San Diego Opera's Florencia en el Amazonas

Jkat_Amazonas_031418_202* Notes *
A vibrant production of Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas opened at San Diego Opera last night. The sets and singing had much to recommend it, and it was easy to see why this piece has been revived multiple times in the almost 22 years since its premiere in Houston.

The music is lyrical and exuberant, and most of the singing was absolutely lovely. Only baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco (Riolobo) seemed underpowered, though he is a fine actor and boasts an impressive physique.

I liked the range of emotions portrayed by mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala as Paula, part of a bickering couple seeking to renew their love, she was frighteningly shrill at the outset and charmingly warm at the end. Her other half, baritone Levi Hernandez as Alvaro, was affable. Baritone Hector Vásquez (Capitán) sang with authority.

Tenor Daniel Montenegro and soprano María Fernanda Castillo sang beautifully together as they fall in love as Arcadio and Rosalba. Montenegro's voice is sweet, while Castillo's is brilliant. As opera singer Florencia Grimaldi, soprano Elaine Alvarez seemed perfectly suited, her rich, vivid voice was very convincing.

The set, from Mark F. Smith, is essentially a steamboat on a turntable, and this is effective, especially with the lighting. It definitely had a resemblance to Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, which is fun, since both works deal with the Amazon and opera. Much of the chorus wore unitards some festooned with elaborate accessories to represent the water of the Amazon and various jungle beasts. This was in keeping with the libretto, which takes inspiration from Gabriel Garcia Marquez (perhaps Love in the Time of Cholera is most obvious) and has a dreamy, surreal quality.


* Tattling * 
The audience fairly quiet, though two men behind me in the center of Row S did make some loud comments.

SF Symphony's 2018-2019 Season

SF-Symphony-4x6September 5 2018: Open Night Gala with MTT; Itzhak Perlman, violin
September 13-16 2018: MTT conducts Castiglioni, Ravel, Copland; Yuja Wang, piano
September 21-23 2018: MTT conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone and The Firebird
September 27-30 2018: MTT conducts Stravinsky's Petrushka, Violin Concerto, and The Rite of Spring; Leonidas Kavakos, violin
October 11-13 2018: Manfred Honeck conducts Prokofiev and Dvořák
October 14 2018: Evgeny Kissin plays Beethoven and Rachmaninoff
October 18-20 2018: Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Ravel, Bartók, and Debussy; Javier Perianes, piano
October 21 2018: Olivier Latry, organ
October 21-22 2018: Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra
October 25-27 2018: Cristian Mӑcelaru conducts Anna Clyne, Lalo, Kevin Puts, and R. Strauss; Ray Chen, violin
November 1-3 2018: Jurassic Park film with live orchestra
November 4 2018: Hilary Hahn, violin
November 8-10 2018: Jakub Hrůša conducts Shostakovich, Borodin, and Bartók; Karen Gomyo, violin
November 11 2018: Semyon Bychkov conducts the Czech Philharmonic; Alisa Weilerstein, cello
November 15–18 2018: MTT's From the Diary of Anne Frank
November 23–25 2018: MTT conducts Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
November 30- December 1 2018: The Nightmare Before Christmas film with live orchestra
December 2 2018: Gautier Capuҫon, cello with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
December 14-15 2018: SoundBox curated by MTT
December 14-15 2018: Jane Glover conducts Messiah
January 5-6 2019: Mary Poppins film with live orchestra
January 11-13 2019: Jaap van Zweden conducts Mozart and Bruckner; Eugene Izotov, oboe
January 14 2019: Itzhak Perlman, violin
January 18-20 2019: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts Tchaikovsky and Sibelius; Gabriela Montero, piano
January 22 2019: Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
January 24-26 2019: Christian Reif conducts R. Strauss, Andrew Norman, Prokofiev; Johannes Moser, cello
January 27 2019: Leonidas Kavakos, violin
January 31- February 2 2019: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Beethoven and Mendelssohn
February 7-9 2019: MTT conducts Steven Mackey, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky
February 14-17 2019: András Schiff conducts Bach and Mendelssohn
February 22-24 2019: Daniel Harding conducts Schumann; Lars Vogt, piano
February 27-28 2019: La La Land film with live orchestra
March 1-2 2019: Close Encounters of the Third Kind film with live orchestra
March 3 2019: Mikhail Pletnev conducts the Russian National Orchestra; George Li, piano
March 7-9 2019: Franҫois-Xavier Roth conducts Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms; Cédric Tiberghien, piano
March 10 2019: Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin with Lambert Orkis, piano
March 14-17 2019: MTT conducts Ravel, Mozart, and Sibelius; Christian Tetzlaff, violin
March 31 2019: Marc-André Hamelin, piano
April 7 2019: Midori, violin and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
April 11-14 2019: Andrey Boreyko conducts Brahms and Zemlinsky; Emanuel Ax, piano
April 18-20 2019: Fabio Luisi conducts Glinka, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov; Mario Brunello, cello
April 25-27 2019: James Gaffigan conducts Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, and Barber; Hélène Grimaud, piano
May 2-4 2019: Marek Janowski conducts Mendelssohn, Bruck, and Wagner; James Ehnes, violin
May 9–11 2019: MTT conducts Debussy and Ligeti; Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
May 12 2019: Joshua Bell, violin; Steven Isserlis, cello; and Jeremy Denk, piano
May 16-18 2019: MTT conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 7
May 23-25 2019: Krzysztof Urbański conducts Elgar, Bacewicz, and Mendelssohn; Vilde Frang, violin
May 30- June 1 2019: Juraj Valčuha conducts Bach and Shostakovich; Alexander Barantschik, violin
June 6-8 2019: TBD conducting Bartók, Grieg, and Saint-Saëns; Nikolai Lugansky, piano
June 9 2019: Christopher Houlihan, organ
June 13-16 2019: MTT conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 9
June 20-22 2019: MTT conducts Steve Reich and Prokofiev; Yefim Bronfman, piano
June 27-30 2019: MTT conducts Noye's Fludde and L'Enfant et les sortilèges

Season Highlights | Press Release

ABS performs St. John Passion

Abs-2018* Notes *
American Bach Soloists finished a run of St. John Passion (1725 version) concerts last weekend, ending with a matinée performance in San Francisco on Sunday. The singing was excellent.

Tenor Aaron Sheehan has a bright sound as the Evangelist. Though much of his part is obviously on the declamatory side, he has a lovely legato as demonstrated at the end of "Er leugnete aber." Baritone Jesse Blumberg has a particularly fine voice also, and his Christ is very dignified.

My favorite was certainly contralto Robin Bier and loved hearing her strong, tawny tones in "Von den Stricken meiner Sünden" in the first half and "Es ist vollbracht!" in the second. Soprano Hélène Brunet sounded as pure and lovely as ever in her arias.

This performance, conducted by Jeffrey Thomas, did seem to start off with less precision than usual. The woodwinds sounded unfocused, but the orchestra was much more together by the end of the first half.

* Tattling *
There was very little extraneous noise from the audience, at least around me in Row K Seat 116. It was rather crowded, both the people around me expressed concern for me, especially because the person in front of me was at least a foot taller than me. I did not mind not seeing that much, and was able to concentrate well on the music.

Opera Parallèle's Trouble in Tahiti

OSTO4959* Notes *
Opera Parallèle is performing a very charming production of Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti again, this time presented with Jake Heggie's At the Statue of Venus as a single narrative. As an added bonus, we heard some Bernstein songs from West Side Story as people milled around the museum setting for the Heggie piece, and even Charles' Ives The Unanswered Question with dancing from living statue Steffi Chong (pictured, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) as Venus.

Maestra Nicole Paiement conducted with elegance and spirit, the orchestra sounded absolutely great. The only time things felt a little off was when baritone Eugene Brancoveanu was a bit ahead during "Something's Coming," when he was up above the stage in the Center Terrace of SFJAZZ's Miner Auditorium and Paiement was not conducting.

At the Statue of Venus involves only one mezzo, in this case Abigail Levis (Rose), singing as she waits for her blind date to arrive. The character is extremely neurotic and insecure, she goes on and on about how she shouldn't have worn slacks. Levis has a pretty voice, clear and bright. She's double cast with Renée Rapier, whose sound is perhaps richer and warmer, it's hard not to be curious about what Rapier's take is on the role. Steffi Chong's Venus, statue though she is, gave a sympathetic performance as Levis anticipated who was coming to meet her. I also really liked Sherry Parker's mixed media collage projected on the upstage screen that comprised most of the museum's works. Her work never could be mistaken for a screen saver or video game scene.

The Trouble In Tahiti is much like what we saw in 2013, when the company performed it at Z Space with Samuel Barber's Hand of Bridge, though Venus wanders in for Scene IV, as after Sam and Dinah run into each other. Director Brian Staufenbiel's production uses a similar quartered turn-table set with a kitchen, an business man's office, an analyst's office, and a gym. The theater ends up being up above in the Center Terrace where there is a large screen showing projections of little perfect houses falling into place on lawns and amusing print advertisements of the period.

Tahiti3351OriginalKrista Wigle, Andres Ramirez, and Bradley Kynard (pictured, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) are jaunty as The Trio, cheerily singing about suburbia. Eugene Brancoveanu, who along with Wigle and Ramirez reprises his role from 2013, is as funny as ever as Sam, he can be callous and impatient yet has a roguish warmth. Abigail Levis is lovely as Dinah, never shrill, and it was easy to feel compassion for her character.

* Tattling * 
Many of the audience members on the left side of Row L seemed to chatter quite a lot.

Met Opera's 2018-2019 Season

MetoperaSeptember 24 2018- March 28 2018: Samson et Dalila
September 25- November 13 2018: La Bohème
September 26 2018- March 7 2019: Aida
October 4-27 2018: La Fanciulla del West
October 25 2018- April 6 2019: Tosca
October 19- November 10 2018: Marnie
October 30 2018- February 8 2019: Carmen
November 8- December 1 2018: Mefistofele
November 44- December 8 2018: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 23- December 15 2018 Il Trittico
December 4 2018- April 27 2019: La Traviata
December 14 2018- January 10 2019: Otello
December 19 2018- January 5 2019: The Magic Flute
December 31 2018- January 26 2019: Adriana Lecouvreur
January 15-31 2019: Pelléas et Mélisande
January 16- February 17 2018: Iolanta and Bluebeard's Castle
January 30- April 18 2019: Don Giovanni
February 7- March 2 2019: La Fille du Régiment
February 12- May 10 2019: Rigoletto
February 22- March 16 2019: Falstaff
March 30- April 20 2019: La Clemenza di Tito
May 3-11 2019: Dialogues des Carmélites
March 9- May 6 2019: Das Rheingold
March 25- May 7 2019: Die Walküre
April 13- May 9 2019: Siegfried
April 27- May 11 2019: Götterdämmerung

The Met announced the 2018-2019 season today, the first for Yannick Nézet-Séguin as Music Director. The new productions are Samson et Dalila, Nico Muhly's Marnie, La Traviata, and Adriana Lecouvreur (which is a co-production with San Francisco Opera, among others). Philippe Jordan conducts the Lepage production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which stars Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde.

Press Release with Casting | Official Site

Opera San José's Der fliegende Holländer Review

10* Notes *
Opera San José kicked off a new year last weekend with an ambitious production (Act II pictured, photograph by Pat Kirk) of Der fliegende Holländer. The very loud performance on Saturday night was enjoyably and unapologetically grand.

Steven C. Kemp's set features wood planked walls that took on projections by Ian Wallace. Most of the time these were simple backdrops of the Norwegian coast, very cobalt blue and icy white. In the more supernatural and ghostly scenes the projections would illustrate the text. We saw fire and annihilation when the Dutchman sings ""Die Frist ist um, und abermals verstrichen sind sieben Jahr," for instance.

Brad Dalton's direction is straightforward and unambiguous, he gets in the humor of both the Steersman and Daland, and he created dramatic tension in Act II by having Senta face upstage so long, with only her black curls and the folds of her deep blue gown visible. The last scene was perhaps the most abstract, it was also blinding, but it was unequivocal and effective.

Maestro Joseph Marcheso had the orchestra go all out, the music was powerfully played. There were some beautiful shimmery and clear moments, but mostly it was vibrantly thunderous. This seemed to pose no problems for the singers, who could match the volume perfectly well. The chorus had a little trouble staying exactly on beat in Act III, but sang with force and charm.

This opera is nicely suited to the young singers cast. Tenor Mason Gates' Steersman was very sweet and bright, and he can walk on his hands and even did a backwards somersault in Act III. Bass Gustav Andreassen was an amusing and lovable Daland. His German was easy to understand, though the rest of the singers were also intelligible. Soprano Kerriann Otaño makes for a winsome Senta, her voice is lovely and very strong. Baritone Noel Bouley's Dutchman felt grave and human.

* Tattling * 
This audience was obviously the normal Opera San José crowd, so full of excitement for the singers and perhaps less concerned about Wagner. It was refreshing, I don't think I've ever heard an aria applauded in the middle of Der fliegende Holländer, even the performers looked slightly confused when this happened near the end of Act II.

The woman in Row E Seat 102 was (naturally) less tolerant of a very noisy person in Seat 104 of the same row who exclaimed loudly throughout the performance. She had to switch her seat with her companion, who had the aisle seat further away from the offending patron.

Circa's Il Ritorno

Circa-il-ritorno-2018* Notes * 
Following a decades long tradition, Cal Performances presented yet another fascinating hybrid work, this time a combination of contemporary circus arts and Baroque opera last weekend from the Australian troupe Circa.

Those expecting to hear Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in patria might have been taken aback to hear Quincy Grant's 75 minute arrangement, which included arias from the opera along side electronic stylings composed by Grant himself.

The spare ensemble only had four musicians: cellist Pal Banda, violinist/violist Nicholas Bootiman, harpist Cecilia de Santa Maria, and music director/keyboardist Natalie Murray-Beale, who really did seem to have everything perfectly in hand as she moved seamlessly from one genre to another. The two singers, mezzo-soprano Kate Howden and baritone Benedict Nelson, were amplified, heightening the sense we were hearing something rather different than Monteverdi's work.

The performance was much more about theatrics of the body than of music and tellingly, the audience often clapped over the music. The seven acrobats featured were hard to look away from, and seemed to push the very boundaries of the body to disturbing and devastating effect. Bodies were flung against the floor or against an upstage wall, balanced upon one another or on ropes, loops, and a swing. Bridie Hooper had a segment in which she seemed to be fighting her own arm, she seemed almost possessed, yet this was somehow engrossing and even beautiful.

* Tattling * 
In the second row, I was right behind a fellow blogger, who was of course very quiet. The woman next to me (FF 107) talked a little at the outset but was silent for the rest. The man next to my date (FF 110) had his phone out for much of the performance.

Island City Opera's Rimsky Korsakov Double Bill

Rimsky-korsakov-alameda-2018* Notes *
Island City Opera just finished a run of the obscure operas by Rimsky-Korsakov at the Elks Lodge in Alameda yesterday. The performance was one of the best I've heard from them, not in small part because of the conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya and the fine cast.

Music Director of the Chicago Opera Theater, Maestra Yankovskaya had the orchestra sounding spirited and together. She has an elegant authority, and though the orchestra was occasionally ahead of the singers, it was impressive how different the musicians sounded with her in the lead. The harp was particularly nice.

 The first piece was Mozart and Salieri, a very talky affair with only two singers that was thus done in English rather than Russian. The libretto is comes from Pushkin's play based on the rumor that Salieri had poisoned Mozart, and baritone Anders Froehlich's Salieri is suitably jealous but uptight. Darron Flagg is a sweet, amiable Mozart. Both singers had clear diction, I hardly needed the supertitles to understand them. The translation, by stage director Richard Bogart and conductor Yankovskaya, was natural enough with colloquialisms of American English peppered though it.

The second opera, Kashchey the Immortal, is more stereotypically Russian and involves a princess trapped by a villainous wizard whose death hides in his daughter's tears. The singing here was in Russian, and marked an American premiere of the work. Alex Boyer was transformed convincingly into the title role, the tips of his fingers covered by metal claws, his face covered with theatrical makeup. Soprano Rebecca Nathanson sang the princess (Tsarevna) with an almost outrageous beauty.

I very much enjoyed the touches of humor in the piece. Kashchey has Tsarevna look into a magic mirror and asks what she sees. She describes herself, as the mirror has not yet shown her Kashchey's daughter Kashcheyevna, who enchants and murders knights looking to destroy Kashchey. There's also a storm knight, played perfectly by baritone Bojan Knezevic, who is very amusing, blustering around in a cape covered with clouds.

The production in both operas was very straightforward yet effective. The metamorphosis of Kashcheyevna into a weeping willow was particularly artful. A few dancers arrayed in green wrap her with a trunk and arrange her boughs.

* Tattling *
The last performance was sold out and I had to put myself on a waiting list, but got in right before curtain. It was fun to see so many San Francisco Opera regulars in Alameda.

Candide at SFS

Candide-sfs-2018* Notes *
San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas celebrate the birth centennial of Leonard Bernstein with a delightful rendering of his Candide that opened last night. The concert version was animated and very funny with fine playing and singing all around.

Though done as a concert, this version of the operetta was made for the Scottish Opera in 1988. It was striking how theatrical and engaging the piece is despite a lack of frills, only a few props and costumes here and there.

Most of the comedy and drama came through simply in the gestures and interactions of the soloists, chorus, orchestra members, and even conductor with each other and the audience. Of course, this could only work because the piece itself is charming and was played and sung with clarity and vim. The sound design from Tom Clark was flawless, we could hear the narration and asides without squeaks or other distractions.

The music sounded vibrant, even when soprano Meghan Picerno (Cunegonde) harassed some of the brass players and the timpanist at the end of Act I. MTT infused both the orchestra and chorus with a nice ease and effortless cheekiness.

The soloists are all clearly talented singing actors. Even from the first tier, the cheerful shrugs or coy head tilts of tenor Andrew Stenson in the title role read plainly. His voice is pretty and sweet. Meghan Picerno's Cunegonde is amusing, her high notes soared and she conveys emotion not only in her body but with her sound. Both Stenson and Picerno brought a certain gravity to the end of the piece, after all the silliness, the contrast was stark and effective.

All the other singing was great, though baritone Michael Todd Simpson did trip over a few words as narrator, he is endearing and his Pangloss was perfectly pompous. It was fun to see and hear the artistic director of Merola Sheri Greenawald as the Old Lady, she really moves gracefully and has perfect comedic timing.

Tattling *
I did not hear any talking or electronic sounds where I was in the First Tier. There were a few people who left the hall in the middle of the performance during both acts, odd given the short 2 hour run time.

I had to run several blocks in the rain to this performance, traffic was worse than I expected and the Performing Arts Garage was full, so I only got into my seat at 7:59pm.

LA Opera's 2018-2019 Season

Chandler_balconiesSeptember 22- October 14 2018: Don Carlo
October 20–November 11 2018: Satyagraha
October 27–31, 2018: Joby Talbot's Vampyr
November 17–December 15 2018: Hansel and Gretel
November 29–December 2 2018: Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkin’s Prism 

February 22-23 2019: David Lang’s the loserMarch 2–24 2019: La Clemenza di Tito
April 27–May 19 2019: Manuel Penella's El Gato Montés
June 1–22 2019: La Traviata

Los Angeles Opera announced its next season on today.

Official Site

SF Opera's 2018-2019 Season

WMOH9_JoelPuliattiSeptember 7–30 2018: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci
September 8–27 2018: Roberto Devereux
October 3–30 2018: Tosca
October 16–November 3 2018: Arabella
November 17–December 9 2018: It's a Wonderful Life
June 5-29 2019: Carmen
June 9-27 2019: Orlando
June 16-28 2019: Rusalka

General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the 2018-2019 season for San Francisco Opera today. Highlights include Roberto Devereux with Sondra Radvanosky, Russell Thomas, Jamie Barton; Handel’s Orlando starring Sasha Cooke and David Daniels; and Rusalka with Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the title role opposite Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince.

Plácido Domingo gives a concert at the War Memorial on Sunday, October 21 at 2pm, with Jordi Bernàcer conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Other guests for the event include Ana María Martínez and Arturo Chacón-Cruz.

There are 6 conductor debuts: Marc Albrecht, Daniele Callegari, James Gaffigan, Leo Hussain, Eun Sun Kim, and Christopher Moulds. It will be interesting to see who the new music director will be.

Press Release | Official Site

SF Opera's Girls of the Golden West Reviews

22_Stefan Cohen_GGW_Lorena FeijooProduction Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Girls of the Golden West (Lorena Feijóo as Lola Montez pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) are not overwhelmingly positive but not without its proponents.

Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | Los Angeles Times | Opera West | San Francisco Classical Voice | Opera Wire | The Rehearsal Studio | The Stage | KQED | Limelight | Opera Warhorses | Financial Times | The Mercury News | Stark Insider | Civic Center | New York Times

SF Opera's Girls of the Golden West Review

03_Stefan_Cohen_GGW* Notes * 
Last night's world premiere of John Adams' Girls of the Golden West (Act I Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) at San Francisco Opera had some gorgeous singing and playing. But neither the music nor the artful, elegant stagecraft could save a stilted and tedious libretto.

Tellingly, the best moment of the opera is without words. The music for Lola Montez's Spider Dance held my attention after the monotony of lines and lines of narration from Gold Rush era primary sources. It helps that ballerina Lorena Feijóo looked fantastic in her red, white, and blue ruffles and danced with absolute conviction.

The playing seemed very much together under the direction of Maestro Grant Gershon, and the woodwinds sounded especially lovely. The chorus too had a cohesiveness to be admired. In fact all of the singing and acting was impressive, from the supernumerary miners and dancing girls up to the youthful leads.

Much, if not all, of the opera's text comes from original sources rather than from librettist/director Peter Sellars, and as such, there is a lot more telling than showing. There is little in the way of dialogue and it isn't always easy to understand what exactly is going on since the characters sing at us rather than interact with each other. This is especially prominent for Dame Shirley, whose words are all her own, drawn from her letters. In this leading role is soprano Julia Bullock and her fine voice seems wasted on lines enumerating mining terms she doesn't understand and the like.

The parts of the libretto that work best are based on songs or poetry, as with the miners' songs sung by the chorus or the Cantonese rhymes brought to life by talented soprano Hye Jung Lee as prostitute Ah Sing. Mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges is a dignified Josefa Segovia, a Mexican-American woman who kills her would-be rapist Joe Cannon and is subsequently judged guilty of murder and hanged. Her words come from poems by Alfonsina Storni.

I really wanted to like this opera as it features John Adams, my home state, and a brilliant cast that includes many people of color. But sadly I found myself rather bored, especially during the first act (the one bright spot being Davóne Tines' aria as Ned Peters at the end). It felt more like a discombobulating lecture in a dream than an opera, though I'll give the piece another chance next week, as it is in my subscription.

* Tattling * 
The orchestra level and boxes looked very full, and standing room had a respectable crowd at the rail. A standee did collapse during Act I, but was apparently fine and did not need to be taken out of the hall.

The audience was very polite, and tried to clap after some of the main arias, but was most enthused by the Spider Dance. The opera did get a standing ovation, though I might have heard someone mutter that Peter Sellars deserved a pie in the face.