Classical Music Reviews
Every week, our professional critics attend concerts throughout the Bay Area to let you know what went well...and occasionally what didn't. Let their insights enrich your musical experiences, and feel free to share your own views!
Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca has a fabled past at San Francisco Opera, with some 34 highly successful productions in the company’s 86-year history, and starring such imperious Toscas as Renata Tebaldi, Dorothy Kirsten, Leontyne Price, and Montserrat Caballé. Their vocally romantic lovers were sung by such leading lights as Jussi Bjoerling, Placido Domingo, or Luciano Pavarotti, while the likes of Tito Gobbi, Ingvar Wixell, and James Morris strode the stage as their fierce nemesis, Baron Scarpia.
There is something in Kenneithia Mitchell's voice that goes straight to the heart. Her debut this weekend in the title role of a sensational West Bay Opera Madama Butterfly impressed with a singularly mellow voice, effortless, brilliant phrasing. She disappears in the role, serves the music and drama, no ego showing or heard in the voice — a true artist, not a star-wannabe.
Twenty minutes after the scheduled beginning of San Francisco Lyric Opera’s matinee performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto, General Manager Bob Scher stepped before the Cowell Theater curtain to speak. Thank God, the delay was due, not to a last-minute indisposition, but to the late, “I’m sure she’ll be here any minute,” arrival of a violinist. Scher then made a most genteel and agreeable pitch for the company’s goal of raising $1.5 million by the end of 2010. “We have a vision of being the best regional opera company in the U.S.,” he said with utter sincerity.
Yes, they can: The Conservatory kids can, though somewhat cautiously, and certainly staying away from the climactic splits, while still conveying the buoyant spirit of the dissolute French, avec plaisir. On Thursday night, the first of four performances at Cowell Theater, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music presented Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld in a delightful admixture of a cute school production and a first-class musical performance.
Have you seen La favorita lately? If you live in the Bay Area, the answer is probably no. Even in the best of times, Donizetti's 1840 melodrama has never ranked among the composer's greatest hits, and these days, with opera companies forced to bank on box office certainties, new productions are woefully few and far between.
The production may be unique, but it’s not just the computer animation, puppetry, and “authentic” musical approach that make this week's staging of a great Baroque opera so special. William Kentridge’s once-in-a-lifetime restaging of The Return of Ulysses (Monteverdi's Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria), which runs at San Francisco’s Theater Artaud only through this Saturday, lets the wisdom of Monteverdi’s 1640 masterpiece speak to our souls as perhaps no other production can.
Even in these tough economic times, the Bay Area’s regional opera companies continue to spread their wings. Midway through its 53rd season, West Bay Opera presented its first Orfeo ed Euridice last weekend in a well-conceived production that caught much of the radiant splendor of Gluck’s 1762 masterpiece.