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October 2012
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December 2012

Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela

Bolivars-dudamel-2012* Notes * 
Gustavo Dudamel and the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar (pictured left, photograph by Scott Grieder) played the first of two concerts at Cal Performances last night. The program the orchestra is touring right now is entitled "¡MUSICA! A Celebration of Music from Latin America," thus featuring, in this instance, Carlos Chávez, Julián Orbón, and Silvestre Revueltas. The orchestra is huge, so the intensity of the volume is likewise impactful. The orchestra members seemed earnest and serious in playing Chávez's Sinfonia india, the rhythms were all clear. Orbón's Tres versions sinfonicas was, in turns, jaunty, stately, and charming.

The orchestra had fun with the Revueltas that followed the intermission, La Noche de los Mayas, which sounded, as one would expect for a concert suite based on a film score, cinematic. The playing was vigorous and all the musicians seemed present in the moment.

The two delightful encores were La Conga del fuego nuevo by Arturo Márquez and "Mambo" from Bernstein's West Side Story. During the latter, the musicians spun around their instruments and even got up to dance.

* Tattling *
Most of the audience was quiet and attentive. There was some of talking between a few elderly people who must not realize how audible their conversations are to those with unimpaired hearing.

Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca at SF Opera

Tosca-sfopera-gheorghiu-2012* Notes * 
Angela Gheorghiu (pictured left in Act II, photograph by Cory Weaver) sang her fourth complete performance of Tosca at San Francisco Opera last night. Gheorghiu's voice seems a bit thin for the role, though her sound does have a lovely, silvery quality. Gheorghiu looks stunning in the various costumes, but perhaps her acting relies too heavily on her personal beauty. Her jump at the end was particularly lackluster. The audience seemed to adore her regardless.

Massimo Giordano's Cavaradossi was more solid than before, his voice is pretty and reedy. Somehow he did not inspire ovation for "E lucevan le stelle," though he did not sing badly. The duet in Act III between Giordano and Gheorghiu went rather awry. Roberto Frontali continued to impress as Scarpia. Maestro Luisotti had the orchestra were more synchronized with the singers, and overwhelmed them less than before.

* Tattling * 
The house looked quite full, at least on the Orchestra, Box, and Grand Tier levels.

Joyce DiDonato with Il Complesso Barocco

Drama-queens-joyce-didonato* Notes * 
Last night Joyce DiDonato (pictured left, photograph by Josef Fischnaller) performed with Il Complesso Barocco at the Green Music Center in Sonoma County. The performance is part of DiDonato's "Drama Queens" tour, which involves a program of Baroque arias in Italian. Beginning with Antonio Cesti's "Intorno all'idol mio" from Orontea, it was evident how dramatic and expressive DiDonato's voice is. The high-spirited ensemble also had a great deal of energy, as seen and heard to best effect during Vivaldi's Concerto for violin and strings RV 242, known as "per Pisendel." Director and violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky seemed quite cheerful and everyone playing was fully engaged in creating music.

The high point of the evening was certainly "Disprezzata regina" from L'incoronazione di Poppea. DiDonato gave a theatrical, compelling account of Ottavia's anguish, her voice shows a lot of nuance and range of emotion. The second half of the concert paired two arias for Cleopatra, first Hasse's "Morte, col fiero aspetto," followed by Händel's "Piangerò la sorte mia." DiDonato sang with a gorgeous pianissimo in "Madre diletta" by Zeno.

The three encores were "Lasciami piangere," "Col versar, barbaro, il sangue," and "Brilla nell'alma." DiDonato spoke before each one, approving of the new hall and joking about how it was nice to sing in the Bay Area in a dress, which has not happened in a long time.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet but enthused. The modular Vivienne Westwood gown made especially for DiDonato's tour was much admired.

Joyce DiDonato Interview

Joyce-DiDonato_credit_Sheila-RockMezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (pictured left, photograph by Sheila Rock) is midway through a tour with Il Complesso Barocco. Their last stop in the United States is tonight at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

How did you get interested in opera?
I was studying Music Education in college, and could get a bit more scholarship money if I joined the opera, so I did. And I was hooked immediately. It was the marriage of everything I love: music, theater, emotion, physicality, intelligence. It requires everything that I am.

Your repertoire includes a lot of Baroque and Bel Canto roles. Is this different from working on new music like Dead Man Walking, or something like The Enchanted Island?
I don't actually see it as separate or different - to me it is all story telling. The structure is sometimes different, but the premise is the same. One thing I love about Baroque and Bel Canto roles, however, is the ability to ornament the vocal line, which provides a tremendous amount of freedom and liberation, allowing me to put a very individual stamp onto the role.

Was it stressful to be filmed in HD for the Met simulcast?
It was thrilling, but just a tad nerve-wracking, knowing that so many people are watching a live performance around the globe. However, the idea that opera can reach so many people at once far outweighs any nerves on my end. It is a tremendous undertaking!

How was singing in Bellini'’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi?
It is a role that I love deeply, for his youth, ardor, passion, and confusion ~ it is such a joy to play such extreme emotions. But it was also an absolute joy to play this piece with Nicole Cabell, who made a divine Giulietta. This is an opera that turns on the chemistry between to the two singers, and to find such a glorious singer and committed performer in Nicole was a real joy.

How did the CD Drama Queens come together?
I knew that I wanted to return to the Baroque world for my next disc, and the idea of the strong, powerful female prima donnas of that period really attracted me. They are larger than life, and I think brought out the very best in the composers who were inspired by the Royal ways. Without knowing which exact arias I wanted to sing, I started with the idea of the roles of Cleopatra and Octavia. At 3:00 am one night, I woke up out of a deep sleep thinking "DRAMA QUEENS" - and the idea was born.

What roles are you looking forward to most?
I'm very excited to revisit Maria Stuarda for the second time at the Metropolitan Opera this winter. The Met has never done the opera before, so it is a great privilege to bring this iconic role to such a storied theater for the first time.

Who do you look up to as far as musicians are concerned?
My greatest idol has always been Frederica von Stade - she is one of the greatest singers I know, who exudes buckets of generosity and sincerity on the stage, and has always been the model for how I have wished to build my career. Another favorite singer is Ella Fitzgerald.

You are an amateur photographer. What camera do you use? What do you like to photograph?
I use a Canon and love to photograph whatever I see: landscape, architecture, candid shots, backstage - anything that falls into my line of sight!

How did you start blogging and tweeting?
When I first started my website I wanted it to include a kind of journal (this was before "blog" was even a word!) It has morphed into a real dialogue with my fans, which is something quite special.

What sort of yoga do you do?
I love Hatha and Ashtanga yoga.

Patricia Racette as Tosca at SF Opera

Tosca-sfopera-racette* Notes * 
The second performance of Tosca at San Francisco Opera featured three different principals (Patricia Racette as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) to fairly fine effect. Patricia Racette's portrayal of Tosca is dramatically convincing. Though the timbre of her vibrato always makes this listener uncomfortable, she sings with a lot of fire. Racette's quieter passages can be quite pretty. She is a great actress, and despite being less than willowy, all her movements are easily read even from the back of the house. Her "Vissi d'Arte" was moving.

Brian Jagde has a bright, occasionally brassy, sound as Cavaradossi. His voice shows a good deal of emotion: cheeriness at the beginning, subsequent anger at Scarpia, and then tenderness with Tosca. He got carried away with the second "Vittoria" in Act II, but sang a poignant "E lucevan le stelle." Mark Delavan's performance of Scarpia was less ardent, and there were moments in Act I when he was completely drowned out by the orchestra. One longs for a bit more heft and weight for this role. Delavan improved in Act II, he was more audible and the attractiveness of his voice became more apparent.

* Tattling * 
There were significantly fewer latecomers to this performance compared to the first one on Thursday. There was some whispering, but no serious ill-mannered behavior was noted in the back of the balcony.

Melody Moore as Tosca at SF Opera

Tosca-sfopera-moore-2012* Notes * 
Last night's opening of Tosca at San Francisco Opera was rather more exciting than expected, given that the 1997 production has been revived three times before. As Tosca, Angela Gheorghiu sang Act I a bit quietly, and was often not with the orchestra. Before Act II, General Director David Gockley announced that Gheorghiu had a bout of intestinal distress and nausea at intermission and was going to the hospital. The cover, Melody Moore (pictured above in Act II, photograph by Kristen Loken), was getting into costume, and Gockley begged our indulgence. All things considered, Moore did an excellent job. Her voice sounds icier in this role than others, which is not inappropriate. Her lower register has a lovely vibrancy, in stark contrast to Gheorghiu.

As for the rest of the cast, Massimo Giordano (Cavaradossi) has warm plaintiveness, but did not always sound secure. His portrayal did not have much nuance, but he certainly did project well. Roberto Frontali sang a threatening Scarpia with grit and power. Christian van Horn sounded robust as Angelotti and Dale Travis delivered a comic Sacristan. Joel Sorensen was completely committed to his role of Spoletta, and the spill he took trying to catch up with Moore at the end looked very realistic.

Maestro Luisotti had the orchestra sounding strong, and there was never a lax moment. The clarinet solo that introduces "E lucevan le stelle" was particularly beautiful. The strings also sounded lovely.

* Tattling * 
Cellular phone alarm went off twice during Act I, once toward the end of the duet between Tosca and Cavaradossi and once near the end of the act. A latecomer brusquely yelled "excuse me" into my ear and pushed herself between me and another standee, right at the end of Act I, just before the alarm went off. Her arm was touching mine, so I gently rested against her. I figured she wanted so very much to be near someone else, I might as well oblige her.

According to a statement issued by San Francisco Opera today, Gheorghiu was feeling ill during Act I. Tests at the hospital revealed that she was severely dehydrated. Gheorghiu is now resting up and feeling better. She expects to perform on Sunday, November 18, as scheduled.

Philharmonia Orchestra's Wozzeck

Philharmonia-orchestra-peg-skorpinski* Notes * 
Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Peg Skorpinski) stopped at Cal Performances this weekend as part of a US tour. Last night's program was a semi-staged version of Wozzeck. The lack of set and costumes allowed the music to take precedence, and the drama of this piece remained vivid and clear.

Joshua Ellicott (Andres) sang prettily, while Hubert Francis (the Drum-Major) was strong. Tijl Faveyts was a creepy doctor, his voice has a dryness that makes for a good contrast with the other low voices. He did have a tendency to blend in with the more highly orchestrated parts of the music. Peter Hoare's Captain is mocking and bright. 

Angela Denoke has a sound few rough or sharp edges, yet was able to faithfully portray Marie's anguish. Johan Reuter made for a sympathetic Wozzeck, piteous and crazed. His voice is warm.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking from long-time patrons in the orchestra section. An iPhone (Apple's personal assistant application) was heard when the Idiot sings "Lustig, lustig...aber es riecht." Someone's phone rang when Wozzeck sang about death in the last act.

SF Opera's Community Open House

Open-house-david-wakelyCelebrating San Francisco Opera's 90th Season, the Company is hosting a Community Open House today at the War Memorial Opera House (301 Van Ness Avenue pictured left, photograph by David Wakely) from 10:30am to 2:30pm. Events include technical and musical demonstrations with Maestro Nicola Luisotti, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus, soprano Melody Moore, and tenor Brian Jagde. Technical demonstrations will feature set-building, lighting, and other technical elements of productions are 25 minutes each and begin at 11am, 12:30pm, and 2pm. Tosca and Lohengrin musical demonstrations are 45 minutes each and begin at 11:35am and 1:05pm.

The Tempest at the Met

Tempest-met-2012* Notes * 
The Metropolitan Opera, dark for two nights because of Hurricane Sandy, reopened on Halloween with a third performance of The Tempest by Thomas Adès. The production, from Robert Lepage, is enchanting. The piece is set in a version of La Scala, which starts almost as a paper theater, but ends up being rather detailed and substantial. Act I is from the stage, Act II from the audience, and Act III has a scene from backstage, followed by one in cross section (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera). Projections are used to conjure the tempest and the sea. Entrances and exits are made using the prompter's box, curtains, and even the chandelier. The acrobatics involved make for fine spectacle.

The orchestra was lead by an enthusiastic Adès, the playing was clear and the music rather eerie. Adès eschews sentimentality, but can be somewhat harsh, and some of the singers did sound pushed to their limits. The chorus sounded sturdy and together.

Kevin Burdette (Stefano) and Iestyn Davies (Trinculo) excelled as the comic relief of the evening, moving gracefully. Audrey Luna is an otherworldly Ariel, her notes so high she seemed to be squeaking in a cetacean language. Isabel Leonard was a little acidic, but she is a pretty Miranda, and was plaintive in Act III. Alek Shrader sang Ferdinand with sweetness, and with a characteristic metallic sheen in the high notes.

Caliban is a rather sympathetic creature in this opera, and Alan Oke sang with a certain gentleness when necessary. William Burden gave a nuanced performance as the King of Naples, his voice sounded bright and strong. Toby Spence was a believable Antonio, and his sound is distinct from the aforementioned tenors. Though Simon Keenlyside's voice is not particularly robust, his Prospero has much fire and beauty.

* Tattling *
There were a number of talkative audience members in Family Circle, both in seats and in standing room. Given the lack of public transportation, it was not surprising that the hall was not entirely full. There was also noticeable attrition at the intermission. The ovation was, however, ebullient.