Give Sandlin Some Opera Glasses | Letters | Chicago Reader

Give Sandlin Some Opera Glasses 

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Respectful ("Strong Beginnings," October 22)? Perhaps you need to start going to the series that real opera lovers frequent. Tuesday night, October 26, was not a "respectful" crowd. We were giddy and amazed. As best I can remember, Falstaff was last done 11 years ago with a first-class cast including Marilyn Horne. But that performance failed to convince me that Verdi's maitre d'oeuvre was worthy of that name.

How anyone could not have been overwhelmed by the greatest gathering of ten principal voices is beyond me. They were appropriately thespian, funny, attractive, outrageous, sexy, beautiful, cunning, plaintive, and oh, George Will, where is thy thesaurus.

Conductor Pappano guided the orchestra through Verdi's most complex and challenging score in a manner he has never accomplished before at Lyric. Musically, this has got to be the best ever. Theatrically, it was without peer. The direction rivaled Frank Galati's A View From the Bridge. And the sets were unusual, yet pleasing. Costuming was superb, capped by the all-red outfit (including an external red cup by Sir John) that eclipsed that man-pleasing, period bodice of Alice Ford; score one for sex and another one for comedy.

After having been wowed by Bolcom (I saw them in the reverse order), I was stunned by the excellence of the octogenarian Verdi. What a departure from the oompah of the rest of his canon. Methinks Falstaff has not been performed very much because there has never been a time in the history of opera that one could assemble ten great musician-actors to pull it off. There is nothing worse than bad Wagner; weak Falstaff is a bore.

As for the set, who cares what it is supposed to be. It should be functional and unobtrusive, and when one can get it, pleasing to the eye. For lagniappe, we got unique. It is unfortunate that Lee Sandlin is so caught up in the logic of the performance. Hey, this is opera! If you need logic, go to a lecture. This is opera, the world's most outrageous art form. Relax, listen to the music, and enjoy.

Now I grow angry. The cast was pretty good? Where have you been taking in opera? I need to get a ticket to there immediately. Inva Mula "charming"? This is one of the best voices to come along in decades. Having been unimpressed with Pappano in previous Lyric appearances, I have not bothered to listen to his recorded work. Why compare recordings with live performance? If you want perfection, don't go to live performances. There are always gaffes that cannot be rerecorded. To make such a comparison is goofy.

Sandlin states that no one is likely to complain about the "production" of View, and then he goes on to complain. Silliest complaint is that it is not American enough. Hey Sandlin, it's about Italian immigrants who have barely been assimilated into America. The music itself, perhaps too subtly for Sandlin, is as diverse as one could want, or tolerate. One might complain about the homage to European composers, if anything.

How one could praise the entire cast and criticize Catherine Malfitano as "strident" without mentioning the weakest link in the cast (Juliana Rambaldi) both from an acting and musical standpoint is a mystery. I have chosen to give both a musical pass due to the nature of the composition Bolcom provided the sopranos. Malfitano's role is so minuscule that it is hardly worth a mention and surely should not reflect in any significant degree on the overall performance.

As for the faint complaint about the use of Greek chorus/narrator, I would refer Sandlin to the unfortunate usurpation of Amistad by "the story." It was by the insistence upon telling "the story" that Davis the composer was sabotaged by Davis the storyteller. This, perhaps, was the perfect way to avoid what is the greatest sin of modern opera: the almost maniacal drive to tell, tell, tell, and forget the poetry employed by the European masters of opera. Besides, the chorus was great in View, and so was Timothy Nolen as the storyteller, Alfieri, Esquire.

At the end of the article I began to wonder how it is that Sandlin could rate both performances as terrific and then proceed to criticize everything except Pappano and Terfel. This is a most schizoid review if I have ever seen one.

Hank Browne

Round Lake

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