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B Cast of SF Opera's Traviata

Photo by Kristen Loken Anstey * Notes *
The B cast of San Francisco Opera's La Traviata performed last night. Elizabeth Futral and David Lomelí were a good match vocally as the leads, neither overwhelmed the other as far as volume was concerned. Futral's pianissimo was exquisite, the coldness of her voice could come off as crystalline. However, she did have some shaky shrillness too, she shrieked her last note in Act I and her vibrato was out of control at the end of "Addio, del passato." Lomelí fared better, his voice always sounded clean and lovely. Stephen Powell was fine as Germont, though his shifts in dynamics were not terribly distinct in "Di Provenza il mar." Leann Sandel-Pantaleo was a very brash but charming Flora, she gasped a few times, but she and the rest of the supporting cast were singing back-to-back performances. The chorus sounded together, and did particularly well in Act II. The orchestra also did well, there was only a brief moment where the horns sounded strange at the beginning of "Ah, fors' è lui."

* Tattling * 
There was so much electronic noise in the balcony that I had to move down to orchestra standing room to read the score in peace. Someone's watch alarm rang at least thirty times, at different intervals, and made noise for practically every number. Downstairs, someone in standing room also had a watch alarm, but it only rang at each hour.

Many Merolini and Adlers were in attendance. I must have been quite exhausted, for I inadvertently greeted Heidi Melton as we walked in opposite directions through the box level lobby.

Various News Items

Fabio Luisi has been appointed the next general music director of Opernhaus Zürich, and starts in 2012. Lyndon Terracini is the next artistic director of Opera Australia, starting October 2009.

In sadder news, the choreographer Philippine "Pina" Bausch died this morning.

Luisi Press Release | Terracini Press Release [PDF] | Tanztheater Wuppertal

Auditions for the General Director 2009

2009_Schwabacher_Summer_Concert_Cast * Notes *
This year's Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera were yesterday evening, featuring the participants of the Merola Opera Program. It certainly was not a dull performance, and watching the 2009 crop of singers develop will be fascinating. I especially liked hearing the returning Merolini, Nathaniel Peake, in particular, has improved. His voice has a fuller bloom, so I do look forward to hearing him in the title role of L'Amico Fritz. Kate Crist sounded more secure "Du bist der Lenz" than this time last year and Benjamin LeClair continued to sound wonderful in "Come dal ciel precipita."

As for the newcomers, tenor Gregory Carroll and contralto Suzanne Hendrix seemed most promising at this early stage. Carroll has a warm, full tone, and sang both Wagner and Leoncavallo nicely. Hendrix was incredible as Erda, better than what we have heard recently on the main stage production last summer. Baritone Michael Sumuel sang "O Du, Mein Holder Abendstern" very beautifully, and mezzo Maya Lahyani has some great stage presence.

For what it is worth, David Gockley called back Evan Boyer, Lori Guilbeau, Maya Lahyani, Ryan Belongie, Brian Jadge, Sara Gartland, Gregory Carroll, Susannah Biller, and Suzanne Hendrix.

* Tattling *
Not only was there a huge and loud Pride celebration going on outside at Civic Center, but a determined crowd of Anna Netrebko fans waiting in line for a signing in the lobby of the War Memorial. However, both were more or less inaudible inside the hall. There was scattered whispering and a bit of talking amongst the audience members.

Eric Owens Reception

Eric-owens-porgy The Opera Standees Association held a small reception for Eric Owens yesterday evening in San Francisco. Owens is in the midst of having a great success in Porgy and Bess at San Francisco Opera, and the last performance is tomorrow. Despite this, and his recent Met debut, he remains refreshingly humble.

Eric discussed the excitement of live performance, how each night in a particular run will be different, and how having 3,000 people in the audience is part of it. He played Robert Levin's Curtis Commencement speech to us, which champions new music. We pontificated on which new operas might make it to the standard rep: Ainadamar, Dead Man Walking, and Little Women. A lively conversation about how it is more difficult to do a contemporary opera the second time, rather than the premiere, ensued.

We also got to hear about how Eric Owens became a singer, how he played oboe professionally but ended up at Temple University for voice as an undergraduate, and how he got into the Curtis Institute for Music for grad school after a year studying with Armen Boyajian. It is clear he is both tenacious and persistent. It was also particularly interesting to hear what music Owens loves, as he was a fan of opera before he ever thought he would be a singer himself. Charmingly enough, he did standing room at the Met as a teenager, first Tosca, then Götterdämmerung and Der Rosenkavalier.

Iolanthe at SFS

Sasha-Cooke * Notes * 
The semi-staged production of Iolanthe at San Francisco Symphony was disappointing aurally, but not because of the musicians, singers, or Gilbert & Sullivan. Frustratingly enough, it was the amplification system that was the problem, and last night's performance was dogged by balance problems and feedback from the microphones. The voices were painfully loud at times, and it was quite difficult to gage the quality of the singers. This is unfortunate, I had been looking forward to hearing Sasha Cooke (Iolanthe) in person, after hearing her in the Met simulcast of Doctor Atomic. Her voice seemed pure and lovely, but the amplification made it difficult to tell about her heft and volume. At least the feedback problem did not persist in the second act.

The performers seemed to have a good rapport with the conductor, George Manahan. The playing sometimes came off nicely, though again the balances were wrong due to the amplification. The dancing was very sweet, though the girls were not exactly together, they were charming. The choreography also worked on the singers, and Lucas Meachem (Strephon) in particular did well. The hula hooping in the first act from the fairies garnered a laugh. The acting was amusing, Joyce Castle was hilarious as the Queen of the Fairies, and Richard Suart was likewise funny as the Lord Chancellor. The diction was not perfectly clear, despite the loud volume, though I was able to follow the words without surtitles.

* Tattling * 
There was rustling and some quiet talking. Someone's watch alarm sounded at least 20 times during Act I, as the Queen of the Fairies spoke.

At intermission, I was blamed for the poor use of amplification, as it had to be someone's fault. Perhaps I would have much less to tattle on if things had gone better, indeed.

Festival Opera 2009

Festival Opera's 2009 season opens July 11th with Turandot, and ends August 16th with Faust.

Turandot: Othalie Graham
Calaf: Christopher Jackson
Liù: Rebecca Sjöwall
Timur: Kirk Eichelberger
Ping: Igor Vieira
Pang: Adam Flowers
Pong: Michael Mendelsohn
Mandarin: Ted Weis
Emperor Altoum: Jonathan Nadel

Faust: Brian Thorsett
Marguerite: Kristin Clayton
Méphistophélès: Kirk Eichelberger
Valentin: Eugene Brancoveanu
Wagner: Zachary Gordin
Siébel: Erin Neff
Marthe: Patrice Houston

Meet the Merolini 2009

The 29 Merolini for 2009 were interviewed by San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald, Merola Opera Board of Directors Chairman Jayne Davis, and President Patrick Wilken yesterday evening, in the Green Room of the War Memorial Veterans Building. Iowa was mentioned many times, in context of the strong work ethic of Midwesterners. Several of the singers have switched from one voice type to another. The funniest story we heard all evening was probably from apprentice coach Tamara Sanikidze, who managed to break her tailbone in seven places at the White House, and wondered why the leader of the Free World couldn't manage to trim his ear hair.

Casting was announced as well, though it is not clear who is singing Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri for the Schwabacher Concert. Kate Crist is listed for the former, but made it clear during her questions that this was a misprint. Not too surprising given she is a soprano, and Isabella is sung by a mezzo. Looking at the line up, perhaps Margaret Gawrysiak is singing it. ([Update: 06/19/2009] This has been confirmed by Kate Crist and by the press release.)

Schwabacher Summer Concert
Ryan Belongie: Orfeo (Orfeo ed Euridice), Toby (The Medium)
Susannah Biller
: Euridice (Orfeo ed Euridice), Monica (The Medium), Elvira (L'Italiana in Algeri), Musetta (La Bohème)
Evan Boyer: Colline (La Bohème)
Gregory Carroll: Erik (Der Fliegende Holländer)
Kate Crist: Senta (Der Fliegende Holländer
Margaret Gawrysiak: Isabella (L'Italiana in Algeri), Mrs. Nolan (The Medium)
Lori Guilbeau: Mimì (La Bohème), Mrs. Gobineau (The Medium)
Suzanne Hendrix: Mary (Der Fliegende Holländer), Baba (The Medium)
Brian Jagde: Rodolfo (La Bohème)
Eleazar Rodríguez: Lindoro (L'Italiana in Algeri)
Paul Scholten: Mr. Gobineau (The Medium), Marcello (La Bohème)
Michael Sumuel: Taddeo (L'Italiana in Algeri), Schaunard (La Bohème), Mr. Gobineau (The Medium)
Yohan Yi: Mustafa (L'Italiana in Algeri)

L'Amico Fritz
Fritz: Nathaniel Peake
Suzel: Sara Gartland
Beppe: Maya Lahyani
Federico: Eleazar Rodríguez
Hanezò: Yohan Yi
David: Aleksey Bogdanov
Caterina: Susannah Biller

Così fan tutte
Fiordiligi: Lara Ciekiewicz
Dorabella: Ellie Jarrett   
Guglielmo: John Chest
Ferrando: Alex Mansoori
Despina: Caitlin Mathes
Don Alfonso: Benjamin LeClair

SF Opera's La Traviata Media Round-Up

Production Web Site | Press Photographs

Final Dress Rehearsal: Civic Center

Reviews of the First Cast: The Opera Tattler | Not For Fun Only | Out West Arts | | San Jose Mercury | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Chronicle | Associated Press

Reviews of the Second Cast: The Opera Tattler | San Francisco Chronicle

Reviews of Ailyn Pérez: The Opera Tattler | Not For Fun Only

Netrebko in SF Opera's La Traviata

Netrebko-castronovo * Notes * 
Marta Domingo's "Jazz Age" production of La Traviata opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The performance marked the long-awaited return of Anna Netrebko to the War Memorial stage, as she was last here four years ago, singing Musetta in La Bohème. Netrebko did not disappoint as Violetta, her sound is rich and bright, and she has retained her good looks. Her voice has become quite full, and her volume was sometimes overwhelming. She and Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) made for an attractive pair, even though he did sound muted in comparison. Castronovo's tenor is warm and pretty, with very little strain. As Germont, Dwayne Croft did well considering he was recovering from a sinus infection. He rushed during his big aria in Act II, but the fineness of his voice did come through. The supporting cast was perfectly respectable, though perhaps less than arresting. The chorus produced a lovely sound, but were not exactly on beat with the orchestra near the end of Act I. There seemed to be a great deal of asynchrony in general, even for the opening of a new production. There were pleasing individual moments from the orchestra, however, it was not a particularly inspired performance overall.

The staging was artificial and incoherent. The sets for the first and last acts were elegant, very simple, but the Act II sets were overwrought. None of them made a good deal of sense taken together, and I was especially displeased by the return of the blinding disco ball from La Rondine. The costumes were lost, because of the colors used, they just did not read well. None of Netrebko's costumes were flattering, though the gowns were sumptuous with clean lines. Her outfit in Act II was strangely elvin, she looked like an extra from Lord of the Rings. The choreography was sloppy, the dancers were not together, and it was bizarre that they had an Arabic theme for both the Egyptian and the Spanish pieces. Worse yet were the movements of the singers, they looked stiff, like marionettes. There was no dramatic tension in the choreography whatsoever, as evidenced by the falls that Netrebko took both at the end of Acts II and III. Unfortunately, one cannot use a gag like that twice without being trite.

* Tattling * 
There was very little talking, and no electronic noise besides some hearing aid squeals. The audience was very taken with Netrebko and seemed highly engaged and attentive.

Gil Shaham plays Berg at SFS

Gil-shaham * Notes * 
The Schubert/Berg Festival over at San Francisco Symphony ends this week with performances of Berg's Violin Concerto and Schubert's Mass No. 6 in E-Flat major, D. 950. The soloist for the former, Gil Shaham, seemed very immersed in the work, and made frequent eye-contact with the members of the orchestra. Shaham played assiduously, the strings sounded clean, the woodwinds were expressive, and the brass had a warm but muddy sound. The piece itself seemed very constrained and prickly, though not overwhelmingly sorrowful, at least, not in this particular reading.


Last night's performance of Mass No. 6 was this symphony's first. The chorus sounded nice, very together, and not strained in the least. The playing was likewise fine, but without any fire. The five soloists had little actual music, but their voices blended beautifully. Tenor Bruce Sledge sounded more delicate than tenor Nicholas Phan. Laura Aikin's voice, on the other hand, has both heft and a lovely ethereality.

* Tattling * 
The amiable Michael Tilson Thomas spoke at length about the Berg piece, and helpfully gave live musical examples. At times, one does wonder about conductors who may have more to say verbally than musically.

There was scattered speaking during the music, especially during the second piece. I even caught myself daydreaming about Spanish cognates to the Latin text of the Mass.