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Not Go(un)od Enough

June 17, 2010

RacSec_CW.jpgThe San Francisco Opera's strategy these days seems to be to throw all its cash behind big name stars and put on a bunch of either heavy duty or crowd-pleasing operas in a very traditional manner.

I can see why General Director David Gockley is adopting this approach: in these economically tough times, bums on seats are what counts. You certainly don't want to give the predominantly aging, white and monied audience any reason not to splash out on those premium orchestra seats by rocking the boat with any minimalist set designs, experimental approaches to direction and singers who haven't already performed lead roles at the Met or La Scala.

Last night's performance of Gounod's Faust perfectly illustrated the strategy. But unlike the Girl of the Golden West which I could forgive for pandering to the audience because of its pure sense of fun, Faust came across mainly as a ponderous yawn fest. The production characterized SF Opera's "play its safe" modus operandi in the worst possible way.

Granted, the singing was terrific and the lead performers (big guns Stefano Secco, Patricia Racette and John Relyea) were magnetic to watch, at least for a while. But the dull mise-en-scene, stiff chorus numbers and clunking, ugly period costumes faux-crumbling European scenery of this Lyric Opera of Chicago production dragged Gounod's music down.

I really hope that the San Francisco Opera, which has had some innovative moments over the last decade, starts innovating again soon. Opera companies shouldn't have to choose between paying top dollar for big name stars and mounting productions that feel fresh and relevant.

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