VIVA TO THE DIVAS! – SF Opera Summer Season Concludes This Weekend

Ruth Ann Swenson to receive San Francisco Opera Medal,
Sunday afternoon, July 6th

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, by Gaetano Donizetti is the most beautiful of the composer’s works and among the most popular in Bel Canto repertoire. Whether in the original Italian or the revised version in French, its librettos work beautifully and each of the leading roles are fortified with the best of opportunities for demonstrating vocal prowess and grandeur. The final performance of this Summer 2008 presentation takes place this evening at 8:00 PM.

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LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR – Natalie Dessay. Production photos by Terrence McCarthy.

The story is a bare-bones rendering of Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel of 1819, THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR and extremely easy to follow. Outside the exchange of a bunch of documents – a forged letter about love betrayed and several under-duress signings of marriage certificates – along with a few wrist wrenchings, sword strikes and the eventual off-stage evisceration of the innocent bridegroom by “The Bride” (the now madly deranged Lucia), that’s about it in the action department. In other words, LUCIA is generally a celebration of The Voice: just stand here or there and sing; we will listen. Across the board, this particular cast is well-assembled around the leading lady. Coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay is recognized as a foremost interpreter of the role. Very much in the vein of another enduring and sensational French “Lucia”, LILY PONS, Ms. Dessay’s delicate voice is balanced by strong technique, measured energy, and fine musicianship. Overlooking a number of noticeable stops during the flow of her very soft ornamentations, Natalie Dessay’s vibrant tone can fill the spaciousness of the War Memorial Opera House and touch the hearts of her audience. Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, as the duped lover “Edgardo”, is a fine match for her vocally. Mr. Filianoti will recreate his role at Vienna State Opera and will appear in La Scala’s 2008–09 season in the title role of Don Carlo; the Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto) and Ruggero (La Rondine) at the Met; Nemorino at Royal Opera, Covent Garden; the title role of Faust at the Théâtre du Capitole; and a return to La Scala in the title role of Idomeneo.

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MATTHEW O’NEILL, Tenor (as Normanno) & GIUSEPPE FILIANOTI, Tenor (as Edgardo)

Baritone Gabriele Viviani, a native of Lucca, makes his U.S. debut in the role of Lucia’s brother, “Enrico Ashton”. His voice is beautiful, virile and commanding. Act One of LUCIA is dominated by “Enrico”. Mr. Viviani’s renditions of “Cruda, funesta smania” and “La pietade in suo favour” were vocally stunning and powerfully interpreted. He will return to San Francisco Opera in the fall as “Marcello” in LA BOHEME.

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GABRIELE VIVIANI, Baritone (as Enrico) & GAETANO DONIZETTI, Composer

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ANDREW BIDLACK (as Arturo), GABRIELE VIVIANI and NATALIE DESSAY

The Chorus (under the vocal direction of IAN ROBERTSON) – comprised of the remaining members of the Ashton family and assorted well-wishers from the nearby moors – work the usual and predictable variety of wedding toasts, hoorays, glad to see yas and cries of “Say it isn’t so!” and “Oh, ter-ror!” The score of LUCIA (here with all the Traditional cuts) is so perfectly structured that a well-staged concert version could satisfy most fans and newcomers. The set designs of this production are ridiculous, silly, embarrassing, out-dated, and falling apart. Notice the strings on the flying moon, the over-stretched painted canvas pulling away from endless sliding panels, the really-fake traveling trees, and the plastic flowers in the bridal bouquet. And what’s with whatever that border is on the edge of the heather on the hill box? Uh, a tad too high. Come the time for Lucy’s burial (sans coffin), with her corpse and stretcher fixed to the ground, some of the well-healed Subscribers in the first third of the Orchestra remarked that their last and long-sustained glimpse of the ill-fated Bride was but the mere tip of her nose. Thumbs down to this import from the TEATRO DEL MAGGIO MUSICALE. It is damaged goods and needs to be trashed.

ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, JULY 6TH
Soprano Ruth Ann Swenson will receive the San Francisco Opera Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Company to an artistic professional. The Opera Medal will be presented to Ms. Swenson on stage at the War Memorial Opera House following the final performance of ARIODANTE. “Ruth Ann Swenson has had a long and illustrious history with this Company, and we are thrilled to honor her significant contributions to San Francisco Opera and the performing arts in this way,” said David Gockley.

The San Francisco Opera Medal was established by Kurt Herbert Adler in 1970. Ruth Ann Swenson is the 35th recipient of the Opera Medal. Past honorees include Dorothy Kirsten (1970), Leontyne Price (1977), Joan Sutherland (1984), Marilyn Horne (1990), Plácido Domingo (1994), Charles Mackerras (1995), Frederica von Stade (1997), James Morris (2001), and Samuel Ramey (2003).

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RUTH ANN SWENSON, Soprano – Still looking good, as Ginevra, Princess of Scotland, betrothed to Ariodante.

In 2006 Swenson received an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she has taught master classes. Diagnosed with breast cancer that same year, she underwent successful treatment and made a triumphant return to the Metropolitan Opera stage in March 2007 as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust. The soprano has become an advocate for breast cancer research and joined forces with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to utilize her talents on their behalf. Ms. Swenson’s recent engagements include a concert performance of Maria Stuarda in Lyon and Paris, The Merry Widow at the Dallas Opera, and La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera. Swenson makes her 25th-anniversary appearance with San Francisco Opera in the Company premiere of ARIODANTE, George Frideric Handel’s rarely staged operatic treasure. Conducted by Houston Grand Opera Music Director Patrick Summers and directed by John Copley, the production also stars mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Ariodante), soprano Veronica Cangemi (Dalinda), contralto Sonia Prina (Polinesso), tenor Richard Croft (Lurcanio), and bass-baritone Eric Owens (King of Scotland).

Add these recordings to your Opera Library:
CD – LUCIE DE LAMMERMOOR. French libretto, featuring Natalie Dessay, Roberto Alagna, Ludovic Tezier, Nicolas Cavallier, and Marc Laho. Evelino Pido leads the Orchestre de l’Opera National de Lyon.
CD – LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. A 1972 San Francisco Opera production featuring Beverly Sills, Luciano Pavarotti, John Duykers, Raymond Wolansky, Simon Estes, and Gwendolyn Jones. Jesús López-Cobos leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
CD – I CARRY YOUR HEART. A collection of soprano favorites by Ruth Ann Swenson. Songs include Chere nuit, Si mes vers avaient des ailes, and Der Hirt auf dem Felsen.
CD – ARIODANTE. Handel’s exquisite opera from 1734 features Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.

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Lorena Feijóo – A Look at “Giselle” with Seán Martinfield
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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

See Related: FINE ARTS CRITIC SEAN MARTINFIELD

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