Die Zauberflöte

SF Opera's The Magic Flute (Bowden/Shafer)

_B5A6077* Notes * 
A revival of The Magic Flute opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The production has been beset with casting changes since August, and two more were announced from the War Memorial stage by General Director David Gockley before the performance. Adler Julie Adams sang First Lady for Jacqueline Piccolino and Kathryn Bowden filled in for Albina Shagimuratova, both replaced artists were apparently ailing. All four substitutions were more than adequate, in fact, Efraín Solís as Papageno and Sarah Shafer as Pamina (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver), standing in for former Adlers Philippe Sly and Nadine Sierra, may have stolen the show.

Solís has a ton of charisma, and is an absolute delight. His voice has much warmth and liveliness. Shafer gave a distinctive and emotionally nuanced performance, quite a feat as Pamina can be a pretty flat character. Kathryn Bowden muscled through her arias, her Queen of the Night did not sound ravishingly beautiful but she definitely hit every note and it was impressive, if not a bit terrifying.

The three ladies, Julie Adams, Nian Wang, and Zanda Švēde, sounded wonderful and there was no shrillness at all. Greg Fedderly perfectly reprised his role as Monostatos and was entirely hilarious during the magic bell scene when Papageno enchants him and the male chorus. Paul Appleby was fine as Tamino, though somewhat wooden, his sound is bright and has good volume.

The orchestra did not shine under the baton of conductor Lawrence Foster. There were a lot of obvious errors, the balances were off and the playing was sloppy. In fact, the chaos made me feel seasick, and I had to close my eyes to regain a sense of stillness.

Jun Kaneko's production is still as adorable as ever. It is not a dramatic rendering and does not help explain what is going on in this opera, but the abstractness of the design helps keep the action moving and is attractive.

The English translation is awkward but seems to engage the audience. I often indulged myself in thinking of the original German lines as the performers sang. One has to feel for the non-native English speakers in this piece, accents are fairly noticeable and the words are a compromise at best, so can sound stilted even when sung by Americans.

* Tattling * 
There were some whispers but the back of the balcony was relatively well-behaved.


Reinhardt Replaces Peake in SF Opera's Magic Flute

Norman-reinhardtAccording to a press release sent out today, Norman Reinhardt (pictured left) replaces Nathaniel Peake as Tamino in the final two performances of San Francisco Opera's The Magic Flute on July 6 and 8, 2012. Reinhardt makes his San Francisco Opera debut with these performances in a role he has previously performed with Opera Colorado and Leipzig Opera. Peake has withdrawn for personal reasons.


SF Opera's Magic Flute Media Round-Up

Sf-opera-magic-flute-actii-2012Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

The reviewers of San Francisco Opera's The Magic Flute (Act II pictured left with Nathan Gunn as Papageno, Nadine Sierra as Papagena, and supernumeries; photograph by Cory Weaver) agree that the production is visually appealing.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San José Mercury News


Magic Flute Opening at SF Opera

Sf-opera-magic-flute-act-i-scene3-2012* Notes * 
The Magic Flute (Alek Shrader as Tamino and the animals of the woods in Act I Scene 3 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera Wednesday night. The new production, from artist Jun Kaneko, is an utter delight. Kaneko's use of bright colors and whimsical shapes is charming. The video projection of his designs are integrated with both the music and Harry Silverstein's direction. The lighting, designed by Paul Pyant, helped unify the production into a coherent whole.

Conductor Rory Macdonald chose some fleet tempi at times, but for the most part the orchestra sounded taut and together. Mozart left the brass exposed, which was not always to the advantage of those instruments. The chorus did a fine job, and the last scene of Act I was particularly beautiful.

Greg Fedderly made for a very funny Monostatos and Nadine Sierra was a winsome Papagena. The three ladies, Melody Moore, Lauren McNeese, and Renée Tatum, played nicely off each other. Kristinn Sigmundsson (Sarastro) was imposing. As Pamina, Heidi Stober sounded warm and strong. Alek Shrader (Tamino) was ill, but still sang respectably. Nathan Gunn's light baritone was adequate for Papageno, and his acting skills served him well. Albina Shagimuratova shone as Queen of the Night.

The performances are in English, which is much more sensible than when San Francisco Opera did The Abduction from the Seraglio with sung German and spoken English back in 2009. I did notice that the Three Ladies used "fare thee well" as opposed to Pamina and Tamino, who sang "fare you well." Probably makes more sense to just go with the latter, given that the dialogue references drag, carb requirements, and other contemporary concepts.

* Tattling * 
Renée Tatum tripped in Act I, but recovered quickly, without losing her cool.

The woman in Row R Seat 8 on the orchestra level whispered loudly, but did manage to keep quiet when hushed. Some one in Row S fought with cellophane for several minutes of the second act.


Bayerische Staatsoper's 2008-2009 Season

October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo

Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.

New Productions for 2008-2009 | Official Site


Paris Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-11 2008: Eugene Onegin
September 24- November 2 2008: Rigoletto
October 11- November 2 2008: The Bartered Bride
October 13- November 12 2008: Cunning Little Vixen
October 30- December 3 2008: Tristan und Isolde
November 17- December 23 2008: Die Zauberflöte
November 25- December 21 2008: Fidelio
January 17-30 2009: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
January 24- February 8 2009: Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne
January 29- March 4 2009: Madama Butterfly
February 27- March 22 2009: Idomeneo
February 28- March 26 2009: Werther
April 4- May 8 2009: Macbeth
April 10- May 23 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 4-18 2009: The Makropulos Affair
May 20- June 5 2009: Tosca
June 13-21 2009: Demofoonte
June 18- July 2009: King Roger

Riccardo Muti conducts Demofoonte. Waltraud Meier sings Isolde opposite of Clifton Forbis. Paul Groves sings the title role of Idomeneo, with Joyce DiDonato as Idamante and Camilla Tilling as Ilia. Rolando Villazon shares the role of Werther with Marcus Haddock. Deborah Voigt shares the role of Amelia with Angela Brown and Ulrica Elena Manistina.

2008-2009 Schedule | Official Site


LA Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-26 2008: Il Trittico
September 7-26 2008: The Fly
October 2-18 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 15- December 14 2008: Carmen
January 10-25 2009: Die Zauberflöte
February 21- March 15 2009: Das Rheingold
April 4-25 2009: Die Walküre
April 11-26 2009: Die Vögel
May 21- June 21 2009: La Traviata

Two U.S. premieres and the company's first Der Ring des Nibelungen. Quite a lot of film directors this season: William Friedkin (Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica), David Cronenberg, and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi). I'm most interested in hearing Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund. I have to say I'm disappointed that LA Opera is starting Der Ring the same year as Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera, and only a year after San Francisco Opera unveils Francesca Zambello's production on the West Coast.

Press Release [PDF] | 2008-2009 Season Official Site


5th Performance of Die Zauberflöte

Erika Miklósa, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Last night was the fifth performance of Die Zauberflöte at San Francisco Opera, just over halfway through the run, which closes November 3rd. From standing room in the balcony, one can appreciate the colorful designs on the floor, but sadly, only the arms of the Queen of the Night were visible in her first aria. Erika Miklósa's face was obscured by proscenium, and it was still difficult to hear her, though usually one can hear the singers better from the back of the balcony than from the back of the orchestra level.

This time around I was more impressed with Dina Kuznetsova, she and Christopher Maltman sang "Bei Männern" especially well. The Three Boys sounded more together, though the wings of their stork-craft partially obstructed the heads of the children.

As for other performances, I particularly noticed Greg Fedderly as Monostatos, the tenor has good volume and excellent acting skills. Georg Zeppenfeld's rendering of "In diesen heil'gen Hallen" was lovely. The orchestra also sounded quite fine, Runnicles took brisk tempi.

* Tattling *
Standing room was nearly empty on the balcony level, but the seats were relatively full, considering that it was a Tuesday night. There were latecomers that leaned on the railings, which would have been fine, but a gasping pair took it upon themselves to whisper and rearrange themselves. When a harsh look failed to silence them, a hushing made them flee.

People clapped for the hybrid animals in Act I Scene 15 while Tamino was still singing. However, the people directly in front of me (Row L Seats 111-125) were extraordinarily well-behaved. No one spoke, the only noise incidents were when one person quickly unwrapped a candy and another pressed in the plastic of a water bottle by accident.

The scene changes were quieter than opening night. The only time they were disturbing was when the Three Boys sing "Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verkünden" in Act II Scene 26. Since it is only the three children singing, the orchestra is also quiet, just strings, flute, and bassoon. So the noise from the set being put into place was noticeable.

A friend noted that the costumes of the Monostatos and the slaves looked like a cross between Oompa-Loompas and Fruit of the Loom's Fruit Guys. 


Opening of Die Zauberflöte

Die Zauberfloete Animals, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Peter Hall's 1992 production of Die Zauberflöte opened at San Francisco Opera last Saturday. It certainly was odd to see all of Gerald Scarfe's funny designs again, for this production was my first at
Los Angeles Opera, and I did not enjoy it particularly then, as I was even crankier in my youth. The cartoon aesthetic is at times grating, particularly the ridiculous faux East Asian meets Star Wars costumes, beards, and Playmobil hair on the chorus. The hybrid animals in Act I Scene 15 are charming, but it might have been nice if they had moved more with the music. The feather-covered costumes are excellent for Papageno and Papagena, as are the spooky contours of the Queen of the Night's gown. The Dea Ex Machina entrance of the Queen of the Night in Act I is both effective and striking, and generally the staging is good, visually the scenes change nicely and without much fuss.

The cast is certainly the best I have heard sing Die Zauberflöte. Piotr Beczala is nearly perfect in the role of Tamino, his volume is good and his vibrato in control. There were times when he spoke that I had a difficult time discerning the German, but his diction in his singing is clear. I was disappointed that Rebecca Evans took ill and canceled as Pamina, but Dina Kuznetsova is admirable in the role. She  has slightly more vibrato than I enjoy, and her German diction is not crisp, but otherwise she turned out a fine performance. Christopher Maltman makes a hilarious Papageno, his diction is precise and his voice warm. Erika Miklósa hit every note as the Queen of the Night, and never sounded as if she were straining terribly. She was somewhat quiet in her first aria, perhaps because she was suspended upstage from the ceiling. Bass Georg Zeppenfeld lower notes as Sarastro are quiet, but otherwise he acted and sang well. Many of the other roles were filled with Adlers, Elza van den Heever, Kendall Gladen, and Katharine Tier were adorable as the Three Ladies, sprightly and not shrill in the least. I actually liked Rhoslyn Jones as Papagena, her vibrato did not drive me crazy and her voice was not noticeably louder than Maltman's. I was disappointed by the Three Boys, they were not exactly together, but perhaps that will be worked out in time.

* Tattling *
There were quite a lot of people on the orchestra level, standing room looked full, though Row ZZ was not. There were some whispers, but it was only in Row ZZ that people actually seemed to speak aloud, despite repeated hushings.

The scene changes were, at times, audible. There seemed to be a frightful amount of crashing behind lowered screens.

The use of a green costume for Monostatos side-stepped the racial stereotype, and "grün" replaced "schwarz" in the text.


Die Zauberflöte at the Met

Zauberfloete* Notes *
Last Saturday's evening performance of Die Zauberflöte at the Metropolitan Opera was remarkable, though not for the singing. Julie Taymor's untraditional production was elaborate and whimsical, her costumes seemed to have Persian and Japanese influences. The production made ample use of puppetry to good effect. The kite-like fabric puppets were manipulated with rods by people dressed in black, reminiscent of both Wayang and Bunraku. It was entrancing, but the magical atmosphere was not sustained as well in the second half of the opera, which was more subdued.

The sets, designed by George Tsypin, looked space-age Egyptian. The stage moved in a circle, making for easy scene changes. At times it was slightly loud, but the most disruptive part of the set was when curtains were torn from a doorway, the velcro sound was unmistakable. Donald Holder's lighting had some problems against the shiny surfaces, at times I was blinded by reflections.

James Levine was simply amazing, the orchestra sounded perfect and the singers were never off from the music. Unfortunately, the Queen of the Night was ill, poor Cornelia Götz gasped through her two gloriously difficult arias. Her voice sounded stuck somewhere inside her head and she was, at times, flat. Lisa Milne was better as Pamina, her voice was warm and pleasant. Michael Schade was an earnest Tamino and Rodion Pogossov a charming Papageno. Both had perfectly nice voices, but neither was incredible. Bass Vitalij Kowaljow did not have consistent tone for the range of Sarastro, it was difficult to hear his low and high notes. Jennifer Aylmer sang reasonably well as Papagena, but her movements were just perfect as she pretended to be an old hag and when she revealed her true self.

* Tattling *
It seems that no one in the standing room line was there for Die Zauberflöte, so we didn't see any familiar faces from Eugene Onegin. The audience was badly-behaved. People behind us and in front of us spoke aloud during much of the performance. Some standees tried to sit during the middle of the last scene and were reprimanded. The person at standing room place 5 might have had Tourette's Syndrome, for he kept quietly swearing and humming during much of the performance, only stopping to eat candies. The unwrapping of said candies was loud, as was some of the crunching involved. When we did not get out of this fellow's way during the final round of applause, he pushed his way behind us without excusing himself.


Die Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

SumijozauberfloeteLast Friday I attended a performance of Die Zauberflöte at the Los Angeles Opera. The production left much to be desired. Apparently Los Angeles Opera has the opera confused with something else.

Mozart's last opera is fraught with multiple meanings, but Los Angeles Opera strove to be appealing to the lowest common denominator, to people who don't actually like opera or theatre or classical music. The sets and costumes were mostly absurd, something out of the circus, or Disneyland, or even a science fiction movie. The libretto was not translated particularly well for the supertitles that I tried to ignore. The choreography was horrid, for example, the Queen of the Night wore heels so high that she staggered around on stage like a mechanical bird in Act II. There also seemed to be technical problems with the background.

The audience did not take the performance seriously, there was much chatter, cooing whenever something particularly cute was on stage, laughter and applause at inappropriate moments. The person next to me fell asleep at least once, and I overheard other people talking about how they nodded off as I roamed around after the performance. It was pathetic, since the performance was a mere 3 hours long, with a 20 minute intermission in-between acts. Considering how entertaining the performance was trying to be, and how glorious the music was, I can't really sympathize with people who were so unengaged as to fall asleep.

I'm glad, in a way, that someone is worried about making people like the opera. It just seemed that they were trying very hard, with something that is already very appealing. Though I am glad that this performance could delight people, it was reported that this production got rave reviews from the Los Angeles Times. I can see how it would be good for someone who had never seen an opera before, or for children. Too inaccessible is bad as well, avante garde experiments with staging and such can be much worse than going for a wide audience.

Anyway, truth be told, I was very happy to go to an opera, especially a Mozart one. The music was, of course, delightfully pretty. The singing was all fairly even. Sumi Jo sang the part of the Queen of the Night to great effect, everyone knows the part is very difficult, so she got quite the applause. It was deserved though, her voice seems an impossibility, it is so beautiful and that part showed it to its best advantage. The Korean Americans were out in droves to see her, undoubtedly it brought out some people who wouldn't necessarily go to an opera normally.

Rodney Gilfry's Papageno was indeed lovable, his German was particularly good and his baritone was nice. Andrea Rost made a sweet Pamina, her voice got a bit shrill on occasion, but was mostly just lovely. I found Reinhard Hagen (Sarastro) a bit quiet in his lower range. The three spirits were sung by youths from the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, and the three had voices like angels.