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Adler Concert

12.2.16_SFO-1885* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows had an especially impressive annual concert at Herbst Theater last Friday. Supported by the talents of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Maestro Jordi Bernacer, the new resident conductor, the singers gave one electrifying performance after another.

San Francisco Opera has been keeping the Adlers busy this fall, and it was great to hear the likes of tenor Pene Pati and baritone Edward Nelson take center stage for a change. Pati is arresting every time I hear him, and as Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, he sang "Che sei tu che ardisci aggirarti furtivo?" with utter conviction, making Nian Wang (Romeo) seem a bit weak in comparison. Pati was charming in a duet with his wife Amina Idris (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken), they sang "Quoi, vous m'aimez? ... De cet aveu si tendre" and were very cute. Pati also did very well with "Quango le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller.

Edward Nelson was another standout, his acting was perfect for the duet he sang with soprano Toni Marie Palmertree from Pagliacci. He was completely engaging in "Look, through the port comes the moonlight astray" and one hopes to hear him cast as Billy Budd sometime in the future.

Julie Adams had my favorite aria of the evening with "Glück das mir verblieb" from Die tote Stadt, a reminder both of her incredible voice, put to use only in smaller roles like Kate Pinkerton and Kristina lately, and of the amazing run we had of this opera back in 2008. Adams also gave a riveting performance of "The trees on the mountain" from Susannah.

I was most taken aback by hearing bass Anthony Reed in Song of the Viking Guest from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko, he sounded really nice. Oftentimes I find it hard to appreciate the Adlers with lower voices, as they tend to be less far along in their development, and it's hard to extrapolate how their voices will be in decades to come. Reed often sounds a little underpowered to me, and his youth is always at odds with the old man roles he plays on the War Memorial stage.

 

* Tattling *
It has been so long since I've been to one of these concerts that I didn't realize it is held in Herbst rather than the War Memorial. I had to scurry over and thank goodness traffic hadn't been worse, or I would not have made it in time.

I sat next to a critic who asked me if Toni Marie Palmertree had to step in as Butterfly for a performance, which I confirmed, she sang the role on November 18. On the other side of me was an enthusiastic man who forgot to turn off his phone, which rang before the singing started for the first aria, but kept making sounds as he tried to disable it.


LA Opera's Akhnaten

Akhnaten* Notes *
Los Angeles Opera's recent Akhnaten, which closed last Sunday with a matinee performance, was nothing short of spectacular. With Philip Glass' hypnotic score, an excellent cast, and a grand production featuring acrobats and a flexible, multi-level set, it was hard to look away from the stage for even a second.

This is the third of three biographical operas by Glass, the first two being Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha, which focus on Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi. This opera deals with the life of pharaoh Akhenaten, who abandoned polytheism in favor of worshipping Aten, a sun deity. The text of the opera is in Ancient Egyptian, Biblical Hebrew, and Akkadian.

The music features many arpeggios and no violins, it is not as surreal as Einstein and not as austere as Satyagraha. The music does seem difficult to perform, and though not perfectly precise, the LA Opera orchestra did admirably under the direction of Matthew Aucoin. The chorus members looked like they were all concentrating very hard as well, especially when they had to throw balls as they sang.

The main character is sung by a countertenor, in this case by the very talented Anthony Roth Constanzo, who is a regular at the Met and also had a star turn in San Francisco Opera's Partenope a few years ago. Constanzo has a beautiful, pure tone. He did sound somewhat shrill in Act II Scene 2, his duet with Nefertiti, but he was incredible in the rest of the piece. The epilogue was especially gorgeous, and certainly soprano Stacey Tappan (Queen Tye) and mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges (Nefertiti) made strong contributions here as well. Tappan has a clear, sweet sound and Bridges is powerful without dominating the other voices.

The smaller roles were all beautifully cast. Baritone Kihun Yoon (Horemhab), bass-baritone Patrick Blackwell (Aye), and tenor Frederick Ballentine (High Priest of Amon) sang with an unparalleled cohesion. The six daughters of Akhnaten sounded elegant and lovely, particularly sopranos So Young Park and Summer Hassan. Even the non-singing role of the scribe, who narrates the scenes in lieu of supertitles, was expertly performed by bass Zachary James, a imposing presence with an attractive voice, even if he didn't sing here.

The striking co-production with English National Opera opened at that opera house last March. The set, which looks to be made of metal and is designed by Tom Pye, features three levels and sliding doors, it is contemporary and easily moved but still formidable, especially when populated by the chorus and the supers. Kevin Pollard's costumes make nods at Ancient Egypt but also reference other eras. The look is a bit Steampunk and also a bit H.R. Giger. Akhnaten's robes have baby doll heads on them, for instance.

Director Phelim McDermott makes use of ten jugglers, an acknowledgement of the earliest known depiction of juggling being found in Egypt and of Philip Glass' music, which requires similar adroit, well-timed skill. The jugglers, dressed for the most part as cracked statues, add to both the spectacle and otherworldly quality of the piece. McDermott never lacks for ideas, there was a huge hamster wheel in Act I and Contanzo is completely naked for much of this act as he is slowly maneuvered into his pharaoh clothing. Act II Scene 4 has a giant balloon aloft mid-stage, prettily lit different colors until it clearly represents the sun. The six daughters have blue dreadlocks that all tie together, and the scene in which they are drawn into the crowd is very effective and disturbing. The production has a coherence that never detracts from the music.

* Tattling *
This final performance looked completely full, and I made a point of trying to sit near the stage, as I had heard the visual aspect of the production was very compelling. Also, one would think being so close to the performers would make one embarrassed to talk. This was not completely true, the women in Row C Seats 9 and 10, the second row, made a lot of comments, but at least they were about the action, however uninsightful ("Pretty" or "Like Cirque du Soleil") they sometimes were.


Simon Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker

Simonrattle* Notes *
The day before Thanksgiving last week I went to hear Maestro Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic play a second performance at Davies Hall on their current tour. The concerts mark Rattle's farewell as principal conductor as he will not extend his contract when it ends in 2018. The orchestra sounded clean without feeling uptight or frightened, and played with a lot of joy.

The performance began with Rattle speaking about the first pieces about to be played, which were an answer to the previous night's program which featured Mahler's 7th. This evening included Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra, and Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra, which was played as a "14 movement suite or Mahler's fictional 11th Symphony" according to the conductor.

The pieces all had a lot of percussion and the four musicians in charge of this had a lot to do. The Schoenberg was sinuous and graceful, while the Webern was much more spare. It was clear when we got to the Berg because everything became much more lush. The large hammer "with non-metallic tone" used in this piece is comically huge and was very amusing to watch and hear.

The Brahms, Symphony No. 2 in D major, was wonderful to hear. Played with absolute jubilation, it was one of the only times I have heard this composer without thinking of pastures and cows and was instead engaged with the cheer and vibrancy of the musicians. The horn was especially great, warm and secure without sounding overly loud or sterile.

Tattling *
The audience well-behaved, everyone clearly wanted to be there aside from one or two who left at appropriate times and without making a fuss.

It was a fitting send-off for House Usher of Davies, Horacio Rodriguez, who retired after this performance.