Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Power of One

November 13, 2010

Ainhoa Arteta and Plácido Domingo Photo: Cory Weaver/SF Opera 2010

I’m in San Francisco this weekend for a number of reasons. None of them are to hear Rufus Wainwright perform his new Five Shakespeare Sonnets with the San Francisco Symphony. Instead, I felt my time was much better spent catching Placido Domingo in Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac. I know, this is old news. In fact on Friday’s closing performance I did feel a bit like I was the last opera fan who hasn’t seen the world’s most well-known opera performer in this role he's taken everywhere in recent years. And I can confirm that virtually everything that you’ve heard about Cyrano is true. Alfano’s opera in and of itself is rather dreadful. The libretto, by Henri Cain, is fine as is Rostand’s original source material. But the music is sadly insubstantial, never really building to anything or unifying the action on stage.

But the opera has had its champions and you could not ask for a bigger one than Placido Domingo who is making his first San Francisco Opera appearance in over a decade. He is the show here. And what a show it is. I could go on about the high quality of his vocal performance, but instead lets talk about his masterful acting skills. He is a performer who knows how to draw the crowd into him using more than just his voice. He fills the stage with his presence even when he is playing a character that often struggles to stay on the romantic sidelines. Watching him made me think how lucky we are in Los Angeles where Domingo’s role as General Director of the Los Angeles Opera has brought him to the stage there in so many roles over the last decades. Getting bodies in seats is a priority for every opera company right now and the power of Domingo in this respect is on full display in San Francisco. A little-known opera with no stars would mean empty seats anywhere right now, and yet the entire run has been nearly sold-out on Domingo's name alone. And watching him as Cyrano de Bergerac makes that all seem perfectly logical.

Interestingly, the other elements in this production were all quite good. Petrika Ionesco’s direction and set design were detailed, grand and lively. Imported from Paris’ Théatre du Chatelet, it’s a pointed reminder that a true-to-period production does not need to be static or boring. There’s tons of movement and a huge cast who are managed impressively throughout. The rest of the cast sounded solid even up against an opera superstar. Ainhoa Arteta sang the part of Roxane and Chrstian by Thiago Arancam, both of who made the most of sometimes meager-sounding vocal lines. Patrick Fournillier conducted an orchestra that was committed and clean sounding in music that was typically neither. On balance though, I’ve seen far worse star-vehicles (Fleming in Rossini’s Armida anyone?) And while I don’t know how many more Cyranos Domingo may or may not have on his schedule, wherever he appears, I’m sure there will be long lines of people still wanting to hear him.



What a generous and well-written post. Looking forward to your take on "Makropulos." I'm off to hear Rufus tonight across the street at Davies Hall just so you don't have to.
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