Richard Wagner

San Francisco Opera, October 8, 1997 KDB, October 11, 1997

The San Francisco Opera's production of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" is a gripping psychological drama with stark sets and virtually devoid of color. We have a backdrop of big panels, with projections of flashing lightning to portray the opening storm. The seamen on Daland's ship in peaked caps are dressed like Vincent van Gogh's pictures of Dutch peasants. The production is mostly in black and white, with the exception of flashes of bright red light when the Dutchman's ship appears. We never see the ship, but it's almost like an invocation. When we move to the town, we have the interior of a building, with a big round wood stove in the center, and a stove pipe cutting across the top and connecting to the wall. The women sing the spinning chorus as they make sails, while Senta, clearly distressed, moves agitatedly around the room, contemplating her vision of the Dutchman. When they finally meet, it's like magic as they stand transfixed by one another. They just lock on to each other visually, while Daland is almost ridiculous in his matchmaking. The Dutchman almost muses to himself, barely audibly, as he realizes she is the one. James Morris is a stately Dutchman. His rich, resonant bass is passion and power as he tells his story and seeks his release. Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet is a tender, lyrical Senta the big voiced soprano is the perfect match for Morris. She captures the softest and most delicate passages while matching his passion and power. Gosta Winbergh is the faithful Erik. He's almost tragic in his love for Senta. He loves her more than life, but she's friendly while she broods over her photo of the Dutchman. All of the village see the hopelessness of Erik's situation, but he persists, nonetheless, and ultimately is the catalyst that leads to Senta's death and the release of both she and the Dutchman from his curse. The simplicity of the physical production also leads to the contemplation of the Dutchman as the artist, flying furiously across the sea of life, doing what must be done, until he can finally be released by death. That's what he seeks, and that's what Senta gives. It's the faithfulness, unconditional love, and compassion that are the recurring themes in all Wagner's great works. Michael Boder conducts Wagner's "Italian Opera." He sweeps us relentlessly along through the stormy passages, captures the tender lyricism, and punches home the dramatic climaxes of this powerful production of Wagner's "DerFliegende Hollander," "The Flying Dutchman." It continues Friday Oct. 17, Tuesday Oct.21 at 8 pm, and Saturday October 25 at 7:30 pm at the newly refurbished jewel, The War Memorial Opera House at The San Francisco Opera.


Benjamin Britten San Francisco Opera, September 23, 1997 KDB, October 12, 1997
The San Francisco Opera's production of Benjamin Britten''s "Death in Venice" is set in 1911 Venice, with beautiful costumes and sets. This is a very introspective opera in which the writer, Aschenbach, a believer in order over emotion struggles to the depths of his soul with love, passion, and fate. The opera opens with a single plaintive oboe, with Aschenbach standing alone, dressed in black, and centrally lit on a dark stage. The scene fades to a palace in Munich, then a cemetery, then a brightly colored Rousseau style Amazon jungle scene with pagan voodoo type masks in the trees. From the contrast of the Munich cold and jungle heat, we move to the deck of a ship and Venice appears in the background. The sets are, for the most part, projections on layered backgrounds. These accent the cinematic fluidity of the opera, and also create an atmosphere that's thick like the late paintings of Claude Monet. We feel the heat of Venice and the oppression of the sirocco. When Aschenbach arrives in Venice, he's rowed to the Lido by a gondolier who's like Charon, rowing him across the Styx. The gondolier says he goes where he pleases, and rows off without getting paid. When Aschenbach is swept up in the beauty of Tadzio we have an ethereal off-stage chorus with vibraphone representing Apollo. Adding to this other-worldliness, Tadzio and his companions are dancers, rather than singers. This serves to isolate Aschenbach completely from Tadzio, in addition to adding the element of ballet as a central form of communication, rather than as a mere decoration. It further helps to meld the natural world with the supernatural. We have mirrors that form a proscenium arch to give depth and reflections, while a mirror on the floor helps to convey the watery waves. Light sparkles through layered scrims, and we have dark dingy Venetian tenements, with laundry hanging between the buildings, as the plague takes hold. Kenneth Riegel is a tremendous Aschenbach as we watch him get swept up little by little in his passion and lust for beauty, as he becomes helpless in the face of madness and death. He lies down on a sofa while Greek clad dancers surround him, and Tadzio stretches out one hand to him, the other to the sky, as if to become the bridge from life to death. Donald Runnicles has complete control of the orchestra throughout. He keeps control of the various divergent musical elements, the multiple rhythms, and evocative impressionism, while simultaneously conducting for singers and dancers as we're swept to the towering climax of the final opera of Benjamin Britten: "Death in Venice" at The San Francisco Opera.


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"Death In Venice"



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Last Updated January 8, 1998 by Paul Berenson