There were three strikes against SF Opera's world premiere Dolores Claiborne: soprano Patricia Racette stepped into the title role three weeks ago, taking over from mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick; we wrote a meh review of composer Tobias Picker's last opera, An American Tragedy; and Dolores Claibrone is based upon the namesake book by Stephen King, who doesn't dabble in subtlety but enjoys cheap thrills.
Patricia Racette not only hit it out of the ballpark, if you will, she slammed it beyond McCovey Cove and landed it on Treasure island. Never could we have guessed she first set sight on the score late August and then worked thirteen hours a day to master the intricacies of the music. She's on stage most of the two hour performance, singing harrowingly difficult lines, with unsteady rhythms and jarring intervals, often contradicted by the orchestra; and she was as smooth, as in control as if she was doing Butterfly. The role was written for a mezzo, that is in a lower range that she's used to (Picker had to make a few changes to accommodate her) but no matter, easy-peasy. Sure, certain lines would have more impact if sung by a true mezzo. When Dolores discovers that her abusive dirtbag husband Joe would like to get into their daughter's panties, she blurts an "Oh, Joe" too low for her to really work with. But that's nitpicking a truly great performance. And the acting icing sits on top of the singing cake: she was a convincing maiden in and as convincing as a tired old housekeeper last night. And the cherry on top of the frosting: perfect diction that doesn't need supertitles.