Sunday, June 05, 2005


Life is good. I went to the Saturday matinee of Samson and Delilah that closed the season of the Washington National Opera to see Olga Borodina’s Delilah once again. I have seen Olga’s performance in this role three times, three different productions, and it’s interesting that it changes. In New York it was subdued. In San Francisco it was intensely sexual and seductive. In Washington it was angry and evil. So how does that work? I can speculate that the passage of time gives her increased self-confidence and that if she continues in this direction she will dominate the action in a truly frightening way. Her voice and her physical presence are huge.

The tenor, Carl Tanner, was also quite nice. Someone came out between the second and third acts to tell us he had had an asthma attack. This lent an atmosphere of reality to his exhaustion in Act III.

And no, I haven’t been flying around after Olga, too. That is reserved for only one person. I lived in SF when I saw it there, and now I live near DC. New York was on video. After reading about Romeo et Juliette in LA with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon, I could add people to the list.

I am accustomed to hearing opera in the San Francisco Opera house, a place with notoriously mediocre acoustics. Now when I am in other places, I start to wonder if I am hearing the effects of microphones. The singers have so much more presence than I am used to that everything begins to seem bogus. Perhaps it’s just me.

The production was by Giancarlo del Monaco, the son of Mario del Monaco. The first year I worked in the Ulmer Theater he was the Intendant. General manager. He was in his black period when all his productions were black on black. We did a black on black La Forza del Destino set in the Spanish civil war. Leonora wore a black nurse’s uniform with a huge white cross. The governing board warned him that if he did one more black on black production, he was out. So naturally, he did and he was. He went on to bigger and better things. He also went on to other colors. This Samson was full of beautiful blues, reds and browns.

He lived in a different dimension from the rest of us. He came and went with his red-haired wife and two miniature dogs. His flamboyant personality spilled out in every context. He was accustomed to opera in the first tier and was less than thrilled with the quality of the performers he was forced to direct in this third tier house. And he told us. He was multi-lingual and insulted each in his native tongue. I was told that I walked like someone crossing a barnyard. I don’t deny it.

One tenor stood calmly on the stage while Giancarlo ranted and wrote down everything he said. One phrase that has stuck in my memory is “ausgeleiende Stimmbaende.” (stretched out vocal cords). He wrote everything down and sued. When the case came to trial the following year, every insult was read out in court and reported in the newspapers. And read aloud in the cantina. Such fun! Giancarlo was forced to apologize, but paid no money. The judge felt that artists sometimes get carried away.

He works now in the environment that he sought. I have seen several of his productions since then, and they are workable and sensible. Faint praise.

So why not forget that Samson and Dalilah is Biblical and do it as a series of Klimt paintings? The sexiest painter and the sexiest opera.

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