Friday, April 11, 2014

Don Quichotte (Don Quixote) at the San Diego Opera (8 Apr 2014)

My friend M and I went to San Diego Opera at the Civic Theater on Tuesday night to see a performance of Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte (Don Quixote), and were quite thrilled to see the place completely packed. There was hardly any seat left open even up on the balcony.

The staging is the same from the 2009 run and the title role is still spectacularly sung and acted by Italian basso Ferrucio Furlanetto, who brings just the sort of gravitas the character needs to draw sympathy rather than exasperation from the audience. If you can pick one artist to carry the show and make people want the opera company to survive the current abysmal mess that it is in, Furlanetto would be it. He is so at home with this role that he plays with it now rather than just coping.

Anke Vondung is quite a different Dulcinea than Denise Graves was in 2009. Not as much presence, perhaps, but quite fresher and more lyrical voice (at times a bit too 'lyrical' in the huge hall that is the Civic Theater, as she was easily overpowered by the orchestra). Eduardo Chama is a crowd pleaser as Sancho Panza and got the most (complimentary) whistles at the curtain call for keeping the show fun even to its tragic ending. I should say... I don't know why Simeon Esper is still singing a minor role like Juan. The dude has got a gorgeous voice (and quite a good look to boot)!

The chorus was a bit out of sync at the start but gelled up nicely thereafter.

I'm afraid I'm being a bit boring writing this up... It wasn't a care-free night at the opera like it used to be. People were taking photos and videos before and after the curtain and making jokes about how this could be the last opera they'd get to attend here in "America's Finest City"... and I got a bit depressed and also a bit conflicted about it. I'd like the opera to survive, of course, and for the many people I admire in the organization to get to keep their job. At the same time, I wouldn't like for it to survive with Ian and Ann Campbells heading it (and a real opera board shake up would be nice, too, starting with Karen Cohn, whose histrionics in print has really poisoned the pool of anyone that cares even a little bit about the San Diego Opera).

Typical staging at the SDO; traditional with period costume. This is from Tosca a few years back.
Mr Campbell had done a lot for the company, but his vision for it hasn't been jiving with what the popular audience wants for some time now. It's odd to read how him and Ms Cohn keep saying that 'grand opera' is the what people here wants, and yet at the same time they are both claiming that the chief reason for their attempt to shut down operation is 'declining audience attendance'. First off, the only works that could be confused with a 'grand opera' the SDO has staged since 2006 are Bizet's Carmen and Verdi' Aida. So, I suspect that when they say 'grand opera' here, what they really mean is ultra-traditional staging of staple opera as if they are museum pieces rather than living arts.

Just about the only minimalist staging of an opera at the SDO. Salome.
I know that I, for one, haven't been going to the opera much the last couple of years because the 'traditional staging all the time' thingy got pretty stuffy for me. The most entertaining show I had gone to there in recent years was Strauss' Salome... and that was due to the minimalist clutter-free staging as much as the stellar performance of the cast. And I was always dreaming of getting to, one day, see a low-coast minimalist conceptual Regietheater production like they do in Central Europe that makes people think about the story being told from the stage. A story that they can relate to despite of the opera's original setting. But there was no hope of that ever happening here while the likes of Mr Campbell and Ms Cohn are in charge. They want their 'grand opera' (bad use of the term notwithstanding) and they fault the audience for not liking their taste enough to pay to come to performances. For all they have done for the opera, the sudden manipulation of the opera board to force a shut down just because they couldn't make it work to their liking is selfish beyond belief, especially considering all the hard working loyal company staff and associated musicians who will soon be out of a job if the rest of the opera board can't come up with a way of saving the company.

And so, their dark cloud hang over the opera house and weighed down even Tuesday's good performance of Don Quixote... which I'll cite as the excuse for my lackluster not-much-of-a-review 'review'.. with apologies to the artists, who showed way more spunk than I do even though they are even more affected by this whole stinky thing!

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