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
Despite falling off the blogging bandwagon and not writing up most of the operas I saw this year, I could not pass up the opportunity to bestow my annual Figaro Awards. Just keep in mind that I may have more commentary than usual since there is no original reference post to explain these opinions.
All operas seen at the San Francisco Opera in 2014, both in the summer (Show Boat, La traviata) and in the fall (Norma, Susannah, Un ballo in maschera, Partenope, La Cenerentola, and La bohème) are eligible for these beauties.
Production I would most readily see again: Partenope. This could have been stronger musically, but Partenope earns this spot because I have never before attended an opera where the audience was so thoroughly enjoying itself, from the opening of the curtain, which drew spontaneous applause, to the closing bow. So, it looks like Handel is two for two for me.
The ensemble of Partenope. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Best ensemble: La bohème. While I’m disappointed not to have seen Leah Crocetto as Mimì (she was in the other cast), this was a solid group all around, with Alexia Voulgaridou as Mimì, Michael Fabiano (who I so enjoyed in Lucrezia Borgia despite his horrific costume) as Rodolfo, Alexey Markov as Marcello, Nadine Sierra as Musetta, Christian Van Horn as Colline, and Hadleigh Adams as Schaunard.
The ensemble of La bohème. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Most disappointing production: La Cenerentola. It’s safe to say I had been looking forward to Rossini’s La Cenerentola for some time. Oddly enough, soon after I asked on Twitter, “Who do I have to sleep with to get the San Francisco Opera to put on La Cenerentola?” I learned that they would in fact be putting it on this season. While the production was perfectly fine, I was expecting to adore it, and I didn’t. So I’m rather glad that this self-professed bel canto whore did not, in fact, have to give it up after all.
Least memorable production: Un ballo in maschera. In that I literally can’t remember anything about it. I know I wasn’t really with it this fall, and we saw this the night before I left for my week-long birthday trip to four different national parks, but I expected something to stand out. Yet it didn’t. Not the plot, not the singing, not the set. So, despite the fact I rather liked the music when I listened to it beforehand, and I vaguely remember that Heidi Stober was delightful (as always), it is conspicuously absent from these awards.
Heidi Stober as Oscar in Un ballo in maschera. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Best production design: Partenope. As mentioned above, the audience burst into spontaneous applause when the curtain rose on this set. La Maratonista agreed that we had never seen that before. The opening scene certainly presented a striking tableau and perfectly captured the interwar Paris vibe they were going for, like something from a Lubitsch film.
Danielle de Niese as the curtain rises on Partenope. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Best costumes: Show Boat. Going into the summer season, I would have thought this award would eventually go to La traviata, Un ballo in maschera, or La Cenerentola, but when all was said and done, these dazzling costumes from Paul Tazewell set a high bar that no other production matched.
The ensemble of Showboat in costumes by Paul Tazewell. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Outstanding performance (male lead): Brandon Jovanovich as Sam Polk in Susannah. This award is almost entirely due to the fact that while other people were singing I often found myself thinking, “Where’s Sam? This needs more Sam.”
A scruffy Brandon Jovanovich as Sam Polk in Susannah. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Outstanding performance (female lead): Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in Norma. Radvanovsky had a few weak spots opening night, but from the reviews I’ve seen they seemed to have smoothed out quickly over the course of the run.
Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in Norma. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Outstanding performance (trouser): Daniela Mack as Rosmira in Partenope
Outstanding performance (pinch hitter): Jamie Barton as Adalgisa in Norma. Replacing Daveda Karanas just weeks before opening night, Jamie Barton almost outshone Radvanovsky in the lead role.
Outstanding performance (brothers from different mothers): Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo and Alexey Markov as Marcello in La bohème. While I’d seen this opera before, these two made me realize the story is almost more about friendship than love. I mean, besides Così fan tutte (and let’s not speak of that problematic piece), what other major opera focuses on male friends?
Outstanding performance (sisters from different misters): Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma and Jamie Barton as Adalgisa in Norma. Apparently these two were in opposite casts in these roles at the Met; I’m glad that due to a last-minute withdrawal on the part of Daveda Karanas we ended up getting them both, because they sing beautifully together.
Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma and Jamie Barton as Adalgisa in Norma. Photo by Cory Weaver.
MVP of the season: Christian Van Horn. What wasn’t he in this fall? From his turn as Oroveso in Norma, to Count Ribbing in Un ballo in maschera, to Alidoro in La Cenerentola, and finally Colline in La bohème, he gave solid supporting performances throughout the season.
Christian Van Horn as Alidoro with Karine Deshayes as Angelina in La Cenerentola. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Adler Fellow(s) of the year: Efraín Solís as Dandini, Maria Valdes as Clorinda, and Zanda Švēde as Thisbe in La Cenerentola
Efraín Solís as Dandini, Maria Valdes as Clorinda, and Zanda Švēde as Thisbe in La Cenerentola. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Best choreography: Michele Lynch for Show Boat
Best choreography (honorable mention): the flamenco in La traviata
Favorite program cover: La bohème. I also liked the covers for Showboat and La traviata, but this painting of the rooftops of Paris really captured the world of the opera. Plus, I’m a sucker for Caillebotte.
The Big Sleep award (tie): Norma and Partenope. Neither of these plots makes a lick of sense, but the singing was oh so pretty.
Best coat porn: Show Boat
Realest rain: La Cenerentola
Best (Worst?) use of a cross as hammer: Susannah
Raymond Aceto as Olin Blitch in Susannah. Photo by Cory Weaver.
AT&T award for cutest kids: Oliver Kuntz and Miles Sperske in Norma
Chevy Chase-Gerald Ford award for best pratfalls: Anthony Roth Costanzo as Armindo in Partenope
Joyce Kilmer award for best aria: “The Trees on the Mountains” in Susannah
Nigel Tufnel “none more black” award: La traviata
The set of La traviata was as dark as the soul of Alfredo’s father. Photo by Cory Weaver.
“Things That Go Bump in the Night” award for loudest set changes: La Cenerentola
“Murphy Bed” award for coolest set changes: David Farley for La bohème
Set most likely to be found on Skull Island: Norma
King Kong or Norma? You be the judge. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Harry Belafonte award for best use of bananas: Philippe Sly in Partenope
Plato award for best shadow puppets: Partenope
Jon Bon Jovi “blaze of glory” award: the finale of Norma
The grand finale of Norma. Photo by Cory Weaver.
And last but not least, since I didn’t write up opening night, a few dresses (mostly) not found on stage.
Best Dressed (Paris division): Komal Shah. Once again, a killer Oscar de la Renta gown.
Best Dressed (aficionada division): Chandra Rudd. Kudos for wearing a purchase from the SFO costume sale.
Komal Shah (left) in Oscar de la Renta and Chandra Rudd (right) in Bob Mackie (designed for LuLu). Photo by Alex Washburn, special to The Chronicle.
Best Dressed (animal print division): Joy Binachi. La Maratonista and I were standing next to her in the lobby post-Norma and she just looked so cute.
Best Dressed (feathers division): Sonya Molodetskaya.
Joy Bianchi (left) in Tom Ford and former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown with Sonya Molodetskaya (right) in Vasily Vein. Photo by Alex Washburn, special to The Chronicle.
Finally, as always, a big shout-out to La Maratonista for being such a great opera companion (as well as a bigger person than me when it comes to the harpy in our row) and also to the Intrepid Irishman for stepping into her shoes for Susannah. The 2014–2015 season has been absolutely stellar and I’m looking forward to another great year, starting with the epic Les Troyens and Two Women in the summer season.
Feel free to comment or argue for your favorite (and not-so-favorite) moments of the season below.