SF Opera's Elektra Review

_37A6151* Notes * 
Despite glowing reviews, I was apprehensive about hearing San Francisco Opera latest Elektra yesterday afternoon because I have never much liked the music of Richard Strauss. My doubts were dispelled almost at once, this stylish production has an excellent cast and conductor, and works both theatrically and musically.

Originally directed by Keith Warner in Prague last year, Anja Kühnhold has taken the reins here to fine effect. The opera is set in a museum, and looks very convincing. People wander around the exhibits before the music begins and even the announcement asking patrons to turn off devices has been switched to one for a museum rather than a performance. I really enjoyed the artfulness in the direction, the eye is drawn around the stage and there are surprises as far as the space and the entrances of singers.

The look of the set matches the singing and playing, everything is clean and crisp. Maestro Henrik Nánási had a promising San Francisco Opera debut, though the orchestra included 100 musicians, the music did not blare or overwhelm. The brass played neatly and the woodwinds sounded absolutely lovely.

The cast is top notch. Though I was disappointed that Stephanie Blythe was replaced by Michaela Martens as Klytemnestra in these performances, Martens was commanding in the role. Tenor Robert Brubaker simpered perfectly as Aegisth, while bass-baritone Alfred Walker (Orest) sang with power. The recognition scene of Orest and Elektra was incredibly creepy, and Walker definitely can act and sing.

In the title role, soprano Christine Goerke likewise is a respectable singing actor, though there isn't really a dance for her at the end, and this works perfectly well. Goerke has some beautiful deep rich low notes and a ton of endurance. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka's sound as Chrysothemis is a very pretty counterpoint to Goerke, her high notes are so shimmery.

* Tattling * 
I loved how quiet the balcony level audience was for this performance.

The end of the Elektra program (and I'm going to guess it is in the Turandot one also) has a "Postlude" from General Director Matthew Shivlock that addresses "Inclusion, Equity, and Opera." I liked that it recognized orientalism in opera and addressed building dialogue with new audiences, but remain vaguely skeptical as always. It will be interesting to observe what happens.


Ars Minerva's La Circe Review

La-circe-2017* Notes * 
Ars Minerva gave the modern premiere of Pietro Andrea Ziani's La Circe last night at ODC Theater. It is almost alarming how pretty all the unknown music the group has uncovered is, this being the third Baroque Venetian opera the company has staged. It is clear that there is simply a ton of lovely pieces that languish in obscurity, as with Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire that Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra did in April and Vicente Martín y Soler's L'arbore di Diana recently at West Edge Opera.

Ziani was the organist at Basilica di San Marco and then worked for Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg in Vienna. He's a generation after Monteverdi and one before Handel, and operas in this period are not at all in the standard opera repertoire.

The music is perfectly attractive, and the plot of La Circe is a standard sort of convoluted Baroque opera inspired by a few lines from Ovid, which involves multiple overlapping love triangles. There is a gorgeous duet at the end of Act I between Pyrrhus and Andromaca, but mostly it is da capo aria after da capo aria for the various voices that highlight a certain low female or high male vocal range.

The breadth of Bay Area musical talent was on full display here and the diversity of sound was impressive. Mezzo-soprano Céline Ricci, also the leader of Ars Minerva and stage director of this opera, sang a focused and really quite frightening Circe. Her incisive, precise delivery is such a contrast with fellow mezzo Kindra Scharich's smooth, rich tones as Andromaca, not to mention Jasmine Johnson's vivid near baritone as Aegle (who pretends to be the male gardener Floreno for most of the show). The lone soprano was Aurélie Veruni as the hapless Scylla, so carefree and coquettish, wrongfully hated by Circe, who turns her into a sea monster.

Countertenor Ryan Belongie sang Pyrrhus with sweetness, while tenor Kyle Stegall was a charmingly rakish Glauco. Tenor Jonathan Smucker got many laughs as the clownish Gligoro. Rounding out the cast was baritone Igor Vieira, who sang three small roles (Custode del Porto, Tissandro, and Creonte) with ease.

The small orchestra included a harpsichord, two violins, a viola, and a theorbo. The playing was neat and astringent. My miswired brain tasted unripe persimmon after Glauco sees his love Scylla transformed, and oddly my teeth ached for the rest of the opera.

 The staging featured the dancer Katherine Hutchinson. Her work with aerial silks was a wonderful spectacle. Her strength in her first dance and her skin-matching unitard got an audible gasp from the audience.

* Tattling * 
I was mildly surprised about how many of my friends were in the audience, skipping the San Francisco Opera opening for this obscure gem. The audience was attentive and quiet, those that received flower crowns from Scylla in Act I wore them with pride.

The end of this opera was very abrupt.


Ars Minerva's La Circe Preview

Circe_Offering_the_Cup_to_OdysseusFor the first time in more than a decade, I am going to skip to San Francisco Opera's opening weekend, as Ars Minerva presents the modern premiere of La Circe, an obscure Baroque opera this Friday and Saturday. I, of course, have a soft spot for Baroque operas and am not particularly interested in Turandot (though of course I will hear both casts, I'm sure).

This will be the third time Ars Minerva will bring an unknown Italian Baroque opera to the stage. This one is by Pietro-Andrea Ziani and hasn't been heard since the 1665 premiere in Vienna.

The semi-staged production looks to be an intimate affair, with eight singers, six musicians, and an acrobat performing at the ODC Theater in the Mission.

The cast boasts a host of local talent including mezzo-soprano and Ars Minerva director Céline Ricci, tenor Kyle Stegall, mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich, and baritone Igor Vieira.

There are only two performances, this Friday and Saturday, so competes directly with San Francisco Opera opening night and the premiere of Elektra. Tickets for La Circe are available here.


West Edge Opera's L'arbore di Diana

Arbore-di-diana-2017* Notes * 
West Edge Opera has found a new home at Pacific Pipe, an abandoned warehouse in Oakland this year, after the City of Oakland denied permits public events at the 16th Street Station, where the company performed the previous two seasons. Since I had a baby a scant 12 weeks ago, I decided to attend only one of the three productions, choosing Vicente Martín y Soler's L'arbore di Diana. It turned out very well for me, the music is delightful, the production amusing, the conducting crisp, and the singers fantastic.

Martín, a contemporary of Mozart, is best known today for the quote of "O quanto in sì bel giubilo" from Una cosa rara at the second act of Don Giovanni. Interestingly, both these works and L'arbore di Diana are by the same librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. The music of L'arbore di Diana is jaunty and attractive, and the small orchestra played nicely under the direction of Maestro Robert Mollicone, who is on the music staff of San Francisco Opera and was an Adler Fellow. The fortepiano, played by Mollicone, was amplified, and this was disorienting (especially at first) because the sound came from a different direction than the instrument. There were times when the singers and orchestra were slightly off from each other, but for the most part, the playing was pretty clean.

Director Mark Streshinsky is at his best with this sort of divinely silly opera. The tree of the title is made of ladders and pink tulle, complete with fruit to pelt unchaste nymphs. The fruit are the dancers of the Sarah Berges Dance Company, and their costumes, emerald lame leotards each emblazoned with a single golden breast, pink areola, and multicolored flashing light as a nipple, are hilarious. The dancers mutely comment on the action, their expressions and gestures are priceless.

The singing was likewise excellent. The trio of nymphs (pictured above with dancers) included soprano Maya Kherani (Britomarte), mezzo-soprano Molly Mahoney (Clizia), and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Moss (Chloe), who all have beautiful voices and sang wonderfully together. Tenor Kyle Stegall's voice rang out clearly, even though the venue doesn't have ideal acoustics at all, hardly having walls. His Endimione, love interest of Diana, is convincing, as Stegall is tall and handsome.

The dueling sopranos Christine Brandes (Cupid) and Nikki Einfeld (Diana) were no less appealing. While I'm not a fan of Brandes' incisive sound, it works in this space, and was a good foil for Einfeld, whose flexible voice is nothing short of gorgeous. Einfeld can also pull off wearing a floor length blue sequined gown with fluffy blonde wig and still look slim and perfectly self-possessed. I was impressed by her coloratura and happy to hear her in something so different from Opera Parallèle's Flight earlier in the year.

 

* Tattling * 
I bought an expensive ticket for this opera so that I could have an assigned seat rather than being in the general admission section. It was worth the price for me, as I was not next to anyone in Row B Seat 24 and did not have to get to the venue early to stake out a good seat.


Merola's La Cenerentola

Merola_cenerentola_2017_loken_2400x1800* Notes * 
The second set of opera performances from the Merola Opera Program this year was Rossini's La Cenerentola at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on August 3 and 5. The sugary sweet staging from Chuck Hudson showcased a plethora of fine young singers (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) supported by conductor Mark Morash and a mostly competent orchestra.

The production featured three wardrobes moved around the stage by the male chorus, meant to look like the doors of various edifices. The costumes were slightly baffling, the male chorus members wore moto jeans splattered with paint and none of the women's clothing seemed to have sleeves. The choreography involved a lot of voguing.

But as usual for Merola, the voices were preeminent, and even the smallest roles are filled by very strong talents. Soprano Natalie Image, Clorinda, one of the step-sisters, has an especially gorgeous voice, and one would love to hear her sing more. The trio of bass-baritones were all strong. Szymon Wach sounded lovely as Alidoro, Christian Pursell made for a dashing, pretty voiced Dandini, and Andrew Hiers was a perfectly silly Don Magnifico.

Anthony Ciaramitaro has a sweet-toned tenor suited for Prince Ramiro, contrasting well with mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey's dusky sound. Hankey has a fabulous physicality that Ciaramitaro obviously lacks, she moves in an elastic and adorable way that made the cloying title role much more sympathetic.

* Tattling *
I was so sad to learn that long-time opera supporter John Lindstrom died a few weeks before the performances, which were dedicated to his memory.


Merola's Triple Bill

Merola-the-bear-2017* Notes * 
The Merola Opera Program presented a triple bill of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, Holst's Sāvitri, and Walton's The Bear at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on July 20 and 22. It came off as a deadly boring tragedy sandwiched by cutesy frills, perhaps because of Peter Kazaras' staging. But as always, the singers were almost all great.

La Serva Padrona ("The Servant Turned Mistress") is a light, bubbly piece, only 45 minutes long. Full of sight gags, the production did get a lot of laughs, from the popcorn eating of mute Vespone (played by David Wiegel) at the start to the fake parrot on his shoulder when he pretends to be a very pirate-like Tempesta near the end. Jana McIntyre's Serpina was sassy and stylish, her sound is bright. As Uberto, Daniel Noyola was perfectly hapless, and his voice has a pleasant weight to it.

Sāvitri was staged in a stark, static manner, it dragged a bit for being so short, a mere 40 minutes or so. The title role sounded challenging for Kelsea Webb, though she has a big voice. The men, David Wiegel as Death and Addison Marlor as Satyavān, fared better. Wiegel's sound is deep and grave, and such a stark contrast to his role in the previous opera.

Of the three pieces, The Bear (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) was most successful, though also staged in a silly and quaint way. Daniel Noyola was hardly recognizable as servant Luka. Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum has an impressive stage presence, and delighted as Smirnov, while mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon was a convincing Popova.

* Tattling *
The audience was fairly quiet, though the person on my right elbowed me many times during the first opera as he took notes (he was left-handed), and I had nowhere to shift away, until the next opera, when the lady next to me was notably absent.


SF Opera's Don Giovanni 2017 Cast Change

Erwin Schrott_pic1_ThommyMardo (2)Bass-baritone Erwin Schrott (pictured left) and bass Erik Anstine will share the role of Leporello in Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera this summer. Both artists are making their debuts with the company and are stepping in for previously scheduled bass Marco Vinco, who has withdrawn for health reasons. Schrott is scheduled to sing the first six performances from June 4 to 21 and Anstine the last two on June 24 and 30.

Don Giovanni | San Francisco Opera Press Release


Steve Jobs Opera in SF and Seattle

MasonBates by Todd Rosenberg 53San Francisco Opera and Seattle Opera will both present Mason Bates' opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. The piece has a world premiere this July at Santa Fe Opera.

The piece is part of the 2019-20 season at San Francisco Opera and the 2018-19 season at Seattle Opera.

SF Opera Press Release | Seattle Opera Press Release


Temple of Glory at Cal Performances

PBOTempleGloire3711_4x6_FrankWing* Notes *
It is a shame that Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire at Cal Performances (Prologue pictured left with Aaron Sheehan as Apollo and his muses from New York Baroque Dance Company, photograph by Frank Wing) only has three performances this weekend. The music is delightful, and I could have happily gone again today after hearing the first two on Friday and Saturday nights.

The pretty production is historically informed, lead by Artistic Director of the New York Baroque Dance Company, Catherine Turocy. It is a nice contrast between the usual contemporary versions of Baroque operas I've seen from Mark Morris or Pina Bausch, but it becomes very clear very quickly why traditional stagings aren't the norm. It is a lot of ballet music, and Turocy's dancers are tame compared to the acrobatics and antics we've grown accustomed to.

The movements are understated, lots of swaying and swishing, and what I'm guessing is the precursor to petit battement. For myself, I liked that the dancing didn't compete with the playing, I would rather listen to PBO play Rameau's beautiful music without any elaborate distractions.

Nonetheless, there was a lot to look at, the costumes are eye-poppingly bright and feature lots of feathers. A dancer dressed as an ostrich in Act III was a hit. The set uses tasteful projections of painted scenes within a painted proscenium. I enjoyed very much that the UC Berkeley mascot, Ursus arctos californicus, was painted on the shield at the top.

Nicholas McGegan conducted with his characteristic bouncy cheer, the orchestra sounded clean but lively. Even the horns were mostly in tune. The flutes had some gorgeous, exposed moments. The chorus was off to the side, stage left, but sounded robust. There were a few brief moment of asynchrony, but mostly on the first night rather than the second.

The soloists, mostly from the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, have lovely voices, very light and flexible. Of the two haute-contres, I preferred Aaron Sheehan (Apollon, Trajan) to Artavazd Sargsyan (Un Berger, Bacchus, Premier Roi) though both were nice, the latter did sound more fragile. The standout was definitely soprano Chantal Santon Jeffery who sang Lydie, Une Bacchante, and La Glorie herself. Her sound is absolutely clarion.

* Tattling * 
On Friday night, my date had me sit on the aisle of Row S so that I didn't have to hear the two chatty Germans in Row T Seats 104 and 105. He did giggle a lot at the dancing though. Also, someone near us wore a watch that was 10 minutes fast and chimed on the hour.

For the second performance, the first half was fine but during the second, a woman in Row J Seat 4 could not stop fidgeting (she also briefly talked to her companion on the aisle). She tapped her fingers to parts that did not have percussion and repeatedly rustled the paper in her Altoid box. Many pointed glances were shot her way but she seemed mostly oblivious to this. At least she did keep quiet for the last five minutes of the show. I felt badly for the man directly in front of her, he was obviously bothered and trying hard to focus on the performance instead.

Either she or her neighbor pressed and kicked my seat more than once as well, but it was easy to ignore since I'm being pressed and kicked internally by a 37 week old fetus. I expected the woman behind me to be infirm or elderly, but she was simply a slim middle-aged person with a blond bob and fringe.


Temple of Glory Preview

001 Original (2)* Notes *
My preview of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's The Temple of Glory up on KQED Arts. The opera, with music by Rameau and libretto by Voltaire, has a modern premiere of original 1745 version this Friday.

* Tattling *
I got to interview Maestro Nic McGegan for this piece, which was both exciting, because I love PBO, and embarrassing, because I'm particularly awkward on the phone. McGegan talked for nearly an hour and was as charming and jaunty as he seems on stage. It was adorable when he cheekily explained that The Temple of Glory is "A wonderful opera, but not in the sense of sopranos dying in garrets."


Cal Performances' 2017-2018 Season

Cal-performances-alvin-ailey-american-dance-theater-2-andrew-ecclesAugust 5 2017: Asian Youth Orchestra with Sarah Chang, violin
September 21 2017: Gustavo Dudamel and the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
September 23-24 2017: Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group; Moses(es)
September 30 2017: Lila Downs
October 7 2017: Matt Groening and Lynda Barry
October 11 2017: ODC/Dance; boulders and bones
October 13-15 2017: Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti
October 21-22 2017: Théâtre de la Ville, Paris; State of SiegeOctober 22 2017: Olli Mustonen, piano
October 23 2017: Garrison Keillor
October 27 2017: Dorrance Dance
October 28 2017: Korean National Gugak Center Traditional Orchestra
October 29 2017: Anssi Karttunen, cello; Nicolas Hodges, piano
November 4-5 2017: Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev
November 9 2017: Les Arts Florisssants and William Christie
November 10 2017: Ian Bostridge, tenor and Wenwen Du, piano
November 11 2017: Tango Buenos Aires; The Spirit of Argentina
November 12 2017 Tetzlaff Quartet
November 12 2017: Festival of South African Dance
November 17-19 2017: The Joffrey Ballet
November 24-26 2017: Imago Theatre; La Belle
December 2 2017: Claire Chase, flute
December 2-3 2017: Ragamala Dance Company; Written in Water
December 2-3 2017: Simon O'Neill, tenor
December 8-10 2017: Camille A. Brown & Dancers; BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play
December 10 2017: Takács Quartet; Garrick Ohlsson, piano
December 15-24 2017: The Hard Nut; Mark Morris Dance Group
January 27-28 2018: Peking Acrobats
January 28 2018: Musicians from Marlboro
February 3-4 2018: Circa; Il Ritorno
February 9-11 2018: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Joshua Weilerstein with Jonathan Biss, violin
February 16 2018: Dorothea Röschmann, soprano and Malcolm Martineau, piano
February 18 2018: St. Lawerence String Quartet
February 21 2018: Tony Kushner and Sarah Vowell
February 24-25 2018: Company Wang Ramirez; Borderline
February 25 2018: Sérgio & Odair Assad and Avi Avital
February 28 2018: Emanuel Ax, piano; Leonidas Kavakos, violin, Yo-Yo Ma, cello
March 4 2018: Kronos Quartet; Rinde Eckert; Vân-Ánh Võ; My Lai
March 7 2018: Eva Yerbabuena Company; ¡Ay!
March 11 2018: Wu Man and the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band
March 16-18 2018: Manuel Cinema; Ada/Ava
March 18 2018: David Finckel, cello and Wu Han, piano
March 22 2018: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Chick Corea
March 25 2018: Julia Bullock, soprano and John Arida, piano
April 6-7 2018: Spectrum Dance Theater; A Rap on Race
April 7-8 2018: Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot
April 10-15 2018: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
April 14 2018: Armenian State Chamber Choir
April 20 2018: Apollo's Fire; Monteverdi's L'Orfeo
April 21 2018: Gala at the Greek III
April 22 2018: Richard Goode, piano
May 4-5 2018: Ex Machina; 887
April 4 2018: Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
May 6 2018: TAO; Drum Heart

Cal Performances announced the 2017-2018 season on today. Lots of Baroque opera in the season including Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Charpentier's Actéon from Les Arts Florissants; Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria from the circus arts group Circa; and a semi-staged L'Orfeo by Monteverdi played by Apollo's Fire. The Koret Recital Series includes Ian Bostridge, Simon O'Neill, and Dorothea Röschmann.

Press Release | Official Site