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July 2010

Auditions for the General Director 2010

Merola-2010 * Notes *
This year's Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera were yesterday evening, featuring the participants of the Merola Opera Program. All of the singers were very good, as were the pianists.

This year we only have one returning Merolino, Eleazar Rodríguez, who sang "Sì, ritorvarla io giuro," with those dizzying high Cs, from La Cenerentola. As for the new singers, Rebecca Davis was particularly impressive, as were Daniel Montenegro and Hye Jung Lee. Davis, accompanied by Natalia Katyukova, was probably the most polished, and her "Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém" (Song to the Moon) was gorgeous. She was called back to sing Magda's big number in La Rondine, and she did splendidly. Given that she sang the role recently at Opera San José, and she is perhaps the eldest of the Merolini, it all does make sense that she did so well.

Daniel Montenegro, accompanied by Michael Spassov, sounded very lovely indeed in "Una furtiva lagrima." His voice has an interesting metallic quality, and his head voice and chest voice sound uniform, without strain for the higher notes. When called back Montenegro sang "La mia letizia infondere," Oronte's aria from I Lombardi. It was a little less smooth, but still very beautiful. Hye Jung Lee sounded sweet in both "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln" and Zerbinetta's aria from Ariadne auf Naxos. Her accompanist was Jenna Douglas.

In addition to Rebecca, Daniel, and Hye Jung, David Gockley called back the very talented Sidney Outlaw, Kevin Ray, Nadine Sierra, and Ryan Kuster. Sierra was definitely the most attractive as far as looks and presence. Her one-shoulder black dress was striking, and her singing was strong as well.

* Tattling *
Ao Li still has not made it to San Francisco, it seems. As usual, the Pride celebration was taking place during the last Sunday of the month at Civic Center, so we did start a few minutes late. Box E was well-behaved and attentive. A watch alarm was heard in the hall at 8pm. The floor must have been either not level or not smooth, because the singers had difficulty walking on and off stage.

Many, if not all, the Adlers were in attendance, including Leah Crocetto, Sara Gartland, Maya Lahyani, David Lomelí, Allen Periello, and Tamara Sanikidze. Also spotted was Eva-Maria Westbroek, who is currently singing Sieglinde here.

Drew Landmesser Orpheus Event

Wagon-fanciulla * Notes * 
Orpheus hosted an event with Drew Landmesser, San Francisco Opera's Director of Production yesterday before the matinée of Fanciulla. After a lovely brunch in the Littlefield Intermezzo Lounge, Landmesser spoke about his involvement with SF Opera, and his previous posts at Lyric Opera Chicago and Houston Grand Opera. It sounds like he truly loves his job, even when speaking about the various challenges backstage, especially as far as space is concerned. The worst part of Landmesser's job is certainly having to organize the parking.

Landmesser took us on a backstage tour, and we even got to stand on the set of Fanciulla. We learnt that they were not entirely sure they were going to get the set until April 2 of this year, when it was shipped from Palermo. The set looked nice from close up, the rock wall is sculpted nicely, one side being red, the other being white, for the different acts. We had to leave the stage so that the ballroom brawl could be rehearsed, evidently they rehearse it each time before the performance.

After the event, some of us stayed for the opera, though most Orpheus members had heard it before earlier in the run. I read the score at the top of house, and noted that the harp I had seen backstage was marked in the score as "arpa interna." Everyone sounded great from back there, the three principal singers are quite loud, as is the orchestra, but the balances are pretty good. The orchestra only obscured the singers two or three times. It also became more obvious to me how Andrew Lloyd Webber had stolen a melody from Fanciulla for "Music of the Night."

* Tattling * 
The group of about 30 that showed up for the Orpheus event was characteristically well-behaved. Unfortunately this was less true of the opera audience, and during a quiet part in Act II a cellular phone rang several times. The usher tried her best to get the person in L 102 to turn off the phone, but the latter did not even hear the ringing, and did not know how to operate it. At the second intermission Axel Feldheim was kind enough to help the person in question, who was very embarrassed and apologetic.

Die Walküre Panel Discussion

Runnicles-lindstroms * Notes * 
Last Thursday San Francisco Opera held a donor event at the Ritz-Carlton, a panel discussion with Maestro Donald Runnicles, soprano Nina Stemme, and baritone Mark Delavan, moderated by Gregory Henkel. Henkel was bit late, as he had been stuck at the airport in Los Angeles on his way back from the Ring there. David Gockley spoke for a few minutes, and let people ask him questions about SF Opera's Ring. Evidently there are tech rehearsals for the whole Ring for two weeks this July. He also mentioned that Henkel is a tenor.

We heard about how conducting the Ring has changed for Runnicles in the last 20 years, how he is perhaps less brash now. It sounds like Runnicles has a fine rapport with the orchestra, and many of the musicians have been at San Francisco Opera for the last 20 years, though there are notable additions, and José González Granero, the wonderful principal clarinetist hired by Nicola Luisotti, was mentioned. The whole cast sounds like they get on quite well, Stemme and Delavan certainly seemed to indicate this was the case. Both might have sung respective Ring roles before, having gotten offers elsewhere.

We learnt that Runnicles cycles for up to two and a half hours in the mornings, and that Delavan runs. For Delavan, the physical demands of Die Walküre were greater than the vocal ones, and he described how he could barely move his legs after performing in Berlin. Also of interest was hearing about the greatest influences of Runnicles, Stemme, and Delavan as far as the Ring is concerned. Runnicles mentioned Georg Solti; Stemme gave a whole list of famous Brünnhildes, including Birgit Nilsson; and Delavan revealed that Hans Hotter and Johnny Cash are his role models.

* Tattling * 
After the panel discussion, Kristina Flanagan, a production sponsor of the Ring, gave a donation pitch. There are still a few million left to raise, and George and Leslie Hume will be matching gifts up to a certain amount. It was clear that Flanagan was utterly committed to the production, and that next year's cycles are a worthwhile cause.

I had a chance to speak to Nina Stemme, and asked how she was feeling, given that David Gockley announced she had a bronchial infection for the performances on June 19 and 22. She said she was much better, though she could feel some congestion, and she had been so glad that she was able to sing those two evenings. Runnicles and the orchestra had helped out by playing more quietly. I had the opportunity to thank Runnicles for how absolutely beautiful Walküre is as well.

Meet the Merolini 2010

The 24 of the 25 Merolini for 2010 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. This year three of the participants are Canadian, and we have only one Iowan. Three of the singers have switched from one voice type to another, Alexander Lewis and Kevin Ray were both baritones, but are now tenors; and baritone Sidney Outlaw had been a bass. Perhaps more interestingly we have several singers from different genres: Lewis toured in The Phantom of the Opera, mezzo Colleen Brooks was in rock band, soprano Rebecca Davis sang back up for a country artist, and soprano Abigail Santos Villalobos was a gospel singer. The pace of the interviews was kept at a good clip, with each person only being asked two questions.

Unfortunately, baritone Ao Li was not present, as he is having visa troubles. Afterward, I finally got to meet Eleazar Rodríguez, and also spoke to Renée Rapier, Nadine Sierra, Rebecca Davis, Michael Spassov, and Abigail Santos Villalobos. It was amusing to speak to Rapier about playing viola and enjoying "large and gaudy accessories." Current Adler Tamara Sanikidze came to the reception and asked us if anyone had told a funnier story than she did last year, and the answer had to be, quite honestly, no.

Schwabacher Summer Concert
Colleen Brooks: Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
Janai Brugger-Orman: Sophie (Werther)
Rebecca Davis: Rodelinda (Rodelinda), Mařenka (The Bartered Bride)
Robin Flynn: Unulfo (Rodelinda)) 
Dan Kempson: Fluth (The Merry Wives of Windsor), Figaro (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
Ryan Kuster: Garibaldo (Rodelinda), Bartolo: (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Dr. Caius (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
Renée Rapier: Charlotte (Werther)
Kevin Ray: Grimoaldo (Rodelinda), Jeník: (The Bartered Bride), Slender (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
Eleazar Rodríguez: Fenton (The Merry Wives of Windsor), Count Almaviva (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
Kevin Thompson: Falstaff (The Merry Wives of Windsor), Basilio (Il barbiere di Siviglia)

L'elisir d'amore
Nemorino: Alexander Lewis, Daniel Montenegro
Adina: Valentina Fleer, Nadine Sierra
Belcore: Benjamin Covey, Ao Li
Dulcamara: Thomas Florio, Sidney Outlaw
Giannetta: Hye Jung Lee, Abigail Santos Villalobos


In the spirit of full-disclosure, I feel I should mention that I am the president of the Opera Standees Association, which often sponsors two Merolini a year. This summer we are sponsoring Abigail Santos Villalobos and Sidney Outlaw.

Cooke & Vinocour at SFS

Sasha-cooke-credit-christian-steiner * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas is currently conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Berlioz. The Wednesday performance began with the Le carnaval romain, and it was played brightly and with bombast. The English horn solo was very pretty. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke joined the orchestra for Les Nuits d'été. The six songs were brilliantly sung, Cooke's voice simply floated over the instruments with hardly any strain at all. Her high notes are absolutely beautiful. There were two low notes that perhaps were not perfect, one sounded a bit gritty, the other did not project that well, but obviously this is only a minor point. The new principal violist, Jonathan Vinocour, was featured as the soloist of Harold en Italie. His playing was very smooth, warm, and sweet. Berlioz's music is off-kilter at times, for instance, the third movement Sérénade is hardly song-like or calm at all, until the end. Perhaps this is part of Berlioz's charm, however.

* Tattling * 
There was a lot talking in the Front Orchestra Side section, except during the first piece. I hushed the Cantonese-speaking women at the end of Row F (Seats 22 and 24), and I was mesmerized by the hairdo of the young lady in front of me in Row D Seat 16. She seemed to have missed a significant portion of her roots when she last dyed her hair, but just on one side.

Yuja Wang at SFS

Yuja-wang * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas is amidst conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, and Ravel. However, the main attraction of last night's performance was clearly pianist Yuja Wang. The evening began with MTT and Yuja playing Poulenc's Sonata for Piano Four Hands. The piece came off a bit acridly, Wang has a ruthlessness that is impressive. The symphony took the stage for Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. The principal violin and cello sounded strong, and Wang's playing was unyielding. She makes one understand the piano as a percussive instrument, and the contrast between her and the strings was shown in high relief. The soloist got a break during the Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9, a very beautiful piece, and beautifully played. Wang returned for Ravel's Concerto in D major for the Left Hand for Piano and Orchestra, and she created a great deal of sound, the end was lively and expressive. After the intermission we heard Le Sacre du printemps. This piece certainly was disturbing, even violent. The woodwinds squeaked a little, but were mostly good, and the violas also played well.

* Tattling * 
There was some talking, mostly during the first half. The women in G 105 and 106 of the orchestra level were rather loud, but since they were utterly excited about both Yuja and SF Symphony, it was hard to be too upset with them. A cellular phone was heard between the Rustique and Final movements of the Poulenc.

Gregory Henkel Orpheus Event

Greg-henkel * Notes * 
Orpheus hosted an event with Gregory Henkel, San Francisco Opera's Director of Artistic Adminstration yesterday evening at Credo. Henkel certainly has quite a C.V., having worked at Los Angeles Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He also was a guest judge at the Met auditions this year.

For this talk, he spoke about his job, about how casting comes about, and how we induce singers to come out all the way to San Francisco. We got a first hand account of how Molly Fillmore, currently singing in Die Walküre, flew in from Arizona to fill in for Nadja Michael. Fillmore had never performed the role before, and though she had some rehearsal time before the opera opened in San Francisco, she was, of course, not completely prepared. We also heard about how Andrea Silvestrelli sang for Peter Rose when the latter went to the UK for his father's funeral service. Silvestrelli had to learn all that English dialogue with in a very short period of time.

It was most interesting to hear Henkel's impressions of the best up and coming talent. He praised our current and former Adlers highly, especially Leah Crocetto, David Lomelí, Ryan Belongie, Daveda Karanas, and Heidi Melton. As far as other singers under 40, he mentioned Albina Shagimuratova, Heidi Stober, Stephanie Blythe, Stephen Costello, Brian Mulligan, and Quinn Kelsey, all of whom we will hear in coming seasons. It was mentioned that Costello's wife, Ailyn Pérez, had no rehearsal time with the orchestra before her one Traviata performance last summer.

* Tattling * 
The audience was engaged, quietly snacking on fried olives and other hors d'œuvre. After the talk, Henkel mingled with the guests before taking a taxi to the fourth performance of Faust.

SF Opera Ring Costume Contest on Facebook

Charlise as Erda, the goddess of the earth. Photo by Scott Wall San Francisco Opera's Facebook page has photographs of the contestants for the Ring costume contest that occurred on Sunday. If you "like" San Francisco Opera on Facebook, you may even vote for your favorite costume. Whichever photo gets the most "likes" by Friday at 12 pm will win a production photo from Die Walküre signed by the cast.

SF Opera on Facebook | SFCV | Not For Fun Only

MTT conducts Wagner, Berg, & Beethoven

Violinkonzert * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas just finished conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Wagner, Berg, and Beethoven. The Overture to The Flying Dutchman sounded lovely, and the brass were fairly clear and sounded nice. The second piece also had to do with opera, and the Suite from Lulu was dense and lush. Soprano Erin Wall made an admirable attempt to be heard over the heavy orchestration, and something about her icy voice does penetrate over the din. It was not very easy to hear which words she was singing, however. The second half of the performance consisted of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, with James Ehnes as the soloist. The orchestra was spirited, the principal cello and viola were particularly fine, as were the woodwinds. The quiet parts of Ehnes playing were exquisite and plaintive.

* Tattling * 
There was some quiet talking during Saturday's performance in San Francisco, but not very much. A cellular phone was heard right before Beethoven.

SF Opera Ring Costume Contest

Schumannheinkerda San Francisco Opera is holding a costume contest today before the matinée performance of Die Walküre. The contest involves dressing up as characters from Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. The judges include David Gockley, Kristina Flanagan, Christopher Verdosci, and Terri Stuart.

The potential for utter ridiculousness seems pretty high here. Though sophisticates such as John Marcher and Axel Feldheim are certain not to partake in such silliness, I will be making some sort of attempt to participate.

Press Release [PDF] | San Francisco Opera | WSNC