Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Size Matters

September 26, 2009

Blythe and Dimitri Hvorostovsky
Photo: Cory Weaver/SF Opera 2009

Or at least that seems to be the lesson in San Francisco Opera’s current production of Il Trovatore, which is kicking off their 09/10 season this month. It’s one of those shows where there is so much wonderful world-class music making that it’s easy to enjoy while simultaneously being profoundly unexciting. The production itself is the rather plain-jane Goya inspired affair that, like virtually everything else in San Francisco this season, has already graced stages elsewhere in the country. It’s sad that a company which was presenting American premieres of important operatic works such as Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre and Messiaen’s Saint Francois d’Assise just years ago has been reduced to a wannabe Metropolitan or Lyric Opera of Chicago. There are certainly worse things to aspire to, but apparently San Francisco's opera company is a bit more comfortable in the follower role than the leader one.

But there are things to be said from traveling in the wakes of bigger ships - it will provide for some enjoyable and well sung productions of the standard fare. McVicar’s take on Il Trovatore has been both to Chicago and, earlier this year, the Metropolitan Opera with much the same cast. His sets are crammed into the much smaller San Francisco stage which ironically helps them somewhat by making the little activity that takes place in and around them look bigger and more involving. It's still mostly a stand-and-deliver sort of evening. The other benefits to this smaller framed outing are acoustic. It’s a great cast and here at the War Memorial Opera House, they actually get to sing like normal human beings instead of the juiced up machines required to fill the cavernous Met Opera house.

At the head of that pack is the freaking amazing Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora. I’ve heard her do this twice before both in LA and New York, but it’s still a wonder. She’s so good as a Verdi singer that she puts otherwise exceptional singers in a bind to keep up with her game. Dimitri Hvorostovsky is back as the Count di Luna, but on this particular Friday he sounded much more strained to me than previously. Stephanie Blythe who I tend to associate with lighter fare delivers an urgent and appropriately vengeful Azucena. Marco Berti was a serviceable if not exciting Manrico. Still, you’d be hard pressed to put together a better Trovatore cast anywhere and if you’re looking for a world-class cast of this opera that demands four players at the top of their games, this is it.

But if the evening belonged to anyone it was San Francisco’s new music director Nicola Luisotti. I’ve been ambivalent about him in the past, but he delivered a fantastic, lively performance that at points almost made the vocalists secondary. If San Francisco wants to be an “Italian House”, they have apparently made a very good choice. They may not be writing the next chapter in the opera history books, but its likely to keep subscribers happy with a steady flow of celebrities and great singing. Given Luisotti's presence, this Il Trovatore is worth seeing even with the scheduled casting changes later on before it closes on October 6.



Radvanovsky in LA in Manon Lescaut? Let's hope the rumor is true!
I will try to get my take on Trovatore up today - I was also there Friday night and would say "semi-modified rapture." S. Rad. is a big thrill - freaking amazing, as you say - but my reaction was certainly tempered by having seen the incredible-in-all-ways Trittico the night before. (For the second time, and I'll be back for the last performance too.)
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