Spectacular singing and acrobatics meet to offer unusual entertainment in San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House.
It took Handel's 1730 “Partenope” two and a half centuries to be staged in San Francisco, but director Christopher Alden's production, acclaimed at its London premiere, makes up for the delay by dazzling, amusing and entertaining audiences – or dismaying some viewers – at its opening Wednesday evening.
The original story, about Queen Partenope of Naples and her three royal suitors (one a woman appearing as a man) is undecipherable. Alden transfers the action to 1920s Paris, and throws in everything but the kitchen sink (although there is a toilet), prompting patrons to simply give up trying to figure out what it's about. Arias, scenes and actions don't connect. Production notes refer to the spirit of Dadaism and Surrealism, which may explain why countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo performed a brilliant aria while swinging from a grand staircase. His alarming pratfall over the length of stairs was another matter.
Handel's 42 operas – which run for hours, have repetitious arias and disjointed stories – are different from his famously accessible and linear “Messiah.”
This “Partenope” in the War Memorial, which cuts about an hour from the original, is “only” 3 1/2 hours, and jazzed up to make the Baroque sounds accessible to today's audiences. But, unlike director Nicholas Hytner, who effectively and judiciously freshened up Handel in his 2011 San Francisco Opera production of “Xerxes,” Alden overdoes it with “Partenope,” rarely allowing the music to breathe – even though the orchestra, directed masterfully by Julian Wachner, plays splendidly.
Everything and everybody is in constant motion. Not only does Danielle De Niese in the title role sing magnificently and vamp around seductively, she's at the mercy of shticks that are at odds with characteristics of a queen or great soprano. (To her credit, De Niese seems to enjoy the proceedings.) Illustrious countertenor David Daniels also gives an exemplary performance, even while dealing with Alden's requirements. Other principals – former Adler Fellows Daniela Mack and Alek Shrader and Philippe Sly – also give wonderful vocal performances.
On opening night, the audience enjoyed the fun and games, further buoyed by announcements regarding the S.F. Giants' lead, and ultimate victory, over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18, Oct. 21, Oct. 24, Oct. 30 and 2 p.m. Nov. 2
Tickets: $25 to $370
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com