Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur.
(Without the freedom to criticize, there is no true praise.)
—Le Mariage de Figaro by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
For the third year in a row, I present the Figaro Awards. All operas seen at the San Francisco Opera in 2013, both in the summer (Les Contes d’Hoffmann, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Così fan tutte) and in the fall (Mefistofele, Dolores Claiborne, Falstaff, Der fliegende Holländer, and Il barbiere di Siviglia) are eligible for these beauties.
Production I would most readily see again: Il barbiere di Siviglia. This just narrowly edged out Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Musically, both have fabulous melodies that leave you humming; however, while I didn’t always love the staging and costume choices for Il barbiere, its humor and sharpness triumphed over what is ultimately a too-long Hoffmann. Il barbiere was great fun, with an enthusiastic and talented cast that included Lucas Meachem as Figaro, Isabel Leonard as Rosina, Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva, Alessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo, Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio, Catherine Cook as Berta, and A.J. Glueckert as Ambrogio.
Best ensemble: Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Who wasn’t perfect in this? From those who sang in all four segments (Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann, Angela Brower as The Muse/Nicklausse, Steven Cole as multiple servants, and Christian Van Horn as the devil in various guises) to Hoffmann’s great loves (Hye Jung Lee as Olympia, Natalie Dessay as Antonia, and Irene Roberts as Giuletta) to those who made the most of smaller parts such as Thomas Glenn as Spalanzani. They all made me love this opera.
Favorite operagoing experience: Live tweeting the final dress rehearsal of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Not only was it enjoyable, but I got to experience box seats and meet a great group of opera fans, including the delightful @JamesJetsOften and @revgirrl.
Favorite production I didn’t see: Petrika Ionesco’s Der fliegende Holländer. Ionesco did the brilliant production design for 2010’s Cyrano de Bergerac, which remains an SFO set design highpoint for me. I wish we had seen his vision for The Flying Dutchman since I enjoyed the opera itself more than I thought I would and it could have easily competed for favorite of the season with Il barbiere di Siviglia and Les Contes d’Hoffmann.
Most “San Francisco” production: Mefistofele. As befitting a San Francisco Opera opening night gala, this production was an incredible display of staging and costume. Those on stage cavorted in a riot of color or undress fit for any Folsom Street Fair or Bay to Breakers, first as heavenly angels, then as a carnival crowd, and finally as revelers at a Witches’ Sabbath.
Most cinematic production: Dolores Claiborne. The staging and set of designer Allen Moyer and director James Robinson were unique, interesting, and most importantly, brilliantly served this dramatic and compelling story.
Best production design (set and costumes): Così fan tutte. Despite being disappointed with this production overall, I really liked the set and costumes of Robert Perdziola. They reminded me of Jonathan Miller’s dreaded Mikado, but here that seaside resort look really worked.
Best costumes (runner-up): Falstaff. I didn’t like the set of Falstaff at all, but Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s colorful costumes, especially for the eponymous lead, were glorious.
MVP of the season: Patricia Racette, who sang multiple roles in Mefistofele and swept in at the last minute to replace the lead in Dolores Claiborne. She will also appear as the lead in Showboat and Madama Butterfly next summer.
MVP of the season (runner-up): Ian Robertson, SFO chorus director. The depth of the chorus really stood out to me this season, especially in Mefistofele and Der fliegende Holländer.
Favorite choral number: The maids (Nikki Einfeld, Jacqueline Piccolino, Marina Harris, Laura Krumm, and Renée Rapier) complaining about their employer in Dolores Claiborne.
Outstanding performance (orchestra): Così fan tutte, especially Nicola Luisotti and Giuseppe Finzi on the fortepiano and harpsichord accompaniment for the recitatives and Thalia Moore on cello. (Runner-up: Kay Stern’s solo on violin in Act III of Les Contes d’Hoffmann.)
Outstanding performance (male): Bryn Terfel as Falstaff in Falstaff
Outstanding performance (female): Sasha Cooke as Mary Magdalene in The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Outstanding performance (doll): Hye Jung Lee as Olympia singing “Les oiseaux dans la charmille” in Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Outstanding performance (devil): Wayne Tigges as the seductively creepy Joe St. George in Dolores Claiborne
Outstanding performance (French accent): Thomas Glenn as Spalanzani in Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Adler Fellow of the year (tie): Philippe Sly for his lead role of Guglielmo in Così fan tutte and A. J. Glueckert for his supporting roles throughout the season in The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Dolores Claiborne, the honey-toned Steersman in Der Fliegende Holländer, and funnyman Ambrogio in Il barbiere di Siviglia.
Most romantic line of music: “Bocca baciata non perde ventura” in Falstaff
Best drinking song: “Glou! Glou! Glou! Glou!” in Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Best sound effect: the rain in Il barbiere di Siviglia
Best use of skeletons: the ghostship in Der fliegende Holländer
Best use of roller skates: Olympia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Favorite program cover: Dolores Claiborne (runner-up: Il barbiere di Siviglia)
Most overused concept: A stage with an underbelly (Falstaff, Der fliegende Holländer, Il barbiere di Siviglia). Even Yeshua in The Gospel of Mary Magdalene descended to exit the stage after his death—that shit just ain’t right.
Oddest use of statuary: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Biggest waste of a telescope: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Worst beards: Ferrando and Guglielmo in Così fan tutte
The Dave Chappelle “biggest hater” award: William Burden as Peter in The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
The White Men Can’t Jump choreography award: Der fliegende Holländer
The Saved by the Bell screech award: Dolores Claiborne
The Dion wandering plot award: Mefistofele
The Nigel Tufnel “What’s wrong with bein’ sexy?” award: Così fan tutte
The Vladimir Nabokov footnotes award: The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
The Glee commemorative trophy for best imitation of an outrageously expensive high school production: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Finally, as always, a big shout-out to La Maratonista for being such a great opera companion, even though you apparently sometimes see them without me now (sniff). The 2013–2014 season has been terrific so far and I’m looking forward to another great year, starting with Showboat and La traviata in the summer season.
For my individual write-ups of these operas, see Can You Do the Cancan?; The Jesus and Mary Chain; Trading Places; Friend of the Devil; Violent Femme; Wagner Virgin, Bel Canto Whore; There’s No Fool Like an Old Fool; and The Spanish Prisoner.
Feel free to comment or argue for your favorites below.