OPERA NEWS - Attila (6/12/12), The Magic Flute (6/13/12)
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In Review > North America

Attila (6/12/12), The Magic Flute (6/13/12)

San Francisco Opera

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San Francisco Opera’s Magic Flute, with Stober and Shrader as Pamina and Tamino
© Cory Weaver 2012
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Heroic stature: Furlanetto as Attila at SFO
© Cory Weaver 2012

Attila may not be top-drawer Verdi, but San Francisco’s revival (seen June 12) offered manifold pleasures, both onstage and in the pit. With music director Nicola Luisotti leading a fervent orchestral performance, Ferruccio Furlanetto donned the mantle of the Hun king, with impressive results. Imparting firm, resonant tone, forceful projection and heroic stature to the role, the Italian bass created a rounded portrait that melded menace, pathos and grandeur.

The cast featured three company debuts. Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia Garcia introduced an Odabella of gleaming chest tones and edgy top notes. Tenor Diego Torre, after an unsteady start, was an impassioned Foresto. The third debutant, tenor Nathaniel Peake, made a suave, sympathetic Uldino. Baritone Quinn Kelsey offered an ardent, expansive Ezio. Samuel Ramey — San Francisco’s 1991 Attila — lent gravitas to the pivotal role of Pope Leo I. Ian Robertson’s chorus delivered with admirable intensity.

Gabriele Lavia’s production, introduced at La Scala last year, opened in the fifth century. Alessandro Camera’s set featured a crumbling stone stairway, layered with foliage or furniture for camp scenes and interiors. Lavia interpolated gratuitous nineteenth- and twentieth-century touches; the Act II banquet unfolded in an abandoned opera house; Act III took place in a cinema, with the 1954 sword-and-sandal epic Sign of the Pagan, starring Jack Palance as Attila, running onscreen. Yet Verdi’s score emerged untrammeled. Luisotti tore into the prelude, supported the singers well and urged the orchestra to throb with conviction and blossom in episodes of affecting beauty.

The biggest ovation on opening night of San Francisco Opera’s The Magic Flute (seen June 13) was for Jun Kaneko. The Nagoya-born, Omaha-based painter, sculptor and, since 2007, opera designer enveloped the company’s new English-language version of Mozart’s evergreen singspiel in a brightly colored, inventive milieu, striking an artful balance between the opera’s discrete threads of low comedy and lofty transcendence. Kaneko’s production — co-owned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Opera Carolina and directed in San Francisco by Harry Silverstein — employed software-generated projections to create a kinetic series of backdrops. The initial projections featured crayon colors and textures that suggested rice paper, skeins of yarn, stone facades and venetian blinds; as the evening progressed, a more subtle palette emerged, and under Paul Pyant’s lighting, myriad settings were created. Walls opened and closed as needed. Sarastro’s Temple of Light was a Japanese palace. Kaneko’s costumes blended science-fiction pop with samurai chic — Papageno resembled an avian Rubik’s cube, while Sarastro seemed to have stepped out of a production of The Mikado — and his animals, from the two-headed dragon to a half-dozen spherical, wing-flapping Papageno chicks, exuded charm. 

The English translation, by SFO general director David Gockley, was well crafted, musically intelligent and dotted with contemporary language in the spoken dialogue (“An odd duck,” Tamino called Papageno, who fired back with “Boy Toy”). It proved most successful in the comic scenes; nobility and emotional depth were in shorter supply.

The cast’s standout was soprano Heidi Stober, whose Pamina combined elegance and effortless Mozartean line, capped by a beautifully shaped “Ach, ich fühl’s.” Baritone Nathan Gunn projected well but remained a sketchy Papageno — antic one moment, hangdog the next. After pleading indisposition, Alek Shrader offered a sturdy Tamino somewhat lacking in the requisite warmth. Albina Shagimuratova, in her San Francisco debut, poured forth the Queen of the Night’s high Fs with laser control. Bass Kristin Sigmundsson had an off night marked by gravelly vocalism and a distinct wobble, and Greg Fedderly mugged excessively as Monostatos. David Pittsinger offered a solid, attractively sung Speaker. Nadine Sierra’s vivacious Papagena shone, and Melody Moore’s First Lady was the bright light among her colleagues, Lauren McNeese and Renée Tatum.

Conductor Rory Macdonald made a dynamic company debut, supplying much-needed momentum and lilting elegance in the sustained lines. The young Scot seems destined for a stellar career. But this evening’s star was Kaneko. spacer 


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