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John Bender

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

Opera Review
April 14, 2013

Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi receive propulsive, emotionally engaging performances by Opera San José.

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Opera Review
February 15, 2013

Rochelle Bard animates West Bay Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor with vocal finesse and believability.

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Opera Review
November 6, 2011

With fine direction and good conducting, this Carmen has the basic pieces in place, though it’s not studded with singing stars.

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Opera Review
October 12, 2010

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.

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Opera Review
September 15, 2010

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.

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Opera Review
June 5, 2010

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.

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Opera Review
October 14, 2009

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.

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Archive Review
November 27, 2007

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.

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Archive Review
August 7, 2007

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.

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Archive Review
July 17, 2007

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.

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