Review: ‘Tosca’ at the San Francisco Opera (****1/2)

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

(****1/2)

Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Tosca” plays at the War Memorial Opera House on Nov 1st, 4th and 8th, 2014.) 

Taking her bow after the opening night performance of “Tosca” at San Francisco Opera, Lianna Haroutounian was radiant. She had just pulled off the double triumph of playing Tosca on stage for the first time and making her San Francisco Opera debut. It was a stellar occasion and the thunderous applause and shouts of brava that greeted her after the final curtain were well earned. This production of Tosca is richly satisfying, and Haroutounian owns it utterly.

This is a conservative yet polished production, intended as a recreation of Armando Agnini’s production that was the first opera performed at the War Memorial Opera House in 1932. Director Jose Maria Condemi has staged it twice previously.

Far from seeming old fashioned or clunky, it is fresh, straightforward and emotionally powerful. The sets are lovely in the old tradition, beautifully crafted, convincingly realistic, particularly the final moments staged on a rooftop overlooking Rome. The costumes are scrumptious, the lighting grandly theatrical, especially the starry night ironically giving rise to a beautiful sunrise, even as the story ends in inevitable tragedy.

Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi. Photo Credit: Corey Weaver.

Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi. Photo Credit: Corey Weaver.

All of which is lovely, but unimportant if the singing and acting do not also succeed. But there is nothing to worry about on that score. The performances, from leads to supernumeraries are elegantly acted, in a straightforward, realistic style unencumbered by melodramatic stereotyping. Lianna Haroutounian and Brian Jagde set the tone as the lovers, the passionate diva Floria Tosca and the flamboyant artist and revolutionary sympathizer Mario Cavaradossi. Both are superb actors, who relate beautifully to one another always in close relation, even when singing out towards the audience. Their performance of the magnificent duet, “Amaro sol per te” is about as good as Puccini gets, and that’s mighty good. And Haroutounian’s rendering of the opera’s most famous aria, Tosca’s lament for and defense of a life given to art, “Vissi d’Arte“, deserved the shouts of brava she received on opening night.

Mark Delavan as Scarpia and Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca.

Mark Delavan as Scarpia and Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca.

Mark Delevan’s Baron Scarpia is a fully realized, complex characterization rather than a cardboard villain. His rendition of “Va, Tosca” that accompanies the Te Deum at the close of Act I is entirely chilling.

Most importantly, this Tosca succeeds in transcending its melodramatic worlds to move the audience to tears in its final moments. The close of the tragedy is rendered with dignity, authenticity and true emotion, unalloyed with schmaltz. As it should be.

Admirers of Puccini will recall that “Tosca” is a “through composed” work, in which all of the elements — arias, recitatives and choruses — are woven into a single musical whole. Conductor Riccardo Frizza and Chrous Director Ian Robertson communicate this wholeness with impressive clarity. And Jose Condemi’s staging contributes to the effect, with continuous movement used to create ever changing stage pictures that tell eloquently support the story. His handling of the chorus, who move come and go with and about most of the action lends a realistic touch that is most admirable.

For further information, click here.

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“Tosca”, by Giacomo Puccini, liberetto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Conductor: Riccardo Frizza. Director: Jose Condemi. Production Designer: Thierry  Bosquet. Lighting Director: Gary Marder. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson.

Floria Tosca: Lianna Haroutounian. Mario Cavaradossi: Brian Jagde. Baron Scarpia: Mark Delavan. Cesare Angelotti: Scott Conner. Sacristan: Dale Travis. Spoletta: Josel Sorensen. Sciaronne: Efrain Solis. Jailer: Hadleigh Adams. 

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Review: ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ at The Emerald Tablet (**1/2)

October 30, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: **1/2)

Charles P. Stites will haunt your dreams with his one man performance of "The Island of Dr. Moreau".  Photo Credit: Austin Chronicle.

Charles P. Stites will haunt your nightmares with his one man performance of “The Island of Dr. Moreau”. Photo Credit: Austin Chronicle.

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ plays at The Emerald Tablet in North Beach 10/30 through 11/02, 2014.)

Lapo Guzzini, one of the event producers at North Beach’s “creativity salon” at The Emerald Tablet saw this production of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” at Austin’s Frontera Fest in 2013 and immediately asked actor Charles P. Stites if he would be interested in performing the piece in San Francisco.

It is easy to understand Guzzini’s enthusiasm. Wells’ story is deliciously engaging, mysterious and thrilling, full of spiritual and philosophical import, and dramatically effective. Charles P. Stites tells it well and is quite astonishing as he spins with impressive virtuosity through a series of carefully realized characterizations, from the erudite doctor himself, to his drunken assistant Montgomery, to the half-human, half-animal denizens of Moreau’s mad laboratory.

Without the benefit of sets, lighting design, costumes or other actors, Stites succeeds in making us experience a life boat adrift on the high seas, a shipboard infirmary, Moreau’s elegant island home, and a forest haunted by violence and madness.

Although the overall performance is a bit uneven, and would benefit from the ministrations of a skillful director, its high points are very high indeed.

The opening sequence set in a life boat adrift at sea, as three men listen to the terrified screams of those who remain on board a sinking ship, is truly terrifying. The horror of the sharks surrounding the raft,  the fear and hysteria of the men, and the spiritual crisis their situation creates are all convincingly portrayed. It is a scene not easily forgot, beautifully written and skillfully performed.

Stites’ script successfully compacts the story, which is easy to follow, and fully and intelligently realizes the philosophical and religious implications that Wells embedded into the text.

On opening night, the Giants won the series, and the theatre was surrounded by shouts, car horns, flashing fireworks and general pandemonium. None of this upset Mr. Stites’ concentration and, indeed, he seemed to revel in the excitement, allowing it into his performance. He is a very good actor indeed.

Overall, this is an impressive show that will haunt audiences long after Halloween.

For further information, click here.

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“The Island of Dr. Moreau”, adapted as a solo performance by Charles P. Stites, from the story by H. G. Wells.

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Review: ‘Mr. Nobody’s Spookeasy’ at the Great Star Theatre (*****)

October 30, 2014 Leave a comment

(Sean Taylor)

(Rating: *****)

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A man named Mr. Nobody is showcasing all of the fun we can have in hell. Remember the easy nightmarish fun of childhood? Well it currently resides in the eerie shadows of Chinatown.

This Spookeasy Mr. Nobody is running is a chill and a laugh away from staying up late in our fear. It’s the best date idea just short of that last room in the abandoned insane asylum. Except at the Spookeasy you get the fantastic ghosts, you get the adventure your adolescence always dreamed of and best of all you get to effortlessly go back. Go back to knocking on strangers doors and asking for a thrill.

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It’s a gem in the fog for any fan of theatrical fire and brimstone, as it thumbs its teeth at being taken too seriously. The set and props were old timey inventive, with an eye for resource in what’s left to play with. The show never slowed as performers juggled, contorted and danced into the depths of the night.

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Too often clad in costume we chase that perfect Halloween, only to be let down in some bar. Whereas this show, this night, seems to chase you, as most good horrors do.

Mr. Nobody’s Spookeasy at the Great Star theater is exactly what Halloween should be in a city full of adults nostalgic for their first nightmare, then the playful euphoria in waking up.

What is this thing? It’s five hours of entertainment including vaudeville acts. It’s a haunted theatre. It’s a costume ball and dance party.

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It was just a dream, it wasn’t just a dream, it was more than a dream.

So much fun!!!

For further information, click here.

North Beach’s The Emerald Tablet* celebrates Halloween with ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ — a one man performance by Austin-based actor Charles P. Stites

October 28, 2014 1 comment

(Charles Kruger)

Magic is often afoot at The Emerald Tablet.

Magic is often afoot at The Emerald Tablet.

In the midst of the many changes in San Francisco, in defiance of the infamous techie gentrification of our artistic neighborhoods, something amazing is happening at The Emerald Tablet in North Beach. And it keeps on keeping on.

In April of 2011, Lapo Guzzini and Della Heywood inaugurated one of San Francisco’s most interesting art houses in a barn like space on an alley in North Beach. In a very short time, The Emerald Tablet (a “creativity salon”) has become a significant cultural force in North Beach, taking its place along side big hitters such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore, the Trieste Cafe (where beat poets of international repute continue to hold court over coffee and notebooks) and Spec’s Bar, which may be the finest literary dive in the entire world.

Lapo Guzzini and Della Heywood, proprietors of The Emerald Tablet, continue a tradition of artistic excellence in North Beach.

Lapo Guzzini and Della Heywood, proprietors of The Emerald Tablet, continue a tradition of artistic excellence in North Beach with a remarkable “creativity salon”.

The variety and excellence of programming at this truly magical venue is quite simply mind boggling. Lapo and Della (and more recently on-board colleague, Evan Karp) have curated dozens of art exhibits, poetry readings, musical performances, new cinema, and original theatre as well as hosting a variety of workshops and seminars.

The performers and artists who have participated in Emerald Tablet events range from emerging local talent to some of the most dynamic thinkers and creators of the past century. In this intimate venue, audiences have interacted with poets such as the late Amiri Baraka, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Hirschman, ruth weiss and Diane di Prima, among many others. In the field of consciousness, the EmTab has hosted both Ralph Metzner and Dennis McKenna. Art exhibits have included work by artists Lawrence Ferlinghetti (what doesn’t the man do?), Agneta Falk and most recently a major retrospective of modernist master William Reid (a collaborator of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera) spanning seventy years of painting, drawing, illustration and sculpture.

And if that isn’t enough, these intrepid entrepreneurial impressarios are also producing original theatrical events. In early days, they hosted a remarkable production of ‘Alice Down the Rwong Wrabbit Whole’, an original work by actresses Karen Anne Light and Edna Barrón. More recently, they hosted the peculiar and intriguing work of Alexandra Tatarsky in “Sign Felt!” Devotees of popular culture oddities will recognize this weird and literate comedian as the young lady who briefly convinced a large public that she was the hitherto unknown daughter of the late Andy Kaufman, conceived (of course) after his death, which she claimed was faked. The EmTab also simultaneously offered the world premiere of much-admired local performance artist Karen Penley’s “Feral Girl”.

Alexandra Tatarsky and Karen Penley are two of the high original performance artists who have been featured at The Emerald Tablet.

Alexandra Tatarsky and Karen Penley are two of the highly original performance artists who have been featured at The Emerald Tablet.

All of which is to say, these folks have an eye for the exceptional. Which brings us to ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, a one man interpretation of the H. G. Wells classic by Austin-based actor Charles P. Stites. While traveling in Texas, Lapo attended Austin’s famous FronteraFest where he saw Mr. Stites’ performance and immediately  began arrangements to bring the show to San Francisco.

Charles P. Sites (left) brings H. G. Wells' (right) disturbing "Island of Dr. Moreau' to bloody life.

Charles P. Sites (left) brings H. G. Wells’ (right) disturbing “Island of Dr. Moreau” to bloody life.

And now, just in time for Halloween, ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ has landed at The Emerald Tablet for a short run from October 29th through November 2nd. The reviewer for the Austin Chronicle said that Stites’ performs H. G. Well’s classic tale “so well that it just about wounds you.”

Given this venue’s history of promoting highly original artists in this exceptional space, it is likely that “Dr. Moreau” could be the highlight of this year’s Halloween theatricals.

If you appreciate fine acting, great literature, and have a taste for the bizarre, this should be a fine opportunity to check out one of San Francisco’s most interesting institutions.

For further information, click here.

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Review: World Premiere of ‘Recipe’ by Michael Gene Sullivan at Central Works (***)

October 19, 2014 Leave a comment

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ***)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Recipe” plays at Central Works in The Berkeley City Club October 18 through November 23, 2014.)

Michael Gene Sullivan is resident playwright for the beloved San Francisco Mime Troupe, whose politically driven, unabashedly goofy agit-prop theatricals have been a Bay Area tradition since 1959 — an astonishing run of more than half a century, which has been recognized by a special Tony Award.

As expected, “Recipe” is solidly within this tradition. That means it is often silly, intentionally over-acted, simplistic in its politics, goofy in its jokes, sentimental in its nostalgia for 1970s counter culture, and full of heart and commitment. In short, fans of the Mime Troupe will not be disappointed. Others may find things a bit overwrought, but will laugh nonetheless.

The Morning Glory Baking Circle for Revolutionary Self Defense is a collective of eccentric old lady activists, nostalgic for the halcyon days of the 1970s counter culture (and before). Gifted bakers all, they have been raising money for revolutionary causes via bake sales for several years. Astonishingly, they have presently accumulated a surprising sum (over $60,000) which they have decided to send, illegally, to Cuba and this has caught the attention of a local radio journalist who comes to a meeting to conduct an interview. When it turns out that these old biddies might not be as irrelevant as they seem, all hell breaks loose in the Baking Circle.

Velina Brown, as Diane, the radio reporter, has a close encounter with revolutionary baked goods in "Recipe" at Central Works. Photo Credit: Jim Norrena.

Velina Brown, as Diane, the radio reporter, has a close encounter with revolutionary baked goods in “Recipe” at Central Works. Photo Credit: Jim Norrena.

Playwright Sullivan has created an ensemble of characters suitable for actresses of a certain age, and his troupe of experienced players have a lot of fun bringing them to life. The featured players include bay area stalwarts Phoebe Moyer and Lynne Soffer as an elderly lesbian couple, one of whom harbors a dangerous secret. These two experienced actresses know exactly when to play for a laugh, and when to get serious, making the most of every line. Jan Zvaifler seems to channel Diane Keaton at her most vague as the addled, hesitant, good hearted Janice. Tamar Cohn all but steals the show as the fiesty revolutionary Ruth whose long experience in the leftist trenches inform her belief that politics matter, even among little old ladies in a baking circle. Rounding out the cast is Velina Brown as Diane, the radio reporter with an unexpected secret identity. Brown is the co-artistic director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and her flamboyant expertise with this type of material is fully on display.

As one expects from Mr. Sullivan, there is a serious theme underlying the silliness and before the evening is complete, some real political issues are raised. What if, Mr. Sullivan asks, there really is a fascist conspiracy in the United States of America, one that is so paranoid and determined to control us that even little old ladies baking cookies are on the radar?

Gary Graves has directed “Recipe” with a firm hand, moving the story along, hitting the jokes, and turning serious as needed.

If this is your cup of tea (or slice of cobbler), you’ll have a good time.

For further information, click here.

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“Recipe”, a new play by Michael Gene Sullivan, produced by Central Works. Director: Gary Graves. Costumes: Tammy Berlin. Lights: Gary Graves. Sound: Gregory Scharpen. 

Lillian: Phoebe Moyer. Helen: Lynne Soffer. Janice: Jan Zvaifler. Diane: Velina Brown. Ruth: Tamar Cohn.

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Review: ‘Partenope’ at San Francisco Opera (***)

October 18, 2014 Leave a comment
SF Opera presents a surrealist-inspired production of Handel's baroque opera, "Partenope". Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

SF Opera presents a surrealist-inspired production of Handel’s baroque opera, “Partenope”. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

(Hugh Behm-Steinberg and Mary Behm-Steinberg)

(Rating: ***)

(“Partenope” plays at the War Memorial Opera House on October 18, 21, 24, 30 and November 2, 2014.)

More than many works, “Partenope” is a bit difficult to review because, by its very nature, it is emotionally inaccessible. You can’t easily care about any of the characters because Baroque opera lacks the narrative structure typical of late 18th century to 20th century operas with which contemporary audiences are more familiar. Rather, Baroque operas, of which “Partenope” is both example and critique, are mostly series of arias designed to show off the vocal skills of the performers while only loosely relating a story.

In Handel’s time, operas weren’t meant to be viewed silently in the dark: they were social events, more akin to seeing a cabaret show or a live band at a dance club (not to mention what might go on in a private, curtained box on the upper levels of the theatre). In such a context, a four hour long opera, where the performers mostly just stand and sing, would be perfectly acceptable. Because such an approach would never work in a contemporary performance, modern stagings of Baroque operas offer a blank slate: the music is more or less the same, but everything else is up for grabs.

“Partenope” has no chorus, no ballet, and precious little recitative. One person sings, then another person sings.

This particular production of “Partenope” employs lavish stage sets and fills much of the open space around and between the arias with physical comedy. While the story, such as it is, could be set in any time or place, the choice of a Dadaist/Surrealist set of references and a 1930’s monochromatic modernist salon reasserts the emotional inaccessibility of the work, as if the staging was meant to render “Partenope” as dream, with archetypes, rather than real people, as characters.

Danielle de Niese as Partenope, Philippe Sly as Ormonte, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Armindo, David Daniels as Arsace and Daniela Mack as Rosmira in SF Opera's production of Handel's "Partenope". Photo Credit: Cory Weaver

Danielle de Niese as Partenope, Philippe Sly as Ormonte, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Armindo, David Daniels as Arsace and Daniela Mack as Rosmira in SF Opera’s production of Handel’s “Partenope”. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

The story line is both simple and needlessly complex. Partenope, Queen of Naples, is being courted by three male caricatures (manly Arsace, sensitive Armindo, and brutish Emilio) when, unexpectedly, a fourth, Eurimene, turns up. Eurimene, however, is Rosmira in disguise. Having been jilted by Arsace, she is seeking revenge by upending his relationship with Partenope. Arsace still loves Rosmira as well as Partenope, and is torn. Eurimene/Rosmira encourages Armindo to openly declare his feelings for Partenope so that she can have Arsace for herself. And Emilio, resembling a cross between Man Ray and Buster Keaton, declares war. That’s act one.

Each act’s set is a different kind of space whose alteration mimics the dreamlike progression of the characters through the plot. The enormous pristine white wall in act one is grafittied with the suggestion of Partenope’s body. The plot of act three could be summed up by the completion of a giant photo collage of Rosmira’s body, whose true gender, revealed at the end, sorts out the various entanglements as arrestingly as the popping of a very lovely soap bubble.

By the end of the opera, one has a sense of each of the characters through the variety of arias they sing expressing various aspects of their feelings. We care about them because they mirror our own memories and feelings of love and jealousy.

The production features some standout musical performances, particularly Danelle de Niese as Partenope, Daniela Mack as Rosmira, and Alek Shrader as Emilio. All of them perform their vocal acrobatics with skill and elegance. Countertenors David Danels (Arsace) and Anthony Roth Costanzo (Armindo) both sing roles originally meant for castrati, and Daniels seems to have problems projecting at several points in the show. Costanzo performs physical comedy with extraordinary grace, singing while falling down stairs, hanging from a stairwell, and dancing with a rebellious hat, a reference to Hans Richter’s 1927 Dadaist film “Ghosts Before Breakfast“. Shrader as Emilio is also physically brilliant with his gymnastics in a public restroom and his hand shadows over Man Ray projections on the rear wall. Some of the stage business leans too heavily on postmodernist clichés, such as having characters at various points walk very slowly across the stage for no apparent reason other than to give them something to do. And the boob jokes in act three are juvenile at best.

The music and visuals alternately resound and dissipate as the characters declare their feelings, become frustrated, rewarded and released.

If one is looking for a concise, realistic plot, this opera will seem disappointing. Instead, “Partenope” offers a dreamlike, meandering experience, an evening spent listening to beautiful arias on the nature of love and desire.

For further information, click here.

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“Partenope”, music by George Frederic Handel, libretto by Anonymous. Production originally created by English National Opera and Opera Australia. Director: Christopher Alden. Conductor: Julian Wachner. Set Designer: Andrew Lieberman. Costume Designer: Jon Morrell. Lighting Designer: Adam Silverman. Associate Lighting Designer: Gary Marder.

Partenope: Danielle De Niese. Rosmira: Daniela Mack. Arsace: David Daniels. Emilio: Alek Shrader. Armindo: Anthony Roth Costanzo. Ormonte: Philippe Sly.

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Review: ‘A Masked Ball’ at San Francisco Opera (*****)

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

(Candy Shue)

(Rating: ****)

Julianna Di Giacomo as Amelia and Ramon Vargas Gustavus III in SF Opera's production of Verdi's "A Masked Ball". Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

Julianna Di Giacomo as Amelia and Ramon Vargas Gustavus III in SF Opera’s production of Verdi’s “A Masked Ball”. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

(“A Masked Ball” plays at The War Memorial Opera House on October 10th, 13th, 16th, and 22nd, 2014.)

The twists and turns of plot in Guiseppe Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” are as convoluted and engaging as a Saturday matinee melodrama. Antonio Somma’s libretto is inspired by the historical assassination of King Gustav III of Switzerland, in 1792, less than fifty years before the opera’s premiere.

Gustav III.

Gustav III.

In the early years of the 19th century, the subject of political assassination of kings was rather touchy and the opera ran afoul of the censors before it even opened. Indeed, in its premiere performance, all the characters had to be renamed and the locale reset (absurdly) to Boston, Massachusetts. But its effective dramatic sweep could not be denied and it was an immediate success.

Verdi purposefully chose stories he believed would capture the audience’s attention completely; he said he wanted his work to be “original, interesting  . . . and passionate; passions above them all!”

Guiseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi

And passionate “A Masked Ball” is. We are introduced to King Gustavus III of Sweden, who believes that political power must be used to benefit the people, or it cannot be called “just.” In return, he is beloved by his people, and Gustavus believes that their goodwill will protect him, even as his close friend and advisor, Count Anckarström, warns that enemies within the court are plotting to assassinate him.

Another kind of trouble is lurking as well. As Gustavus goes about his royal duties with good cheer, he sings that “praise can sustain my glory, but not my heart.” He has been harboring a secret love for Amelia, Anckarström’s beautiful wife. When his page brings in the guest list for the royal masquerade ball, Gustavus is overjoyed to find her name.

Gustavus is a man of the people, interested in justice, but he is also cavalier and heedless, a man who falls in love with his friend’s wife against his own better judgment. Which side of the king will prevail—the light or the dark?

The San Francisco Opera production captures the themes of light and darkness in every aspect. The sets are invitingly atmospheric, starting with the light-filled castle court and its architecture reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe, with tall upright columns bracing either side of the stage. The witch Ulrica lives in a dark haunt worthy of a Dickens novel, all dim and dusty, with clever lighting (by designer Gary Marder) that makes the sorceress’s shadow appear twice as large as any of her visitors who come to beg for her advice, including the king.

Nicola Luisotti conducts the orchestra in a lively performance of Verdi’s score that completely supports Jose Maria Condemi’s direction, creating a musical chiaroscuro that combines the elements of lightness in the dark scenes and vice versa. The effect of Verdi’s music is to perfectly mirror the contradictions within his characters, while adding a dash of humor in just the right places.

The singers give ovation-worthy performances, especially Julianna Di Giacomo making her SF Opera debut as Amelia. Her voice trembles with fear and desperation as she begs Ulrica to help her quench the fire in her heart, but her soprano soars with passion as Gustavus begs her to favor him with her love.

Ramón Vargas‘s tenor starts out a bit tentatively as King Gustavus, but grows into the role as the opera progresses. In the early scenes, his king is a lightweight and rather self-satisfied, but as his passion grows and he comes to understand the consequences of his unchecked actions, his voice also grows in resonance and emotional depth. In the end, he earns his right to his royal reputation as an enlightened ruler.

Brian Mulligan performs the part of Anckarström very well, going from devoted friend to betrayed husband bent on revenge. His baritone is at first stronger than the king’s voice, indicating his steadfastness, but that strength is turned into anguish and anger the moment he realizes what has transpired between his wife and friend. (Thomas Hampson will sing the role for the rest of the run except 10/22, when Mulligan will return for the last night.)

Soprano Heidi Stober brings fun to the trouser part of Oscar the page, and Dolora Zajick is deliciously wicked as the witch, Ulrica. Stober’s energy lights up the stage throughout the evening, while Zajick makes the most of her single fortune-telling scene. In the roles of assassins, Samuele and Tommaso, Christian Van Horn and Scott Conner provide both menace and comic relief.

“A Masked Ball” presents a tale where all of the characters are on the giving and receiving ends of love, betrayal, duty, and remorse, mercy, and redemption. Everyone has felt these emotions in their lives and the excellence of the SF Opera’s production makes it a pleasure to experience them again.

For further information, click here.

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 “A Masked Ball” , music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Somma. Produced by the San Francisco Opera. Director: Jose Maria Condemi. Musical Direction: Nicola Luisotti. Choreography: Lawrence Pech. Lighting Design: Gary Marder. Costume Design: John Conklin. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson.

Amelia: Julianna Di Giacomo. Oscar: Heidi Stober. Gustavus III: Ramón Vargas. Count Anckarström: Thomas Hampson/Brian Mulligan. Ulrica: Dolora Zajick. Count Horn/Samuele: Christian Van Horn. Count Ribbing/Tommaso: Scott Conner. Christian: Efrain Solís. Judge: A.J. Glueckert. Amelia’s Servant: Christopher Jackson.

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