Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Now swallow

November 26, 2007

Angela Gheorghiu
Photo: Terrence McCarthy/SFO 2007

The last opera on this visit to San Francisco was the soon to close production of Puccini’s La Rondine mounted specifically as a star vehicle for Angela Gheorghiu in her first appearance with the company. She is marvelous. There are about a million things to love about her including her wonderful voice. Close to the top of that list is her ability to take a minor work like this by probably the single-most overrated composer in the Western tradition of music and make it seem more than tolerable, but actually worthwhile. There were moments where all the dross melted away and she held that audience in her sway with only the power of her throat. Amazing. There are a lot of jollies to be had in opera and this is unquestionable one of them.

A lot of scuttlebutt has been floating around lately about Ms. Gheorghiu’s diva-like behavior – walking out of this and that production here and there while here understudies are lionized as the next big thing by people with axes to grind. And while I certainly am no fan of unprofessional behavior, when you hear that she has been "fired" by Chicago Lyric Opera for skipping out on the majority of rehearsals of La Boheme one can’t help but think, well isn’t that kind of what they get for such unimaginative programming in the first place. If you put on the same old thing for the umpteenth million time, it seems to me that this is the risk you take in hiring a big name talent. If there is a criticism of Gheorghiu it is not that she is unprofessional, but that she continues to drag herself through perhaps the least interesting roles and career trajectory imaginable. Sure her Violetta is beyond reproach. But what has she done for you lately? Tosca? Mimi? Amelia? If she wasn’t spending most of her time trying to rescue marginal and over-performed operas to begin with, she might be in better stead overall.

Of course there was more to this Rondine than Gheorghiu but not much. Misha Didyk sang some tenor part competently. The audience applauded the sets, which were most appreciative of the attention. And while the art deco Egyptian look fit the 1920s Paris update well, no one seemed to pass that information around to the wardrobe department who went with costumes a little more Iowa than arrondissement. But, as I've noted, the whole point of this is to feature Ms. Gheorghiu singing, which she does unquestionably well and that alone is worth seeing it if you haven't already. There is one more performance left next weekend.



We really should meet! I was in LA for the Sibelius fest, you were here this past weekend....

That said, while I think Puccini is popular largely because of the big tunes and is the most overexposed of composers, I do not think he is overrated at all. Mostly, I think his extraordinary technical genius is underrated and overlooked by most; the orchestration and the extremely tight and effective construction of his operas are the less-discussed and more-important aspects of his craft.
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