Brandon Jovanovich

SF Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

_B5A0405* Notes *
Let's not beat around the bush on this one, San Francisco Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg  is very long and not for the faint of heart. Maestro Mark Elder's style is glacial, and while every single beautiful note is heard, it seemed tough on both the orchestra and the singers. Coupled with the attractive but tame production, it can make for a monotonous evening despite the gorgeous singing.

The exceedingly slow tempi are stately and Elder certainly had control of the orchestra. Playing that unhurriedly does seem to wear on the musicians though, and there was an obvious mistake by the oboe player in Act II and a painful brass blooper in Act III. Quite a surprise, given the oboist normally plays very beautifully and in this piece, the brass did really well otherwise. The singers got ahead of the orchestra, which is a distinct rarity.

The production by David McVicar is mild. The action happens under a fancy vaulted ceiling the whole time, with other elements to change the scenes. The switch from Hans Sachs' house in Act III Scene 1 to the festival banks of the River Pegnitz (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) in Scene 2 was wonderfully quiet. The costumes look like pretty cast-offs from a film adapted from Jane Austen, so it seems the setting is updated a few centuries. The choreography of the chorus in the first two acts is a bit on the silly side, and doesn't quite match the music or the setting. All that said, the production did not get in the way of Wagner's opera. It could have been funnier though.

The cast has a lot to recommend it. The bright tones of Sasha Cooke (Magdelena) and Alek Shrader (David) cut through the orchestration. Cooke has a particularly lovely voice, and one only wanted to hear more of her, the role being relatively small. As Eva, Rachel Willis-Sørensen has a cold, piercing sound but isn't nearly as grating or scary as some Wagnerian sopranos.

I really loved Martin Gantner as Beckmesser, his characterization is spot on and his voice has such pretty resonances. Brandon Jovanovich cuts a bold figure as Walther von Stolzing, he was fighting a cold during the first performance, which wasn't announced until before Act III. He almost lost it at the end of his big Act I aria, but managed to keep it together. He sounded tentative in the final act, but did sing the whole role.

James Rutherford is an impressive Hans Sachs, his voice has much vigor. He might sound a touch youthful for the role but he gave an imposing and solid performance.

* Tattling *
There was hardly anyone in the last rows of the balcony, and it was easy to see the stage from standing room. Someone a few rows ahead of the very back of the house had her flashlight on for the beginning of the opera, but her companion slapped her hand and insisted she put it away.

Some of the house staff was at the back of the balcony listening to the end of the opera, but one of their walkie-talkies sounded and they hurried away before they could hear the finale.

Fidelio at SFS

Nina-stemme* Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony are concluding a three-week Beethoven Festival with a semi-staged Fidelio. The opening performance last night featured grand singing and an austere, but effective staging.

The opera boasts a stunning cast. Nina Stemme is a searing Leonore, her sound is luminous and clear. She pierces to the core but is not harsh. Brandon Jovanovich is a robust Florestan. His first notes in Act II had much vibrato but he seemed to settle in and his performance was strong. Alan Held is a gripping villain and he sang Don Pizarro with power.

Kevin Langan is a believable Rocco, he has a tendency to creak, but it works for this role. Nicolas Phan (Jaquino) has a warm sound and Joelle Harvey (Marzelline) is bright and pure. Luca Pisaroni sings Don Fernando with authority.

The orchestra played with enthusiasm as the production unfolded around them. The staging makes cunning use of upstage platforms, the terraces, and the small portion of the downstage area available. The chorus sounded together and did a wonderful job with the choreography, filing in with a great deal of intention and opening scores in a well-timed and deliberate fashion.

Dialogue from Tatjana Gürbaca was included, and thus begins with Nina Stemme's Leonore speaking rather than the duet between Jaquino and Marzelline. Stemme's speaking voice is resounding and rather deep. The spoken parts do help tell the story, given the lack of set or elaborate costuming. The supertitles also spelled out locations and other relevant information. The humanity of this opera came through in the simplicity of the production and the beauty of the singing.

* Tattling *
The person next to me in Row A Seat 112 was an avid and excited viewer, so much so he would occasionally lean over me to try to see what was going on upstage.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Met

MacB_0032a* Notes *
A revival of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk opened at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Graham Vick's 1994 production is humorous and makes quite good use of space, despite being essentially constrained to one room (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard). Though there was much going on at all times, the staging enhanced the piece, rather than detracting from it. The brides wielding vacuum cleaners in Act I and the disco ball of Act III were particularly entertaining.

Maestro James Conlon conducted the Met Orchestra to fine effect. The playing was intense yet polished. There were beautiful contributions from the bassoon, English horn, and bass clarinet. The brass sounded imposing. Likewise the chorus sounded together and formidable.

Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is a fiery Katerina Lvovna Ismailov, radiating strength, but able to sound desperate and ultimately despairing. Brandon Jovanovich convinced as Sergei. His voice is both powerful and lovely. Raymond Very's voice contrasted nicely with Jovanovich's. His Zinoviy Borisovich Izmailov was bungling without being a complete buffoon. Anatoli Kotscherga made for a sinister Boris Timofeyevich Izmailov, his voice entirely suiting the role.

* Tattling *
We sat in a part of the dress circle that was not especially crowded. At least one watch alarm and one mobile telephone rang during the second half of the opera.

SF Opera's Susannah

Sf-opera-susannah-swing-2014* Notes * 
Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (Patricia Racette as Susannah Polk and Brandon Jovanovich as Sam Polk in Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) had a San Francisco Opera debut yesterday evening. The score is sweepingly lyrical, and Maestra Karen Kamenseki conducted a powerful orchestra. The chorus sounded quite fine.

Much of the singing was beautiful. A.J. Glueckert was easy to pick out as Elder Gleaton, as was Suzanne Hendrix as Mrs. Ott. James Kryshak did well as Little Bat McLean and Catherine Cook was sang Mrs. McLean with the suitable vileness.

Raymond Aceto gave a committed performance as the flawed Rev. Olin Blitch. Aceto's voice did have a tendency to blend in with the orchestra. Brandon Jovanovich sang Sam Polk with verve. His voice is lovely. Patricia Racette is an engaging Susannah. Her voice sounded frayed at the top, her loudest high notes have a wide vibrato. Her "Ain't it a pretty night?" was haunting, however.

The production, directed by Michael Cavanagh, is straightforward. Erhard Rom's set design is clean, the scene changes are simple and elegant. The lighting, from Gary Marder, is likewise. The use of projections on a scrim facilitated the proceedings without being overwhelming or cliched.

* Tattling * 
The audience in the balcony was sparse. Even so, there was chatter and cellular phone noise, despite the short run time of this opera.

SF Opera's Lohengrin

Sfopera-lohengrin-act-1-2012* Notes *
Lohengrin opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The production is new to the house, and has been seen in Geneva and Houston. Inspired by the Hungary of 1956, the action takes place within what looks to be a library. Designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, the set (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) makes for clear transformation of scenes, especially with the lighting from Simon Mills. The costumes, also by Hopkins, are sharp. Director Daniel Slater fills in the narrative nicely, and Act II is especially thoughtful.

In contrast, Maestro Luisottti had a more painterly style with the music. The orchestra had a vivid sound, but could have had slightly more focus. The tempi of the musicians in the pit did not always match those on stage. The chorus sang with full-blooded vigor, making up for the moments of asynchronicity.

It seems that San Francisco Opera is on a roll with casting this season. Brian Mulligan made for a rich-toned King's Herald. Kristinn Sigmundsson sang Heinrich der Volger with strength, and the quality of his vibrato works better for Wagner than the Mozart we heard on the War Memorial stage last summer. Gerd Grochowski convinced as the conflicted Friedrich von Telramund, though his voice has no small beauty to it.

Petra Lang seemed pitchy, but this did not detract from her Ortrud. Her voice has a certain voluptuousness to it, her carriage and movements are impeccable. Camilla Nylund sounded rather sweet and ethereal as Elsa. Her highest notes did not sound as pretty as the rest of her voice, reminding me of something in-between tinsel and glass. However, this made her fall all the more believable. Brandon Jovanovich had a triumphant role debut as Lohengrin. His voice is vibrant with a good deal of volume. He did sound the most sublime when singing softly.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and attentive, at least on the orchestra level. There was surprisingly little audience attrition between acts. There were also very few people in standing room.

SF Opera's Die Walküre Cycle 3

Sfopera-walkuere-act-2 * Notes * 
Cycle 3's Die Walküre (Act II, Scene 1 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) at San Francisco Opera was performed yesterday with Heidi Melton debuting the role of Sieglinde. Melton has a warmth to her voice, but also conveys the fragility of the character. She did sound a bit rough early on in Act I, Scene 3, but she recovered well. Her last notes of the opera, in Act III, Scene 1, were lovely.

Brandon Jovanovich's Siegmund was better than ever, sounding stronger and more legato. Mark Delavan (Wotan) sounded especially poignant in Act II, and his interaction with Elizabeth Bishop (Fricka) were profoundly human. Nina Stemme consistently is arresting as Brünnhilde. The orchestra, conducted by Donald Runnicles, is resplendent.

* Tattling * 
The house was full. A seeing-eye dog barked once in Act I. There was talking and laughing during the music, and the woman in P 8 of the Orchestra Level even finished a Facebook comment during the Act III Prelude. There was also lots of clapping over the music, first for the piggyback ride Wotan gave Brünnhilde in Act II, then for the entrance of the Walküren, and finally when the Walkürenritt ended.

SF Opera's Die Walküre Cycle 2

Sfopera-walkuere-act1 * Notes * 
The second cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera continued Wednesday night with Die Walküre (Act I pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver). The orchestra sounded cleaner than last week. Donald Runnicles seems to be leading an understated, subtle rendering, which is rather beautiful. The strings played especially well, the violin soli were gorgeous. Mark Delavan's Wotan is vulnerable and human. He was especially hard to hear at the end, as he is rather far upstage, but he does have a lovely voice. Most impressive were Brandon Jovanovich as Siegmund and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. Jovanovich sounded bright and robust. Stemme produces a rich, full sound, and never yelled or screeched.

* Tattling * 
There were lots of people in the balcony for standing room. Most were quiet. Someone's hearing aid made a terrible sound in the first act. One of Hunding's dogs may have barked, or at least yelped. I was told that one of the projections did not work for the last scene in Act I, but did not witness this as I read the score during the performance.

SF Opera's Die Walküre Cycle 1

Sfopera-walkuere-act3-2011 * Notes * 
Cycle 1 of Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera continued last night with Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver). Francesca Zambello's production shows the human side of every character, both God and hero alike are shown as flawed yet accessible. The use of fire, dogs, and parachuting Valkyries came together to create a spectacle. The staging could get busy at times, and some of the motivation behind the entrances and exits of characters was not always clear. There was also strange moment of humor when the sword was revealed. Jan Hartley's projections help to tell the story in naive images, but they lack a certain elegance. The sets, from Michael Yeargan, range from Hunding's extremely detailed house to the clean bleakness of Brünnhilde's rock. Catherine Zuber's costumes reinforce the narrative, especially in the changes in wardrobe for the female leads. Sieglinde sheds layered dresses and Brünnhilde's tomboy vest transforms into a warrior woman's bodice.

The orchestra sounded utterly lovely, Donald Runnicles drove the tempi without losing control. The strings were transparent and shimmering. The harp, clarinet, bassoon, and flute had especially fine soli. There was some sourness in the Walhall motive in Act I, but the Völsungen and Siegfried motives were clear and beautiful. The final scene of the opera was superbly played.

As with last year, the Walküren included many current and former Adlers and Merolini: Maya Lahyani (Siegrune), Tamara Wapinsky (Helmwige), Sara Gartland (Gerhilde), Daveda Karanas (Waltraute), Melissa Citro (Ortlinde), and Renée Tatum (Grimgerde). Joined by Lauren McNeese (Rossweise) and Cybele Gouverneur (Schwertleite), they produced a great deal of sound and pulled off their choreography with aplomb.

Daniel Sumegi was a physically imposing Hunding, the somewhat husk-like quality of his voice is not a detriment to this character. Elizabeth Bishop made for a sympathetic Fricka, her voice is full. Mark Delavan may be difficult to hear at times, but his voice has a pleasant timbre and he articulates the words with conviction. Brandon Jovanovich had a promising role debut of Siegmund. His voice rang out with warmth. Anja Kampe's Sieglinde was moving. Her vibrato did not detract from the intensity or beauty of her voice. Nina Stemme continues to be a dazzling Brünnhilde.

* Tattling * 
The audience in standing room upstairs was, for the most part, silent. Some latecomers may have argued aloud with an usher about taking their seats. One of them turned off his cellular phone, which made a chime to indicate this. Another phone rang somewhere in the balcony during a quiet part of the music of Act I. The scene changes were not an issue for this opera, and the prompter was less audible.

SF Opera's Das Rheingold Cycle 1

Rheingold-scene-4-sf-opera * Notes *
Francesca Zambello's "American" Ring opened with Das Rheingold Tuesday night at San Francisco Opera. Many of the video projections (by Jan Hartley) had been changed. Instead of reminding one of screen-savers, they look more like scenes from a Lord of the Rings video game. The projections for the beginning were a vast improvement from the ones used in 2008, the images of clouds and water went better with the music. Michael Yeargan's attractive sets are elegant, but the transitions were are noisy and we could even hear instructions to cast or crew when the scenes were switched.

Catherine Zuber's costumes do a good job of differentiating characters when this is appropriate. Of course, the Rheinmaidens, Nibelungs, Gods, and Giants all have a distinct look. Within that, it was easy to tell Fasolt from Fafner, or Fricka from Freia, from simple differences in attire. As for the staging, there was a certain campy humor to it, Donner's part with the stage directions "Ein starker Blitz entfährt der Wolke; ein heftiger Donnerschlag folgt" (Scene 4 pictured above, photo by Cory Weaver) was especially absurd. Zambello clearly thought through many of the holes in the plot. Loge showed up at the end of Scene 1, so we see how his promise to the Rheinmaidens could have been made. An apple is left on the table, which Wotan grabs to sustain him for a trip to Nibelheim. Mime hangs around a bit after the other Nibelungs run back home in Scene 4, and he clearly runs off stage right, to the woods.

The orchestra sounded beautiful under Runnicles, the tempi were not lax, but not rushed either. The brass was in fine form, there were only a handful of small errors, most noticeably in the overture. The Rhinemaidens sounded as comely as they looked. Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Renee Tatum (Flosshilde), and Stacy Tappan (Woglinde) were playfully alluring in Scene 1 and doleful in Scene 4. Ronnita Miller was impressive as Erda, her rich contralto is gorgeous. David Cangelosi was the downtrodden, abused Mime, he whined and cried just as one would expect. Melissa Citro's acting as Freia was convincing, but she had a tendency to be shrill. Donner (Gerd Grochoski) and Froh (Brandon Jovanovich) were both sung drolly and added to the comedic aspects of the opera.

Andrea Silvestrelli sang Fasolt with warmth, and Daniel Sumegi made for a good foil as the more pragmatic Fafner. Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) was well matched with Mark Delavan (Wotan). Both have pretty voices that are not hefty, but are never harsh. Elizabeth Bishop made for a very human Fricka, clearly in love, and insecure in that love. Her voice is robust. Štefan Margita stood out as Loge, unctuous and mocking. His smooth, bright singing seemed flawless.

* Tattling *
The prompter was easily heard in Scene 2, and someone yelled "Hurry up" during the transition between Scenes 3 and 4.

The audience in orchestra standing room whispered a good deal, but only during the transitions. Someone without a place at the railing had a plastic bag that she kept moving around, creating an annoying amount of rustling. During the ovation, someone in the Orchestra Ring section booed Citro and Hawkins.

SF Opera's Ring Panel Discussion

Das-rheingold-sfopera2011 Yesterday evening Kip Cranna moderated a panel discussion on Der Ring des Nibelungen (Das Rheingold Scene 1 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) which opens next today at San Francisco Opera. The panelists were mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop (Fricka), baritone Mark Delavan (Wotan, Wanderer), baritone Gordon Hawkins (Alberich), tenor Brandon Jovanovich (Siegmund), soprano Heidi Melton (Sieglinde in Cycle 3, Third Norn), and tenor Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried in Siegfried).

The panelists were asked how they became Wagnerian singers, what other repertoire they sang, and the character development of their particular roles in the Ring. The tone was lively and amusing, clearly the cast members were having a lot of fun. Elizabeth Bishop defended Fricka. Gordon Hawkins asked the audience members if they thought Alberich really was the bad guy in the Ring, and even asked us why. Jay Hunter Morris told us he had no idea if he would have a voice left by the end of the Siegfried opening and was "tickled" that he did.

Since Bishop and Hawkins were in the Washington National Opera version of this production, they were asked about the differences from the present incarnation in San Francisco. Bishop mentioned the opening scene had a jungle gym, and Hawkins corrected her, saying it was a sluice. The costumes have evolved, as have the projections.

It was slightly surprising that neither director Francesca Zambello nor conductor Donald Runnicles were present. Zambello was out of town doing one of her many other jobs. Runnicles had gotten married earlier in the day, and was thus understandably unavailable.

Brandon Jovanovich Interview

Brandon-jovanovich This month tenor Brandon Jovanovich (pictured left, photograph by Peter Dressel) has role debuts of Froh and Siegmund in San Francisco Opera's Der Ring des Nibelungen. In August, Jovanovich sings Věc Makropulos at the Salzburg Festival. Next season he performs in Cologne, Munich, Chicago, Berlin, Houston, and Washington, DC. The Opera Tattler spoke to Jovanovich at the War Memorial before rehearsal on Tuesday.

How did you get into opera?
By accident. I sang in high school choir. I had wanted to be a football player, and I went to the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota on a scholarship. The first year I was there it got to -80ºF below with the windchill factor. It was just too cold! I transferred to Northern Arizona University, but they wouldn't give me a scholarship for football without seeing me play. I ended up sending a tape of my choral singing, and was accepted into the music department.

Do you play an instrument?
Unfortunately, no. I can play enough piano to plunk out notes, and occasionally I can play a whole chord. I took about a year of piano at the age of 7 or 8. After the first 6 months I was allowed to take swimming lessons, and in another 6 I got a skateboard. And after the skateboard, well, that was it, no more piano.

How is working in opera? Is it stuffy as it is purported to be?
Since opera has to compete with other forms of entertainment, we do have to move around and act. I'm down two pairs of jeans from Ring rehearsals so far. Really, I've ripped two pairs!

You recently had a debut at the Met as Don José in Carmen (January 2010), and then returned the following season. How did that go?
It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was great. I was covering Alagna, but it ended up that he sang 6 performances and I the other 6. I didn't get to work much with the director, Richard Eyre, until I went back to sing the role again last Fall, but it was so nice working with him.

Alagna was in the simulcast though, yes? How do you feel about the HD simulcasts?
That's right. It does bring bring opera to the masses. Especially with the HD broadcasts, they are such high quality, and that is wonderful. I am also apprehensive, as I have heard that some directors are looking at their work with an eye for the movie theater. Maybe something looks too much like stage acting for the camera, but that's where we are.

Is this your first Ring?
Yes, it is my first Wagner, in fact. I did hear Die Meistersinger in Chicago back in 1999. The first Ring operas I heard were Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in Los Angeles last year. I was there singing Die Vögel.

That's right, they had Die Vögel on that same steep rake as the Ring. How was that?
It was terrifying. The choreographer, Peggy Hickey, had us doing ankle exercises to keep us injuring ourselves.

How did you get the role of Siegmund?
That's a very good question! I have no idea! They hired me in 2008, I believe. In 2007, when I won the Richard Tucker award. I sang "Winterstürme," so maybe Greg Henkel heard that and thought that this role was in me. Or perhaps they heard it in the Pinkerton I sang here in that same year.

Is it an intimidating role?
On one hand, yes. Wagnerites definitely set the bar at a particular level, and many great singers have sung Siegmund. On the other hand, it is exhilarating. The role fits my voice like a glove.

Is Siegmund a hard role to relate to?
He is a very odd character, even setting aside the whole incest aspect. He's a vigilante who sees the world in black and white.

What are you singing next?
Let's see. I am singing in a couple of Carmen productions, of course. I also have Tenor/Bacchus in Ariadne, Don Carlos, and Samson et Dalila in the next season. I am learning roles from Lohengrin, Fidelio, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It is a lot of music to get into my wee little brain!

Your rep is varied, from Baroque to contemporary. What are the challenges of creating a role versus singing ones that everyone knows inside and out?
New works are important and rewarding to sing. You are given a blank slate and you get to create something, first and foremost with the composer, but also with the director, conductor, and your colleagues. I especially like Daniel Catán, as far as his style, his sound was his own, but people can relate to it.

Do you have favorite operas?
I should preface this with, I like everything I work on when I'm working on it, because when you are looking at the music and singing it all the time, you get to appreciate how great it is. But as for particular favorites, I love Peter Grimes and Jenůfa. From the very beginning of Jenůfa a nervousness invades your body, it just doesn't let up, and the very last five minutes are just sublime.

You've described yourself as a goofball before. Please explain.
I don't take myself too seriously, I like to make people laugh in rehearsals and to have fun.

Why don't you have a Wikipedia article?
I was wondering that too! I won't write one myself, and I don't mind not having one. I don't need to be in the limelight all the time.

Il Trittico at SF Opera

Tabarro * Notes * 
Il Trittico opened at San Francisco Opera last night with Patricia Racette singing all three of the major soprano roles. The production, directed by James Robinson, is clean and simple. Allen Moyer's sets are unostentatious, the three are not tied together in an obvious way, yet still look like they match each other. Patrick Summers had the orchestra sounding both tasteful and even. The Alders were out in full force and did very well. Tamara Wapinsky, David Lomelí, Daveda Karanas, Leah Crocetto, Heidi Melton, Daniela Mack, Austin Kness, and Kenneth Kellogg all sang at one point or another.

Brandon Jovanovich sang beautifully in Il Tabarro as Luigi. He was overwhelmed by the orchestra at one point, but perhaps because he was simply too far upstage. In her San Francisco Opera debut, Ewa Podleś was arresting as the Princess in Suor Angelica. Her voice has an incredible richness and resonance. Paolo Gavanelli was menacing in Il Tabarro and darkly hilarious in the title role of Gianni Schicchi. He too sounded wonderful, embodying the parts perfectly. Patricia Racette managed her roles of Giorgetta, Suor Angelica, and Lauretta competently. She definitely looked different as each. Racette's vibrato can be unpleasant and her singing a bit labored. However, she does convey various emotions through her voice with an intense clarity.

* Tattling * 
We were very kindly given premium orchestra seats from the chorus director. The audience around us was well-behaved, very little talking and only a few electronic noises were heard.

One could not help but notice that some of the program notes were written by a certain degenerate blogger.

The Birds at LA Opera

Dievoegel * Notes *
Walter Braunfels' Die Vögel opened at LA Opera last night. Unfortunately, the production did not cohere. Good Hope and Loyal Friend were dressed in a nondescript early twentieth century manner, they looked more American than Athenian. The Birds, on the other hand, were garishly dressed, some were adorned with Isis Wings, invoking Vegas showgirls. The set involved a steep rake shaped like a cloud with several cut-out clouds atop it. It was not clear where the earth was in this scenario, or how exactly the Athenians made it up to the clouds. The choreography fit the singers and dancers, nothing looked terribly uncomfortable, though the incline was clearly something to contend with. During the ballet, it looked like one of the dancers skinned her right knee. The lighting, for the most part, held together. The various flower projections in the Act II love scene were campy, but the bird-shaped ones that appeared a few times were appealing.

The musicians of the orchestra sounded as if they were still trying to get their bearings. James Conlon did get a lush, pleasing quality out of them, but they were often not with the singers and the brass was hazy. The singers fared better, for one thing, the chorus was delightful. Désirée Rancatore had some lovely moments as the Nightingale, her bright voice is especially beautiful in her lower range, though her higher notes feel a bit precarious. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich certainly was loud as Good Hope, but thankfully his voice is tempered with warmth. James Johnson (Loyal Friend) had less volume than Jovanovich, but he did well in his comedic role. Baritone Martin Gantner's voice has a certain heft and richness, he was also quite amusing as the Hoopoe. The other baritone, Brian Mulligan, turned out a fine performance as Prometheus. His commanding presence and luminous voice were the highlight of the evening.

* Tattling * 
In the pre-opera interview of James Conlon, he spoke about the story of Procne and Tereus, saying that the former was turned into a nightingale, and the latter into a hoopoe. I felt very confused, as I thought it was Philomela, Procne's sister, that was turned into a nightingale, as retribution for having her tongue cut out by Tereus. Evidently, it is Procne that is turned into a nightingale in Aristophanes, but in Ovid, she is turned into a swallow.

The Loge looked rather empty, and the people around me were rather good during the first half. Naturally, after the intermission, a rather annoying couple sat behind me in D 10 and 11. They unwrapped candies, ate them noisily and unceasingly, spoke aloud a few times, and kicked my seat. At least it was just them, and they were easily ignored.

After the performance, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Brian of Out West Arts. At Kendall's Brasserie we were seated right next to many of the dancers and the production crew, who seemed to be having a jolly time.

Opening of Madama Butterfly

Act I, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Yet another revival of Madama Butterfly opened today at San Francisco Opera. When I heard this opera was added to the season, I wondered if I would avoid it. I was pretty bored by it already the last time it was here in the summer of 2006, despite not having seen it for 9 years. Puccini generally is too mawkish for me, and Butterfly especially so. Additionally, I am indifferent to Patricia Racette, despite her personal beauty, fine acting, and strong voice. Nonetheless I found myself first in the standing room line this morning, for completeness sake, as a certain Prussian opera-goer I know would say.

The orchestra sounded quite fine, Runnicles took the tempi fast from the start. Racette was lovely, though at times her vibrato makes me feel uneasy. Her shoulders were slightly slumped, but otherwise her performance was splendid. Brandon Jovanovich had a promising debut as Pinkerton, he was suitably brash and vulgar in Act I, and remorse was certainly heard in Act II.  Stephen Powell (Sharpless) played well off of Jovanovich, exuding avuncular kindness. I've never heard anyone besides Zheng Cao as Suzuki, and she was as I remembered, warm and sympathetic.

The opera talk was unusual, as Rose Theresa discussed the Japanese melodies used by Puccini, and even used some koto music as her first example.

* Tattling *
The house looked quite full, and there were at least 50 people in line for standing room when we filed in at 10:50 am. Before the performance began, I was admonished for taking up too much room and was told I could not stand with both my elbows on the railing. This was pantomimed for me by a woman who wanted to squeeze in with her husband next to another couple next to me. It was strangely combative, considering I was perfectly willing to move. It turns out it didn't matter, one of the people next to me got a seat.

At intermission an usher told me I must really like opera, because she sees me so often. She also informed me that my outfits are entertaining, and asked if I was a designer.

There was a fit of loud beeping from the back of the orchestra section during the humming chorus. There was much sniffling for Butterfly, though I cannot say I was among those so moved. At the end Racette received a standing ovation, and a few audience members mockingly booed Kate and Pinkerton.