Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Out on the moors

June 21, 2008

Natalie Dessay as Lucia
Photo : Terrence McCarthy 2008

So I’m back in the U.S. and as I finish up recovering from jet lag, I thought I’d make the most of this weekend by heading up to San Francisco for their summer opera season that is filled with some very promising casts. First up - Lucia di Lammermoor with the local debut of soprano Natalie Dessay. I suppose that this is what passes for “a hit” these days, especially here on the downward artistic spiral that San Francisco Opera is becoming. They are laying out the bucks for big name singers, though. Dessay is the one very strong reason to see this production. She is calm, cool, and spectacular throughout. But without her, you’re on your own.

In fact the saddest part is how alone she seems on stage. She is often acting and reacting in a vacuum between two male leads, Giuseppe Filianoti as Edgardo and Gabriele Viviani as Enrico, that seem to have stepped out of some television pot-boiler. I say it’s time for Lee Strasberg gift certificates all around. I will say that Viviani sounded good although Filianoti infused his performance with a rather verismo sounding bark that was distracting. While one might interpret this contrast between Dessay and her male protagonists as somehow heightening the dramatic effects of Lucia’s isolation in the piece, I just found it dull. Which made for a nice complement to another underwhelming, uninspired production from Graham Vick who once again drums up some gray walls to contain the action and wishes everyone the best of luck. This minimal set, imported from Florence, does no one any favors. Dessay luckily has the mad acting skills to take this and run with it for a great outcome. For most of the rest of the cast, it was time to find a place to park to do their singing.

The orchestra sounded fine under the leadership of Jean-Yves Ossonce who, like Viviani, was making his U.S. debut. Things never slacked off and Ossonce seemed to have everything on stage well coordinated with the pit. Of course, since everyone on stage could pretty much just stare at him the whole time, maybe that’s not a surprise. Tonight was also one of those opera-in-the-ball-park events where the performance was simulcast to the local ball park where legions of newly discovered opera fans could watch free of charge and have a picnic or some such thing. Which may have been the way to see the performance considering that video editing may have injected some much needed visual excitement. Still, this is a chance to see Natalie Dessay do her thing so if that is new to you, I’d heartily agree, don’t miss it.

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