Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

ShowBoat
13 Jun 2014

Show Boat in San Francisco

To be uncomplimentary about the current production of Show Boat at San Francisco Opera will surely provoke a summons to appear before the House Un-American Activities Commission.

Show Boat in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Heidi Stober as Magnolia, Michael Todd Simpson as Ravenal [Photo by Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera]

 

Critical consensus seems to be that Jerome Kern’s Show Boat was acceptable in San Francisco’s 3200 seat War Memorial (and at Chicago’s 3500 seat Lyric Opera). This acceptance has come at a price — sophisticated electronic amplification of voices and the imposition of a scale of production that well exceeds the stature of the piece.

At the press conference before this San Francisco run of performances (the production has already been seen in Washington D.C. and Chicago) there were three primary rationales offered for presenting Show Boat on a grand opera stage.

The first rationale is that if operettas such as, and specifically mentioned, Die Fledermaus, La Périchole and Die Lustige Witwe are firmly established in the international operatic repertory, why not an American operetta (you must first of all consider Show Boat an operetta and that is a complicated rationale). Note that La Périchole has never been on the War Memorial stage, nor has any other Offenbach operetta. What small amount of dialogue that has occurred in SFO productions of Die Fledermaus and Die Lustige Witwe productions has used the natural acoustic of the opera house. No singing voices have been amplified.

The second rationale is that given the demise of American light opera companies it becomes the responsibility of American grand opera companies to preserve the American Musical Theater heritage. Note that most of the musicals that comprise this current popular theater heritage occurred before the advent of sound reinforcement.

The by now classic American musicals were staged in theaters adapted to acoustical voice projection (recall the focused nasal sound of spoken dialogue delivered in earlier times that projected easily to the last rows of a vaudeville “opera house”). If American grand opera companies feel compelled to step outside their mission of producing opera they should at least move from opera houses to appropriately sized theaters where acoustic voices are possible.

The third rationale is that Show Boat dared introduce racial issues into popular theater. The presence of this stain on our national history evidently elevates the importance of Show Boat, and imposes a moral duty on grand opera companies to remind us that we have sins to expiate. Maybe like American imperialism in Madama Butterfly, and narrow, what we now call Victorian mores like in La Traviata. Opera can make it painfully pleasurable to go through this cathartic process.

ShowBoat_SF2.png

Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie, Morris Robinson as Joe. Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Upon a bit of consideration however the racial issues addressed in Show Boat are more about problems white skinned people encounter than the inequalities encountered by black skinned people. The blacks in Show Boat contentedly remain the underclass throughout the story (white girl gets rich and may or may not take back her no-good husband) and these blacks seemed happy to represent little more than caricatures of what whites wanted blacks to be back in 1927. It was surprising to see contemporary black skinned people willing to accept this assignment.

Finally Show Boat was a sing along. The songs are immortal it seems, or at least inescapable to those of us who grew up in mid-century America — songs sort of like “Di Provenza il mar” and “Un bel dì” for the current opera crowd. However after we have hummed along with a Verdi and Puccini aria there remains so much more to invade our souls than a few more catchy songs.

Many contented critics did finally confess the triviality, read poverty of the story once it was revealed in the second act. Other contented critics admitted that the razzle dazzle of the production numbers was pale imitation of what should occur in a real Broadway show.

ShowBoat_SF3OT.png

Patricia Racette as Julie. Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

The San Francisco cast included opera soprano Heidi Stober who achieved a sufficient level of sparkle as Magnolia. Opera diva soprano Patricia Racette brought some presence but little tone to the role of Julie, opera baritone Michael Todd Simpson as Magnolia’s gambler husband Ravenal was highly miked making his voice sound like a musical comedy voice, a voice that seemed quite tired by end of the second act. Operatic bass Morris Robinson made appropriate bass sounds as Joe who sings “Old Man River” over and over again.

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Magnolia Hawks: Heidi Stober; Gaylord Ravenal: Michael Todd Simpson; Cap’n Andy Hawks: Bill Irwin; Julie la Verne: Patricia Racette; Queenie: Angela Renée Simpson; Party Ann Hawks: Harriet Harris; Ellie Mae Chipley: Kirsten Wyatt; Joe: Morris Robinson; Frank Schultz: John Bolton; Mrs. Obrien: Sharon McNight; et al. San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Conductor: John DeMain. Stage Director: Francesca Zambello; Set Designer: Peter Davison; Costume Designer: Paul Tazewell; Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough; Sound Designer: Tod Nixon; Choreographer: Michele Lynch. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, June 3, 2014

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):