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
As email subscribers have by now realized, I finally got around to finishing my half-written posts on the final three operas I saw this past fall. Despite these operas being distant memories, I felt I should still bestow my annual Figaro Awards, though I’ve also backdated this post to December when I usually publish this wrap-up.
All operas seen at the San Francisco Opera in 2015, both in the summer (Les Troyens, Le nozze di Figaro, La Ciociara [Two Women]) and in the fall (Luisa Miller, Sweeney Todd, Lucia di Lammermoor, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and The Fall of the House of Usher) are eligible for these beauties.
Production I would most readily see again: Les Troyens. This was a no-brainer as it was the only production this past year that I left thinking I wanted to see it again. Les Troyens really had it all: star performances, glorious music, striking sets, and an impressively conducted orchestra.
Best ensemble: Les Troyens. Again, this opera comes out on top (though Luisa Miller and Lucia di Lammermoor weren’t too far behind). But it is hard to deny this cast, which included the star power of Susan Graham, the standout performance of Anna Caterina Antonacci, the fortitude of last-minute replacement Corey Bix, and my perennial favorite, Sasha Cooke.
Most disappointing production: The Fall of the House of Usher. I’m not sure what I expected from a double bill of Usher House and La Chute de la Maison Usher, but it was something better than this. Let us speak of it nevermore.
Least memorable production: Le nozze di Figaro. This was not part of our subscription but rather part of an incredible prize package from the San Francisco Opera that La Maratonista and I won by tweeting a picture of ourselves with the War Memorial Opera House chandelier. The production was perfectly fine, but I was so tipsy from all we had drunk at our free prize dinner that I don’t really remember much of it (which is a bit sad since we had box seats).
Best production design: Es Devlin in Les Troyens. Are you sensing a theme? I had so many issues with the production choices this past year that this was a clear winner.
Best costumes: Luisa Miller. While much of what was here was merely serviceable, the red-velvet riding outfits took this production over the top.
Outstanding performance (orchestral): Donald Runnicles deftly leading the massive orchestra and chorus in Les Troyens.
Outstanding performance (male lead): Piotr Beczała as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. Simply a revelation. Standout performance of the season.
Outstanding performance (female lead): Stephanie Blythe as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. A great combination of singing and acting.
Outstanding performance (pinch hitter): Corey Bix as Enée in Les Troyens. Replacing eagerly anticipated Bryan Hymel at the last minute, Bix held his own amongst a remarkable group of women.
MVP of the season: Brian Mulligan. He was everywhere: Chorèbe in Les Troyens, Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, and Roderick Usher in the Usher House/La Chute de la maison Usher double bill.
Adler Fellow of the year: Chong Wang as Helenus in Les Troyens. His performance of the wistful “Vallon sonore” while hanging above the stage in a net was the standout aria of the season.
Best choreography: Lynne Page for Les Troyens. While some might not have appreciated so much dance in what is already a long opera, I really enjoyed it, particularly the “Pantomime: Chasse royale et orage” interlude.
Best choreography (honorable mention): Joe Jeffries for Usher House. The dance of Madeline Usher (Jamielyn Duggan) was one of the few things I liked about this opera.
Favorite program cover: The Fall of the House of Usher. A cover image reminiscent of Psycho—but, as the saying goes, you can’t judge an opera by its program cover.
The Psycho Award for Most Blood (tie): Sweeney Todd, Lucia di Lammermoor, and The Fall of the House of Usher. Blood was everywhere this season, with each production seemingly trying to outdo the other. However, while I appreciate the creativity of the murder scene in Lucia, it was all a bit much.
The Gigli Award for Worst Chemistry: Luisa Miller. Leah Crocetto as Luisa and Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo both sang beautifully but unfortunately had zero chemistry and ultimately weren’t very convincing as the doomed lovers.
The Donald Award for Playing “Fast and Loose” with the Truth: La Ciociara (Two Women). If I had finished this novel by the time I saw the opera, I probably would have been even more disappointed with its alterations to the basic plot. Read the book, skip the opera.
The Warren Buffet Award for Most Frugal: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. While the arched rosette made a lovely ceiling for the initial church scene and later singing competition, why on earth was it used for the courtyard? Make an effort, people.
Finally, as always, a big shout-out to La Maratonista for being such a great opera companion. Let’s hope the upcoming summer productions of Carmen, Jenufa, and Don Carlo are a little more exciting than this past fall.
Feel free to comment or argue for your favorite (and not-so-favorite) moments of the season below.