Hamilton in SF

Hamilton-joshua-henry* Notes *
The first U.S. tour of Hamilton started in San Francisco on March 10 and already looks like a huge success. There are only two more previews before the show official opens this Thursday but it very much seems like most of the kinks have been worked out, Sunday's evening performance was tight and synchronized.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical is sharp, he brings these distant historical figures to life with hip-hop, humor, and an excellent multi-ethnic cast. It is incredible how many words he got into the 2 hours and 30 minutes of music. There's only one set which includes a revolving section in the middle, some movable staircases, and a small balcony above. The staging involves all the fancy dance numbers you would associate with any musical, with the ensemble members all singing as well.

Michael Luwoye's Hamilton is charismatic, especially in Act I. Solea Pfeiffer has a bright sound and is a lovely, sympathetic Eliza Hamilton. Joshua Henry (pictured left, photograph by Joan Marcus) does a fine job with the role of Aaron Burr, and is much more than a one-dimensional villain of the story.

It always impresses me that musicals have such tiny orchestras, in this case two keyboards (one played by conductor Julian Reeve), drums, percussion, bass, guitar, and a string quartet.

Tattling * 
It was such fun seeing how excited all the audience members were to be there. One young fan in Row M clutched the Hamilton: The Revolution book, which she seemed to have brought to the show. The woman next to me in Row N Seat 10 knew every song and often sang along. A woman behind me clapped her hands with such vigor she made contact with my head twice, her companion loved the piece so much she wanted to see it again. As I walked back to our car with my date, a couple behind us talked about putting the musical soundtrack on as they drove home.

Personally my take ways were the following: I don't think I like musicals (which is so weird, since I love opera so much) and I remember an alarming amount from U.S. history class in high school even though I haven't really thought about the American Revolution since I was about 15.


SF Opera at the Uptown

SFOperaLabPopUp2016_2_by Kristen LokenSan Francisco Opera is having its first pop-up (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera) in the East Bay at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland. Entitled "Hands-on Opera," there will be lots of audience interaction at this event on Thursday March 23, 2017 at 7:30pm.

Curated by Adler stage director Aria Umezawa, the evening will feature sopranos Sarah Cambidge and Amina Edris; tenors Amitai Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven; baritone Andrew G. Manea; bass-baritone Brad Walker; bass Anthony Reed; and pianists Jennifer Szeto and Ronny Michael Greenberg. Tickets are 25 dollars, available at Event Brite or at the door.

Official Site | Uptown Nightclub | Tickets


Anna Caterina Antonacci at SF Opera Lab

37A0329* Notes *
Last night the arresting soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera) gave the first of three performances of songs by Berlioz, Debussy, and Poulenc paired with a piano version La Voix Humane at SF Opera Lab. Antonacci gave a compelling renditions of the various French songs, all the more impressive since it was only her voice and the spare accompaniment of Donald Sulzen's piano.

Part of her appeal is certainly her voice, which is far from your garden variety clean, pure soprano, and in fact Antonacci started her career singing mezzo roles, especially Rossini, which doesn't seem particularly well suited to her sensual sound. She did great with Berlioz's "La mort d'Ophélie", very emotionally on point and haunting. Likewise her "Le tombeau des Naïades" from Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis was particularly strong.

37A0382Poulenc's 1958 La Voix humane is essentially a monologue of a suicidal woman on the telephone with her former lover. Its success as a piece of drama rests heavily on the the one singer, and Antonacci delivered, she is an incredible actress and it was hard to look away.

Simple and concise, the 40 minutes flew by, and we experience everything from the petty annoyances of being on a party line to the utter depths of despair of being abandoned and unloved.

The plain, stripped down staging of a simple rain drop covered window with a view of Paris with only a table, chair, and a few pillows was perfect and matched the simplicity of the opera itself.

Antonacci's costume was a bit odd, it looked like a 70s floral house dress, with panels that opened in the front and a cut-out in the back. I was also confused by (though also enjoyed) her gown for the songs, which looked to be a long grey leotard-inspired tunic whose sleeves covered her hands and had the saddest tulle tutu-like skirt.

Tattling *
Many audience members were mostly quiet, though a few people had to exit during the music.


SF Symphony's 2017-2018 Season

SF-Symphony-4x6September 14 2017: MTT conducts Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, Ravel; Yo-Yo Ma, cello
September 22-24 2017: MTT conducts Bernstein
October 6-8 2017: Krzysztof Urbański conducts Penderecki
October 13-15 2017: Jakub Hrůša conducts Dvořák, Smetana, and Janáček
October 26-28 2017: Osmo Vänskä conducts Sibelius
October 31 2017: Zubin Mehta conducts Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
November 2-5 2017: MTT conducts Bernstein's The Age of Anxiety, Symphony No. 2
November 5 2017: Lu Jia conducts China National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra
November 10–12 2017: MTT conducts Ives' Psalm 90 and Symphony No. 4
November 16–18 2017: MTT conducts Ives' Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting
December 1-2 2017: North By Northwest film with live orchestra
December 9 2017: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach Collegium Japan
December 16-17 2017: Home Alone film with live orchestra
January 19-21 2018: MTT conducts Bernstein's Candide
January 28-29 2018: Charles Dutoit conducts Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
February 1-3 2018: Bernstein's West Side Story film with live orchestra
February 8-10 2018: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Stenhammar
February 15-17 2018: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Mozart and Beethoven
February 22-24 2018: Andrey Boreyko conducts Bernstein and Shostakovich
March 1-3 2018: Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Esa-Pekka Salonen's Helix
March 8–10 2018: Edward Gardner conducts Tippett, Gershwin, and Rachmaninoff
March 11 2018: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; Joshua Bell, violinist and leader
March 15–17 2018: MTT conducts Charles Wuorinen
March 16 2018: Itzhak Perlman, violin and Martha Argerich, piano
March 27–29 2018: West Coast tour with Gil Shaham, violin
March 30 2018: Ragnar Bohlin conducts San Francisco Symphony Chorus
April 4-5 2018: Batman film with live orchestra
April 6-7 2018: Amadeus film with live orchestra
April 14-15 2018: Daniel Harding conducts R. Strauss and Beethoven
April 19-21 2018: Charles Dutoit conducts Ravel; Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
April 26-29 2018: Charles Dutoit conducts Holst's The Planets and Liszt; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano
May 3-5 2018: Juraj Valčuha conducts Andrew Norman's Unstuck
May 10-12 2018: Stéphane Denève conducts Saint-Saëns and Connesson
May 17-20 2018: Itzhak Perlman conducts Bach
May 25-26 2018: David Robertson conducts Brett Dean's Engelsflügel
May 31–June 2 2018: Semyon Bychkov conducts Taneyev and Tchaikovsky
June 7–9 2018: Susanna Mälkki conducts Saariaho
June 14-17 2018: MTT conducts Boris Godunov
June 28-30 2018: MTT conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 3

Season Highlights | Press Release


Ted Hearne's The Source at SF Opera Lab

Thesource_stefancohen016* Notes *
Yesterday SF Opera Lab opened a second season with Ted Hearne's disturbing oratorio The Source. The 2012 piece concerns Chelsea Manning's disclosure to WikiLeaks of classified material about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unconventionally staged with the four singers dispersed in the audience (Isaiah Robinson pictured left, photograph by Stefan Cohen) and with enormous video projections on each side, the experience was completely immersive.

Mark Doten's libretto uses primary source texts, tweets from Manning and Adrian Lamo (the former hacker that ultimately turned Manning in), chat logs from Manning and Lamo, interview questions posed to Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, and random cultural artifacts from the time period ranging from an interview of Steven Hawking to Big Boi's "Shutterbugg." The collection is unsettling, and all the more so because the repetitive vocals are highly processed by Philip White in real time.

The music is often loud and cacophonous, and the ensemble hidden above, behind one of the video screens, consisted of what amounts to a string trio plus keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. The playing and singing seemed to come off tightly together, most impressive given the lack of conductor. It wasn't at all clear to me how this was accomplished.

Most of the videos used were of people's faces as they watched the leaks, gleaned from footage of nearly 100 people taken by director Daniel Fish and production designer Jim Findlay. It is all very unsettling. When we finally see the gunsight footage of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, known as "Collateral Murder," we understand all too well what these people have been reacting to and experience it for ourselves. The dead silence at the end lasted an uncomfortable and imposing amount of time.

Tattling *
Many audience members (I saw at least five at one time) fell asleep despite the volume of the music and fact that they may have been next to one of the vocalists. This was all the more obvious because the two halves of the audience faced one another.


The Gospel According to the Other Mary at SFS

Sfsgospelmary010* Notes *
Last weekend San Francisco Symphony continued celebrations for John Adams' 70th birthday with The Gospel According to the Other Mary. The oratorio was tastefully semi-staged (Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Nathan Medley, Jay Hunter Morris, Kelley O'Connor, and Tamara Mumford pictured left; photograph by Stefan Cohen) and featured a truly resplendent cast.

The libretto, compiled by Peter Sellars, is a mish-mash of the Bible and texts from Dorothy Day, Rosario Castellanos, June Jordan, Louise Erdrich, and Primo Levi. The collage makes for a narrative that is disjointed and jumps from different time periods, but essentially recounts the story of Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus and their interactions with Jesus.

The music is vivid with textures and rhythms, and there is much for the three percussionists to do, as they share a dozen instruments including timbale, almglocken, and cimbalom. Not a note of this seemed gratuitous in the least, though it did seem very difficult. Maestro Grant Gershon looked as if he was counting and cuing constantly, and this did give the music a bit of a square feel.

The singers were unreal. In the title role, mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor showed off some alarmingly low notes and beautiful clear high ones as well. Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford also displayed a dark richness as Martha. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris was able to navigate choppy lines as well as ones more lyrical and legato.

The trio of ghostly countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, and Nathan Medley were effective as was the small chorus, whose members were very together. Everything was impressively loud, and microphones were used but were not distracting in the least.

Tattling *
The audience was quiet but there was a noticeable amount of attrition during intermission.


Met Opera's 2017-2018 Season

MetoperaSeptember 25- December 16 2017: Norma
September 26- October 28 2017: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
September 27- October 14 2017: Die Zauberflöte
October 2 2017- March 10 2018: La Bohème
October 12 2017- April 5 2018: Turandot
October 26- November 21 2017: The Exterminating Angel
November 2 2017- March 16 2018: Madama Butterfly
November 11- December 2 2017: Thaïs
November 24- December 2 2017: Verdi's Requiem
November 25- December 9 2017 The Magic Flute
December 6 2017- January 19 2018: Le Nozze di Figaro
December 14 2017- January 11 2018: The Merry Widow
December 18 2017- January 6 2018: Hansel and Gretel
December 31 2017- May 12 2018: Tosca
January 8- February 1 2018: Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci
January 16- February 17 2018: L'Elisir d'Amore
January 22- February 15 2018: Il Trovatore
February 5-27 2018: Parsifal
February 19- March 17 2018 Semiramide
March 1-23 2018: Elektra
March 15- April 19 2018: Così fan tutte
March 22- May 10 2018: Lucia di Lammermoor
March 29- April 21 2018: Luisa Miller
April 12- May 11 2018: Cendrillon
April 23- May 12 2018: Roméo et Juliette

The Met announced the 2017-2018 season today. There will be 220 performances of 26 works, including five new productions. The Met premieres include Thomas Adès' The Exterminating Angel and Massenet's Cendrillon.

Online 2017-2018 Brochure | Official Site


Opera San José's Silent Night

Silent-night-2017* Notes *
The Pulitzer Prize winning Silent Night by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell is a fine choice for Opera San José, which gave the West Coast premiere last night. It was a worthy challenge for the company, which has a many youthful repertory members, all of whom seemed to rise to the occasion.

Campbell's libretto is based on the screenplay for the 2005 film Joyeux Noël, which in turn is based on a World War I Christmas truce of December 1914 between Scottish, German, and French soldiers. It's a good story, the horrors of war is a serious topic, but has some great humor as well.

The tender portrayals of the various characters, and there are a lot, no less than 14 principals, were convincing. I could hardly even recognize some of the resident company members, even from the fourth row, so much did the singers embody their roles.

The quality of the singing was certainly up there. Soprano Julie Adams played opera singer Anna Sørensen to a tee, her Act II Scene 2 aria was beautiful. Likewise tenor Kirk Dougherty seemed natural in the role of opera singer/German soldier Nikolaus Sprink.

Puts' music sounds very cinematic and sweeping, it definitely is not challenging or dissonant, aside from perhaps the bagpipe featured in Act I Scene 5. Ricardo Rivera (Lt. Audebert) and Brian James Myer (Ponchel) had some of the most lovely music in the middle of Act I. It was not clear to me how well the orchestra played under Maestro Joseph Marcheso, sometimes it sounded a bit off-kilter, the strings sounded out of tune in Act I Scene 4, but this could have been written this way. The brass wasn't always perfectly clean. The woodwinds did have some gorgeous exposed moments.

The production, directed by Michael Shell and designed by Steven Kemp makes excellent use of the space. There are ten scenes and Kemp employs three moveable rectangular wooden frames as each of the camps to keep the action going and this is very effective.

* Tattling * 
The audience absolutely loved this opera. There was hardly a seat open in the whole orchestra section, and the whole run is close to being completely full. Given that Minnesota Opera sold-out the world premiere in 2012, Opera San José looks to do just as well.


Opera Parallèle's Flight

Flight2616_captioned* Notes *
Opera Parallèle has opened another near impeccable production with Jonathan Dove's Flight, which has a three performance run this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Featuring an ensemble of 10 vocalists, the cast, mostly alumni of the Merola Opera Program, is incredibly strong. The small orchestra of 29 musicians also played with precision and verve.

The piece, though based on the true story of Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri and his extended stay in the Charles de Gaulle airport, is both comedic and tragic. British playwright April de Angelis' narrative is taut and the most of characters are compellingly human, having very understandable emotions that come through the music. The Older Woman, played by San Francisco Conservatory of Music faculty member and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, is both very funny as she recounts her romance with a young man, yet beautifully vulnerable. As the heavily pregnant Minskwoman who refuses to board her airplane, mezzo Renée Rapier sings a gorgeous confessional aria about how much has changed and how she would like to be free again.

Dove's vocal writing is lyric and he deftly handles the ensembles, the overlapping conversations seem natural and flow together nicely. Duets between the bickering couple of Bill and Tina were especially great, as were the contrasting passionate Steward and Stewardess. Tenor Chaz'men Williams-Ali (Bill) had a wonderful warmth and soprano Amina Edris (Tina) got to show off some fiery and hilarious coloratura when she became angry with him.

More otherworldly are the top billed characters of the Controller, sung here by soprano Nikki Einfeld, and the Refugee, countertenor Tai Oney. Einfeld spends most of her time up in a room by herself observing and commenting on the action from above. Her voice is clear and biting. Oney's vocal type lends itself to a certain mysticism, as the most defenseless person of the opera, he tries to charm others into helping him, telling them what they want to hear. Oney had a few hooty notes at the beginning, but really sounded lovely for the rest of the evening.

Maestra Nicole Paiement is nothing if not consistent, and again proved herself to be truly one of the best opera conductors in the Bay Area. The orchestra played Dove's music, which is clearly influenced by minimalism, with ease. The orchestra never seemed head of the singers, but also never sounded slack.

Director Brian Staufenbiel employs a wall of 15 square screens at the back of what looks like a typical airport lounge. The video projections develop the story in a literal way by showing airplanes or rain and also try to heighten certain more mysterious passages with abstraction, such as swirling purple smoke. There is much movement both with those on stage and in the projections, driving in the fact that we are in a space for transit, except for the hapless Refugee.

* Tattling * 
The announcement to turn off cellular telephones and locate emergency exits before the performance sounded like something out of one would hear at an airport.


Merola's 2017 Season

2016GalaJune 11 2017: Merola Opera Program 60th Anniversary Gala & Concert
July 6-9 2017: Schwabacher Summer Concert
July 20-22 2017: La Serva Padrona/ Savitri/ The Bear
August 3-5 2017: La Cenerentola
August 19 2017: Merola Grand Finale

The Merola Opera Opera program announced its 60th anniversary season this afternoon at the John M. Bryan Education Studio in San Francisco.

Merola is commissioning its first work, If I Were You, by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. The opera, based on the novel by Julien Green, is slated for the 2019 season.

Official Site


Lyric Opera Chicago's 2017-18 Season

Civicheader-lyricSeptember 23- October 15 2017: Orphee et Eurydice
October 7- November 3 2017: Rigoletto
November 1-30 2017: Die Walküre
November 19- December 10 2017: The Pearl Fishers
December 5 2017- January 27 2018: Turandot
February 4-28 2018: I Puritani
February 17- March 16 2018: Così fan tutte
March 3-21 2018: Faust
April 27- May 20 2018Jesus Christ Superstar

Nov. 1-30

The 2017-2018 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago today. Highlights include Orphee et Eurydice with the Joffrey Ballet, which goes to Los Angeles Opera next year and the continuation of the latest Ring with Die Walküre.

The other new productions are Faust and Jesus Christ Superstar.

2017-2018 Season | Official Site


Dallas Opera's 2017-2018 Season

Dallas-operaOctober 20- November 5 2017: Samson and Dalila
October 27-November 12 2017: La traviata
February 9-17 2018: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Ring of Polykrates
March 9-17 2018: Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden
April 13-29 2018: Don Giovanni

The Dallas Opera announced a 2017-2018 season which includes the American premieres of the Korngold rarity The Ring of Polykrates and Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden.

Official Site


LA Opera's 2017-2018 Season

Chandler_balconiesSeptember 9-23 2017: Carmen
October 7-28 2017: The Pearl Fishers
October 14-November 19 2017: Nabucco
October 28-31 2017: La Belle et la Bete
November 9-12 2017: Keeril Makan's Persona
January 27- February 18 2018 Bernstein's Candide
March 10-25 2018: Orpheus and Eurydice
May 12- 31 2018: Rigoletto
May 26 2018: Matthew Aucoin's Crossing
June 22-24 2018: Gordon Getty's Usher House and Canterville Ghost

Los Angeles Opera announced its next season on Facebook Live this evening at 6:30pm. Domingo sings the title role of Nabucco, Morris Robinson sings Zaccaria. Robinson returns as Sparafucile in Rigoletto. Maxim Mironov and Lisette Oropesa star in Orpheus and Eurydice with the dancers of the Joffrey Ballet. Oropesa also sings Gilda in one of the Rigoletto casts, sharing the role with Irina Lungu. Of local interest, Sara Jobin conducts the Gordon Getty operas and Brian Staufenbiel of Opera Parallèle directs.

Official Site


SF Opera's 2017-2018 Season

WMOH9_JoelPuliattiSeptember 8- December 9 2017: Turandot
September 9-27 2017: Elektra
September 23- October 17 2017: La Traviata
November 4-22 2017: Manon
November 21- December 10 2017: Girls of the Golden West
June 12-26 2018: Das Rheingold
June 13-27 2018: Die Walküre
June 15-29 2018: Siegfried
June 17-July 1 2018: Götterdämmerung

General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the 2017-2018 season at San Francisco Opera today. Highlights include John Adams' new opera about the Gold Rush, Girls of the Golden West, to premiere this November and a revival of the Ring cycle next summer directed by Francesca Zambello.

The two new productions are Elektra, previously seen in Prague and Manon, which has the same team that did the recent I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Both operas boast stellar casts: the powerhouse trio of Christine Goerke, Stephanie Blythe, and Adrianne Pieczonka lead the Strauss opera while Nadine Sierra and Michael Fabiano star in the Massenet.

Michael Fabiano
Michael Fabiano

Press Release | Official Site


Das Klagende Lied at SFS

Harvey Cooke* Notes *
Last weekend Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony presented Das Klagende Lied with some wonderful vocal soloists (Joélle Harvey and Sasha Cooke pictured left with dancers, photograph by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony) and a somewhat incoherent but pretty staging. The early Mahler cantata is narrated by four singers and a chorus, since the characters aren't played by the vocalists, having a staging confuses the plot.

The biggest problem with the performance was not James Darrah's direction, which involved four dancers, two children, and lots of tree video art from Adam Larsen. It was the piece itself, which dates from 1880, and is one of the earliest works of Mahler's that still exists. It sounded a lot like substandard Wagner, and while interesting, it did not make for compelling drama.

The singers were great, baritone Brian Mulligan is rich toned, tenor Michael König is robust, and soprano Joélle Harvey is as clear as ever. Best of all is mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, whose ethereal voice has brilliant high and low notes. She also sounded lovely in the Songs of a Wayfarer that was performed before the intermission.

The orchestra sounded shimmery throughout the Sunday afternoon performance and the brass was clear and bright in the beginning Blumine. MTT kept a stately pace.

Tattling *
The audience was patient and silent, giving a standing ovation at the end.