Bryn Terfel

SF Opera's Falstaff

Falstaff-terfel-arteta * Notes * 
Lyric Opera of Chicago's current production of Falstaff (Act II, Scene 2 pictured left with Ainhoa Arteta as Alice Ford and Bryn Terfel as Sir John Falstaff, photograph by Cory Weaver) had an opening performance at San Francisco Opera yesterday. The set, from Frank Philipp Schlössmann, is a bit like a pop-up book made of wood. The pauses between scenes are fairly minimal. Maestro Nicola Luisotti had the orchestra sounding robust and lush. There were times when the singing was lost, this was especially evident at the end of Act I, when the male and female ensembles share the stage.

There was much fine singing all around. Joel Sorensen is a hysterical, mincing Dr. Caius. Greg Fedderly (Bardolfo) and Andrea Silvestrelli (Pistola) sounded great and are wonderful actors. Fabio Capitanucci had some nice moments as Ford, though his voice occasionally was overwhelmed by the orchestra. Francesco Demuro sounded reedy and youthful as Fenton, and only had a bit of strain in some of his higher notes.

Renée Rapier is a charming Meg Page, and Meredith Arwady a very funny and rich-voiced Dame Quickly. Heidi Stober is perfectly adorable as Nanetta and sings with a warm brightness. Ainhoa Arteta sparkled as Alice Ford, her icy, brilliant voice is never harsh.

Despite the rather even cast, Bryn Terfel is the clear star of the show. Not only did he embody the title character in all his movements, but his voice is simply a marvel. He sang with velvety warmth but also buoyant lightness when appropriate.

* Tattling * 
Standing room attendance was sparse. I arrived at 7:15pm and had Standing Room Ticket 19.

There was much use of mobile phones during the pauses between scenes. It seems that young people do not take the announcement to turn off electronic devices seriously. That said, I did not hear any rings or alerts at the back of the balcony.

Siegfried at the Met (Cycle 2)

Met-siegfried-2012* Notes * 
The second Ring cycle this season at the Met continued last night with Siegfried. The production, directed by Robert Lepage, proved to be even more traditional than its most recent predecessor. Here we have both bear and giant serpent, and so many of Lionel Arnould's projected images are literally from the text. The innovation comes in as far as puppetry and illusion, and it is a spectacle. François St-Aubin's costumes continue to be perfectly in keeping with the narrative, though Erda's dress was blinding.

Luisi and the orchestra gave an orderly rendition of the music, though there were a few noticeable brass errors. There were certainly moments when the orchestra overwhelmed the singers. The strings were clear, and the harps played particularly well in Act III.

Erin Morley's diction as the Forest Bird was lacking, perhaps being off stage muffled her syllables. Patricia Bardon (Erda) sounded icy but well-supported, her highest note was pushed too hard to sound pretty. Hans-Peter König was a credible Fafner. Gerhard Siegel was fairly winsome as Mime, and appropriately duplicitous. Eric Owens gave a powerful performance as Alberich.

Byrn Terfel's Wanderer was only slightly light in Act II, but strong in Act III. Katarina Dalayman did not always sing Brünnhilde perfectly smoothly. Her voice does have a lovely warmth even if her volume control is not terribly nuanced. Jay Hunter Morris (pictured above in Act II, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) seemed confident in the title role, he may have been slightly quiet in Act I but sounded oddly fresh in Act III.

* Tattling *
The ushers tried to seat latecomers, and unfortunately put one such person next to me in Family Circle standing room. Said person was quite rude, leaving her backpack and coat in the walk way, not silencing her watch alarm, and completely unable to be still. The latter would not have been a problem except that she was wearing clothes out of a noisy synthetic material.

The man in FC Standing Place 26 giggled through most of the first two acts.

Die Walküre at the Met (Cycle 2)

Met-walkuere-2012* Notes * 
The second Ring cycle this season at the Met continued with a matinée of Die Walküre (Act II, Scene 1 pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) yesterday. The limitations of "The Machine" became more apparent in this opera. Robert Lepage's direction is restricted by how the set moves and where people can exit and enter the stage. The motivation for the characters movements are clearly tied to this, and is therefore fairly predictable. Lionel Arnould's video images are less abstract in
Walküre than Rheingold, with shadowy figures playing out the various narratives. The giant eyeball near the end of Act II, Scene 1 that doubled as a crystal ball was particularly silly. Other effects were staged very nicely. The Ride of the Valkyries was spectacular, as was the final Fire Music. The costumes, from François St-Aubin, were rather shiny.

The music was played neatly by the orchestra, Luisi did not push the music, and there were only a few minor brass errors. The Walküren were even and strong, very little if any shrillness was noted.

Frank van Aken, the husband of Eva-Maria Westbroek, sang in place of Jonas Kaufmann, who is reportedly ill. As Siegmund, van Aken blended well with his wife, who sang Sieglinde. Unfortunately, his voice is too small for the Met, and he had some noticeable intonation problems, perhaps because he was trying to sing as loudly as possible. Westbroek's voice is rawer than I remembered, having a roughness at the top. She sang her part in Act III with strength. Hans-Peter König sang Hunding with the right power and menace.

Stephanie Blythe sounded robust as Fricka. Katarina Dalayman made for a pretty, resonant Brünnhilde. The afternoon belonged to Byrn Terfel (Wotan), who sang this opera with authority and richness.

* Tattling *
Family Circle was not full, so many standees took seats. This made the standing area much more roomy.

Das Rheingold at the Met (Cycle 2)

Met-rheingold-2012* Notes * 
A second Ring cycle began with Das Rheingold (Scene 4 pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) last night at the Met. Robert Lepage's production involves a series of about 24 jointed panels that can be arranged in many different configurations. Known as "The Machine," Carl Fillion's set is not unlike a huge shape-shifting robot. The scene changes were certainly resolved in breathtaking ways. However, the main drawback is not that "The Machine" is slightly noisy, snapping here and there, but that it placed the singers awkwardly upstage or on terrifying rakes where they do not seem as able to project well. The lighting, designed by Etienne Boucher, is attractively simple. The video images, from Lionel Arnould, evoke nature and space. Only the rainbow bridge was busy, with its dancing strings of multicolored light. François St-Aubin's costumes did not appear markedly different from the previous Ring production, traditional, perhaps taking on the aesthetic of comic book superheros in the armor of the Gods.

The orchestra sounded clear and secure under Fabio Luisi, and the tempi were moderate. The brass was clean. The singing was consistent around. Wendy Bryn Harmer was an incredibly hearty, bright Freia. Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt) and Hans-Peter König (Fafner) turned out perfectly respectable performances. Adam Klein did not quite sparkle as Loge, but since he stepped in at the last moment for an ailing Stefan Margita, it is understandable. Patricia Bardon's Erda had an ethereal quality that was appealing. Stephanie Blythe was a sympathetic Fricka, warm with the right amount of steeliness. Eric Owens impressed as Alberich, his renunciation of love in Scene 1 was poignant, and his curse in Scene 4 haunting. As Wotan, Bryn Terfel's voice has a beautiful richness to it, but seemed a touch light at times.

* Tattling * 
An usher attempted to seat a pair of latecomers in Family Circle after the music had started. Unfortunately one of their seats had been taken, and there was a flurry of whispered instructions. A watch alarm sounded at 9pm and 10pm. Some were having respiratory issues, loud nose blowing and sniffles were heard, as were the usual crinkles of cough drops being unwrapped.

Die Walküre at the Met (Lepage)

Walkuere-act-3-metWhilst the Opera Tattler attended a performance of Séance on a Wet Afternoon at the David H. Koch Theater on April 28, 2011, Miss LCU was nearby at Lepage's new production of Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) with the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
Of late, James Levine gets credit for simply showing up on the podium. The audience is so thrilled to see the ailing maestro that it seems he can do no wrong. However, I was not terribly impressed with the orchestra for the second performance of this latest Walküre. For one thing, the prelude was especially lackluster and rhythmically bridled. It was as if the orchestra was playing in exact unison to the measured beat of a metronome. There was a paucity of energy and agitato one would expect from music meant to represent a man who is frantically running from his pursuers in a storm. Thankfully things improved as the evening progressed.

As Brünnhilde, Deborah Voigt hit most of her notes and did not struggle with pitch. While she gave a very youthful, sassy portrayal of the valiant Valkyrie, her voice lacked nuance. She was generally at one dynamic level and yelped the high Bs and Cs when singing the word "Hojotoho." It sounded like she had hiccups and looking at the score, the composer did not intend for those octave leaps to end in clipped staccato. Voigt's interaction with Bryn Terfel as Wotan worked well. The two succeeded in establishing their close rapport and fondness for one another in Act II, making the heartbreak of their farewell at the end all the more devastating.

Terfel's Wotan was multifaceted and robust, even until the very end. He clearly did a fine job pacing himself. As Siegmund, Jonas Kaufmann was both convincing and lyrical. His voice carried effortlessly and his "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnermond" consisted of one glorious legato line after another.

In contrast, Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde) gave a somewhat disappointing performance and the strain in her voice was evident as she fought through her last phrases in beginning of Act III, which are among the most beautiful lines of music in the opera. She did have cold on opening night, so perhaps she was still on the mend.

The highlight of the evening was, surprisingly, Stephanie Blythe's portrayal of Fricka. For the first time, I saw Fricka as something other than a vindictive, nagging shrew. I was reminded that she is a woman in pain, someone who has been deeply hurt by Wotan's transgressions. Blythe opens up her character's vulnerabilities to the audience, suggesting that perhaps she, too, deserves a bit of our sympathy. In order to uphold the Law, she demands punishment and justice, but we often mistake her for someone who is solely out to seek revenge.

Wagner was deeply influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer who was known for his pessimistic view of the human condition and his philosophy of the "Will," a concept so important that Wagner felt it was necessary to use Brünnhilde to personify Wotan's Will as a separate entity apart from himself. Schopenhauer also makes a clear distinction between punishment (to prevent future violations of the law) and revenge (motivated by reconciling past wrongdoings with the pure intent to harm and no constructive impact on the future).

Perhaps Fricka is after revenge and cunningly disguises it as punishment. Wagner leaves just enough ambiguity in his score to make us wonder. The true thrill of this particular production was not delivered by Lepage's ostentatious morphing planks, but with subtlety through Blythe's artistry and empathy for her character.

Regietheater seems to operate on the notion that in order for us to make old works exciting and relevant to the younger generations, we must to rely on shock value. The beauty of Wagner's work lies within the inconspicuous moments that expose human frailty and intimacy. Directors may consider paying more attention to the small details hidden in the score rather than embellishing the composers work with obscenely grand spectacles that are neither necessary nor relevant.

Das Rheingold at the Met (Lepage)

Met-rheingold An account of the final performance of Das Rheingold this season at the Metropolitan Opera from the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
Director Robert Lepage gave an extensive interview in New York City last fall about his conception of the Ring. He spent considerable time in Iceland, and said that no one who lived in the Icelandic hinterlands for any length of time could ever doubt the existence of gnomes, giants, or mythic Gods. Hearing him speak, it is impossible to doubt his seriousness and integrity.

Unfortunately, the production's stage machinery, designed by Carl Fillion, seemed to overwhelm the evening. The set consists of gigantic, undulating planks, which morph into visually paradoxical, Max Escher-like planes. Complex, computer-generated effects and lighting were projected atop this. Only Wagner's gigantic score seemed unsubjugated by this restless behemoth. Particularly distracting were the all-too-visible cables from which the soloists were suspended as they moved in hazardous sideward and slanted trajectories across the cantilevered components of the set.

The audience applauded and tittered in delight at the cavorting Rhine-mermaids and their taunting of Alberich, and certainly Wagner would have approved of this. The dragon/dinosaur transformation, aided by the Tarnhelm, was also very effective.

Of the cast, Eric Owens' tremendous Alberich dominated the show, even though he seemed to tire during his final curse. It is a rare evening when Alberich is a more powerful dramatic and vocal presence than Wotan. The admirable Bryn Terfel's rendition of the God lacked the heft and thrust required of the dramatic bass-baritone voice type for which this role was conceived.

Stephanie Blythe, a singer in a class unto herself, poured out tremendous waves of sound, yet failed to capture the hectoring character of Fricka, as she agonizes about the fate of her sister Freia (sung with steely power by soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer), who is held as a downpayment by the giants Fafner and Fasolt for their building of Valhalla. Ms. Blythe seemed to fashion her vocal expression according to the surface contours of Fricka's vocal line, and not to the underlying text. Beautifully, in fact, overwhelmingly well sung, her rendition seemed lacking in dramatic comprehension of the character.

On the other hand, Bayreuth veterans Gerhard Siegel (Mime) and Hans-Peter Koenig (Fafner) inhabited their roles in such a fashion that one never thought of vocalism. They performed their roles with a perfect unison of text, powerful vocalism and dramatic intent. Patricia Bardon's dark-hued, threatening rendition of Erda's "Weiche Wotan" was, for this reviewer, the highlight of the evening.

Another Bayreuth veteran, Arnold Bezuyen, captured the essence of Loge, part scheming diplomat, part crooked lawyer, although one was often distracted and concerned for him as he slid down and then scaled backwards the steeply angled set. Tethered by a cable, his freedom to gesture and act with his body was severely inhibited. Possessed of a solid character tenor voice, he seemed somewhat underpowered in the large Met auditorium.

Having heard many performances of the Ring conducted by James Levine, it is difficult for this reviewer to make a fair assessment of Fabio Luisi's reading. Luisi drew from the Met orchestra an almost chamber music-like, transparent performance that served the singers well, but one missed the elusive combination of weight, grandeur and forward momentum that Levine achieved in this music. The brass section was uncharacteristically fraught with mishaps.

No doubt the composer would have been delighted to have had at his disposal the modern machinery used in the Lepage Ring, machinery which would have freed him from the two-dimensionality of the set design and lighting available to him at the time. One wonders, however, if he would not have employed these resources in such a way that the protagonists of his music-dramas were not relegated to the visual and dramatic background. One awaits eagerly the upcoming Walküre for a further assessment of the new Met Ring.

Und kichern und huschen vorbei

Bryn-terfel * Notes * 
Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel is currently in California for performances at LA Phil this week, but he stopped by Berkeley for a recital presented by Cal Performances last night. The first half of the program was devoted to Schumann, and Terfel sang Belsatzar, Liederkreis, "Die beiden Grenadiere" from Romanzen und Balladen, and Mein Wagen rollet langsam. Accompanied deftly by Malcolm Martineau, Terfel exuded generosity and charm as a performer. The Liederkreis was particularly telling, Terfel sang with ease, the dynamic contrasts were beautiful, and his every word was clear. The last Schumann piece, Mein Wagen rollet langsam, was quite funny, and Terfel made is way off stage as Martineau continued to play.

Terfel and Martineau were likewise evocative and engaging in Finzi's Let Us Garlands Bring. The Quatre Chansons de Don Quichotte from Ibert was lovely, especially the "Chanson de la Mort." The last part of the program was a tribute to the Welsh-American baritone John Charles Thomas. Terfel proved rather droll here, singing various pieces and telling stories about John Charles Thomas. He started with Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees," moved on to the Welsh folksong "Ar Hyd y Nos," and sang Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Ghosts' High Noon" with much spirit. Terfel had us join him for "Home on the Range," and even joked the audience was better than the one at Carnegie Hall, where he gave essentially the same recital last Wednesday. The tribute ended with The Lord's Prayer set by Albert Hay Malotte.

The three encores were "Trade Winds" by Frederick Keel, "Green-Eyed Dragon With the Thirteen Tails" by Wolseley Charles, and "Tally Ho!" by Franco Leoni. Terfel sang the second piece with music, since it was only given to him last week after the aforementioned recital in New York.

* Tattling * 
Bryn Terfel commanded the rapt attention of the audience, which was unusually quiet. The young woman next to me did impatiently urge an usher to get out of her line of sight at the very beginning of Liederkreis. There was quite a lot of screaming during the ovations, someone even was moved to ululate.

On the Upcoming Fortnight (Terfel & Heppner)

Tonight I am off to the third performance of San Francisco Opera's The Makropulos Case. It is so wonderful, I regret not being able to attend every performance. During the fourth performance on next Saturday I will be in Berkeley hearing Bryn Terfel sing Schumann, Finzi, and Ibert. Since I have never heard Terfel before, I am making an exception about recitals, which I generally disdain. For the last performance of Makropulos I will be hearing at Los Angeles Opera for Lohengrin. The cast includes Ben Heppner in the title role, and as I have never heard him live either, it may be worth missing the Janáček.

Byrn Terfel at Cal Performances | Lohengrin at LA Opera

Cal Performances' 2010-2011 Season

September 24 2010: Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company
September 26 2010: Fall Free for All: Open House at Cal Performances
September 30- October 3 2010: Mark Morris Dance Group
October 7-10 2010: Circus Oz
October 10 2010: David Finckel, cello & Wu Han, piano
October 14 2010: Alex Ross
October 15 2010: Jerusalem Quartet
October 22 2010: Gamelan Çudamani 
October 24 2010: Jeremy Denk, piano 
October 26-27 2010: Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf
October 29-30 2010: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
October 31 2010: Kremerata Baltica
October 31 2010: Alfred Brendel
November 13-14 2010: Zenshinza Theatre Company
November 20 2010: Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone
November 5 2010: Buika
November 7 2010: Ensemble Zellig
November 21 2010: Will Shortz
November 26-28 2010: Mummenschanz 
December 4, 2010: Christian Tetzlaff, violin
December 5 2010: Pomegranates and Figs
December 5 2010: Takács Quartet
December 11 2010: John McLaughlin, guitar
December 12 2010: Nicolas Hodges, piano
January 21 2011: Tango Buenos Aires
January 22 2011: Joshua Redman, saxophone
January 23 2011: Wallace Shawn
January 26 2011: Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
February 3-4 2011: Kodo
February 9-10 2011: Ex Machina
February 12-13 2011: Zukerman ChamberPlayers
February 20 2011: Paul Lewis, piano
February 25-27 2011: Vienna Philharmonic
March 3-5 2011: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
March 4 2011: Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
March 6 2011: Scharoun Ensemble Berlin
March 6 2011: Balé Folclórico da Bahia
March 11 2011: Branford Marsalis, saxophone & Terence Blanchard, trumpet
March 13 2011: Les Percussions de Strasbourg
March 13 2011: Jonas Kaufmann, tenor
March 18-19 2011: Nederlands Dans Theater
March 20 2011: Joyce Yang, piano
March 24-26 2011: Castleton Festival Opera
March 26-27 2011: The Tallis Scholars
March 29- April 3 2011: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
April 3 2011: Jessica Rivera, soprano
April 6 2011: The Silk Road Ensemble, with Yo-Yo Ma
April 19 2011: Afro-Cuban All Stars
April 23 2011: Kurt Elling, vocalist
April 28-29 2011: Cirque Éloize
May 1-3 2011: Les Violons du Roy
May 7-14 2011: Druid Theatre Company
May 31-June 4 2011: Royal Danish Ballet
June 13-16 2011: Ojai North!

Matías Tarnopolsky announced Cal Performances's 2010-2011 season at a press conference today. We were seated on the stage and the presentation involved several videos. Tarnopolsky seemed charmingly self-effacing, and at one point he said Schumann" instead of "Stockhausen," and made a joke about how they were easily confused for one another. The 2010-2011 Web site of Cal Performances goes live tonight at 12:01am.

Next season includes two Britten operas, The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring will be performed by Castleton Festival Opera in February 2011. Byrn Terfel and Jonas Kaufmann are both coming to Berkeley for their respective tours, Terfel in the Fall and Kaufmann in the Spring. Dawn Upshaw, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Peter Sellars are all involved in Ojai North!

Official Site | Press Release [PDF]

ROH's 2008-2009 Season

September 8- October 4 2008: Don Giovanni
September 16-29 2008: La fanciulla del West
September 23- October 10 2008: La Calisto
October 11-18 2008: La Bohème
October 23- November 11 2008: Matilde di Shabran
November 9-24 2008: Elektra
November 25- December 13 2008: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
December 9 2008- January 1 2009: Hänsel und Gretel
December 22- January 23 2008: Turandot
January 20-31 2009: The Beggar's Opera
January 27- February 17 2009: Die Tote Stadt
February 10 -25 2009: Rigoletto
February 23- March 10 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
March 2- April 11 2009: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
March 31- April 20 2009: Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea
April 13- May 7 2009: Il trovatore
April 27- May 16 2009: Lohengrin
May 12-25 2009: L'elisir d'Amore
June 4-20 2009: Lulu
June 19- July 6 2009: La Traviata
June 26- July 18 2009: Un Ballo en Maschera
July 7-18 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
July 9-18 2009: Tosca

Simon Keenlyside and Mariusz Kwiecien share the role of Don Giovanni, and Keenlyside also sings Figaro in Il barbiere. David Alden has his ROH debut directing a production of La Calisto from Bayerische Staatsoper. Bryn Terfel is singing in Holländer and Tosca, while Deborah Voigt sings the title role of the latter. Renée Fleming is singing opposite Joseph Calleja in La Traviata and Thomas Hampson sings Germont. Die Tote Stadt has its UK premiere, Ingo Metzmacher will conduct. The production is from Salzburg and is the one that will be at San Francisco Opera this September. Lucas Meachem will be singing Aeneas in his ROH debut.

Bloomberg Article | Press Release [PDF] |Official Site