John Bender is professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University. He has reviewed the San Francisco Opera for Opera Canada for several years.
Articles by this Author
Can Madama Butterfly fail? “Impossible,” say some 195 performances by the San Francisco Opera alone. Only La bohème is more often performed, and that by a whisker. Both present us with a transient happiness whose precious fragility can never survive the pathos — the inescapable sadness — that is the destiny of human life.More about San Francisco Opera »
San Francisco Opera’s current production adopts Goethe’s ironic distance, but works against so much of what Massenet does with the music. On the other hand, it boasts an extremely strong cast, headed by Ramón Vargas and expertly conducted by Emmanuel Villaume. Everyone should hear Villaume’s stunning ensemble of singers and players.More about San Francisco Opera »
For the San Francisco Opera to stage Charles Gounod’s Faust now, 10 years into the 21st century, shows an odd kind of daring. Yet this traditional-looking production from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, directed by Jose Maria Condemi, with sets and costumes by Robert Perdziola, brings a museum piece to genuine new life.More about San Francisco Opera »
The Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du Régiment) by Gaetano Donizetti is about singing as a direct route to the hearts both of characters and audiences. The opera’s apparent naiveté and, at times, blatant absurdity belie its perfection. In it the mature master composer of some 52 prior operas hides his own virtuosity in order allow his singers to reveal truth of feeling.More about San Francisco Opera »
Opera audiences the world over live under the dominion of stage directors and dramaturges who relocate classic works to places and times remote from the originals and even rewrite major plot events. Such attempts at innovation too often reveal more about the creative desperation of their authors than their cleverness.
The current season in San Francisco alone has seen the heroine in Tannhäuser strangled by the hero's best friend as she prays for eternal salvation.
Mythological absurdities, deadly rivalries, and over-the-top emotion — topped by the 20-minute death throes of oversize sopranos — are familiar opera cliches. But these cliches often ignore the bubbling stream of comedy that flows through the works of Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti, and even those of Wagner, Verdi, Massenet, and Puccini.
Thomas Pasatieri rode that stream into the 21st century with The Hotel Casablanca, premiered last weekend in the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center by the stylish and graceful young singers of the Merola Opera Program.
Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola is a brilliant comic opera filled with both melancholy and satire. La Cenerentola is also a fairy-tale girl who bursts into the spotlight. And for San Francisco right now, Daniela Mack has become the Cinderella girl with the glass slippers. Never mind that when Rossini modernized Charles Perrault’s old version for his libretto, those slippers became matching bracelets. Mack, the vocal princess, is pure sparkle.
San Francisco has heard the greatest singers in this jewel of a coloratura mezzo-soprano role (Berganza, von Stade, Borodina).