It’s fall and that means Opera Season is upon us. Thanks to my new friend “Derek” I will once again be attending San Francisco Opera. Earlier this year Derek repeatedly phoned to make certain that I was not remiss in renewing my subscription. He did not say so much during our numerous conversations, but I sensed in his voice that Derek bore many burdens. His pathos increased with each call. Finally I could no longer bear his crescendoing sorrow and I renewed. I have not heard from Derek since and I am some what concerned. But I suspect he is taking a long needed break and I will hear from him as summer comes upon us.
My seats this year are still in the highest altitudes but more centered and further back than in the past. Any further back in the War Memorial Opera House and I would be entombed in a pillar. Which brings me to the question of what are good seats in the War Memorial Opera House?
I am very impressed with the sound from my seat. While being in the center of a row means I should take care to arrive early to minimize the number of laps I crawl over while taking my seat, the benefit of being so centered is volume and clarity of sound. Unless sung upstage (i.e., I am staring at the singer’s knees), voices are clear and ringing. When performed stage left, it sounds like I am sitting directly before the singers.
And the orchestra has never sounded better. When leaning forward and looking through binoculars, I find myself gazing into the eyes and embouchures of the flutists. The three of them (Julie McKenzie, Patty Farrell, and Stephanie McNab) have played to perfection during Rigoletto (Verdi) and The Capulets and the Montagues (Bellini). It never ceases to impress me how much discipline and thoughtfulness goes into each performance. In addition to the change of music and style, the musicians also adapt to the different cast (or casts in the case of Rigoletto) for each opera. Rigoletto is a standard piece with well-known arias and flute moments, but the Capulets and the Montagues is rarely performed and the first I had heard of it. Both give the flutes and workout. Bellini has the flute play unions with sopranos and duets with clarinet and horn throughout the opera. So while the flute doesn’t have the stand and deliver passages of Verdi, Bellini wrote for it nerve wracking, spine-tingling, full-exposure moments. All this while murder, intrigue, frolicking, and basin-climbing happens onstage.
I am looking forward to Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick tonight. In preparation I borrowed and renewed (three times) the Melville novel. I am about three-quarters of the way though the book and though I know how to kill, slaughter, and butcher a whale, not to mention how to cook up a whale steak (the answer is “raw”), I still haven’t met The Notorious M-D. himself. I have, however, read enough to know that this is not a novel of twenty-first century marine mammal sensitivities. I will have to grit my teeth against squeamishness and learn how the story ends tonight. And perhaps I will also discover the answer to the age old question of how many flutists can fit into the mouth of a whale.