timothy Mix
Two Men: Jere Torkelsen, William O'Neill

Tue 09/16/14 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

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