Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Everybody loves Simon

September 28, 2008

Hvorostovsky et al
Photo: Terrence McCarthy/SFO 2008
I just woke up from San Francisco Opera’s final performance of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and while I know I’m very late to this party, I thought I’d make a few comments. I would generally agree with what seems to have been the consensus about this run – it was very well sung, but burdened with a banal, poorly directed staging. The cast mostly stands around, occasionally gesturing and looking at one another in what might pass for a knock off Getty Villa. And that’s entertainment. I suppose keeping things very simple is necessary for an opera with such an overly convoluted and often confusing plot. But nobody here does much to sort that out. Sure all these characters say they love or hate each other but you wouldn’t know it from their body language.

But focusing on the voices and the performance from Donald Runnicles and the SF Opera orchestra helped. Dimitri Hvorostovsky sang a regal but downtrodden Boccanegra. I’ve decided at long last that I do prefer him across the board to Thomas Hampson. Hvorostovsky can come off as aloof at times, but I prefer his coolness to Hampson’s periodic tendency to glower and bellow. Hvorotovsky is also one heck of a handsome man, though you wouldn’t know it here from the endless series of voluminous black caftans he wore creating a sort of funeral-going Helen Roper effect.

Barbara Frittoli sang Amelia and, despite a little cracking here and there, was consistently enjoyable and managed at least one rather lovely pianissimo. Marcus Haddock did the Gabriele chores aptly and with less shouting than I’ve heard from him recently. The big news, though, was bass Vitalij Kowaljow whose Fiesco was not only audible but beautifully annunciated and consistent throughout. Kowaljow is no stranger to U.S. opera houses and has appeared on the West Coast many times. However, his appearance here invited a closer listening this time around since the announcement that he will make his role debut as Wotan in L.A. Opera’s upcoming Ring cycle performances. His performance here is definitely a good omen and it was easy to see him stepping into those godly Wagnerian shoes.



Nice summary. I punted on last night, since I've been recovering from a cold for about ten days, but made it to the ghastly Bonesetter's Daughter this afternoon. I will post later or tomorrow about it.
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