Bat's Rhine Journey
Review by Janos Gereben
Photos by Terrence McCarthy
[Editor's note: The opera's press department did not supply artist ID's.]
There was an amazing moment of cultural dislocation in the War Memorial Opera House tonight. Feet apart, two Wagnerian figures looking at each other. Wotan-like, lording over a full orchestra, Donald Runnicles on the podium. Facing him, Christine Goerke, the very essence of a mythical heroine at a moment of ultimate drama, towering over the lip of the stage. The air crackles with electricity, the two appear about to explode in an earthshaking Twilight-of-the-Gods climax.
And then they perform, more or less delicately, a charming Johann Strauss bonbon.
The second night of the San Francisco Opera's 84th season offered a musically and comically alive "Die Fledermaus," a production that should have been the gala, instead of Friday night's semi-somnolent "A Masked Ball." The Bat flew high and free, with excellent performances by some young Opera Center veterans, but what made this a truly operatic event was Goerke's house debut in the role of Rosalinda. Oh, that big, gorgeous, focussed voice! Ecco la Brünnhilde!
The soprano, heard before across the street, in Davies Symphony Hall, impressed with an effortlessly soaring, beautifully-projected voice, delicious comic timing, and clear diction that made the otherwise essential supertitles unnecessary. (Essential because the other soloists and the chorus were delivering undecipherable "English," to the shame of diction coaches everywhere.)
Runnicles did give in to his Wagnerian wonts now and then, but overall, he conducted a terrific performance, giving plenty of space to the singers. Jennifer Welch-Babidge (Adele), Wolfgang Brendel (Eisenstein), and Brian Leerhuber (house debut as Falke) came across well, musically and theatrically, at least, if not in the diction department. Sorry to hammer at that point, but why perform a comic operetta in English, if the audience can't understand what is being sung? (Spoken lines were a bit better, but not much.)
Vale Rideout, a funny, small tenor, played an Alfred right out of theBeanstalk scene from Sondheim's "Into the Woods," fairly disappearing in the scene with Goerke, even as Jack at the top of the beanstalk, drawn to the "big, tall, terrible lady giant." It was hilarious, and Goerke played the scene to a T.
The exciting Merola veteran Gerald Thompson reprised his stunning male-soprano Orlofsky, hitting high notes with a force few female sopranos can muster; Eugene Brancoveanu's Frank finally showed this promising young baritone off in a commanding manner; there was never a question of his acting ability, but this was the first time he came into his own in the big house (and the jail too). Adler Fellow Melody Moore – an important up-and-coming singer – had to be content with the minor role of Ida. Jason Graae made his house debut as Ivan and a hyperactive Frosch. Peter Brandenhoff and Cynthia Drayer performed well in a not particularly interesting pas de deux during the party scene.
The production – by Wolfram Skalicki and Lotfi Mansouri – has been around the block, here and elsewhere, last seen here in 1996. The state director for this edition is E. Loren Meeker, the lighting design is by Marie Barrett.
Review by Janos Gereben
Adele: Jennifer Welch-Babidge
Rosalinde: Christine Goerke
Eisenstein: Wolfgang Brendel
Prince Orlofsky: Gerald Thompson
Alfred: Vale Rideout
Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Production: Lotfi Mansouri
Stage Director: E. Loren Meeker
Set Designer: Wolfram Skalicki
Costume Designer: Thierry Bosquet
Choreographer: Peggy Hickey
Lighting Designer: Marie Barrett