Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Borodina at the bat

September 29, 2007

Packing up Act I of Samson et Dalila
Photo: mine
It’s another San Francisco weekend and I’m up to sample the opera wares on display this fall. First up – the umpteenth revival of Samson et Dalila, which opened the season and had its final performance on Friday. From my vantage point, I would have to say that these performances were a small miracle for the director Sandra Bernhard in that she salvaged what may be the most kitsch-prone staging of any single opera in America. (Apparently the laughs were all saved for Mr Vick’s Tannhäuser which I’ll see tonight.) Or another way to think of it is this – this definitely is your grandmother’s opera. In all of it’s hopelessly out-of-date, purple-haired, and Shalimar-scented glory. As much as general director Gockley has touted Graham Vick’s Tannhäuser as his calling card here in San Francisco, the choice to open the season with this antique may tell us more about his willingness to put any old thing on the stage than his first newly-commissioned production.

Olga Borodina sang Dalila, and the beauty of her singing accompanied with actual honest-to -God acting cut through the crap around her and actually gave the evening some legs. Surprisingly, Clifton Forbis’ Samson was also rather palatable. Forbis has disappointed me on more occasions than I care to remember but apparently keeping him away from the Wagner makes all of the difference. Patrick Summers and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra were quite good tonight and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

All of these goings-on were broadcast live to some giant screen in what is now known as AT&T park for a purported group of “thousands.” Now that projecting simulcasts into various traffic intersections, sporting venues, and upper balconies is all the rage, San Francisco hasn’t missed an audio-visual beat. I’d be interested to know if this really ends up serving anything other than the company’s publicity agenda. Are there people who actually convert to ticket buyers from all this? During the curtain calls, Juha Uusitalo, who played the High Priest, came out on stage with a baseball he pretended to throw followed by Forbis mugging with a mitt. My partner impressed a somewhat clueless neighbor by predicting that Borodina would next appear with the bat. He was right, and apparently this is the shape of things for San Francisco Opera right here, right now.


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