Elizabeth Bishop

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 Das Rheingold Cycle 3

Sfopera-rheingold-gods * Notes *
The third and final Ring cycle of the season at San Francisco Opera started with Das Rheingold (Brandon Jovanovich, Elizabeth Bishop, Melissa Citro, and Gerd Grochoski in Scene 4 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) last Tuesday. Maestro Runnicles had the orchestra sounding noticeably cleaner this time around, especially the brass. The playing was gorgeous. The low strings and the harp were absolutely lovely. The balances were better, only the baritones were overwhelmed briefly when the orchestration was heavy. There were strong contributions all around, especially from Mark Delavan (Wotan), Elizabeth Bishop (Fricka), Andrea Silvestrelli (Fasolt), and Ronnita Miller (Erda). Štefan Margita's Loge was most impressive.

It was illuminating to sit so close to the stage this time around. One suspects that Francesca Zambello's directorial style is rather detail-oriented and very specific. The expressions and gestures used do create a sense of intimacy, but perhaps do not read that well from the back of the house.

* Tattling *
One could hear the squeaks of pulleys during the set changes. There was talking during these times as well. Electronic noise was at a minimum, but a watch alarm sounded at the beginning of the piece.

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.

Bishop to Replace Diadkova as Fricka in SF Opera's Ring

Elizabeth-bishopElizabeth Bishop (pictured left, photo by Sasha Vasiljev) will sing Fricka in Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera this Summer. She replaces Larissa Diadkova, who has withdrawn for personal reasons. Bishop recently sang two performances of the title role in Iphigénie en Tauride at the Metropolitan Opera, replacing an ailing Susan Graham.

Press Release | SF Opera's Ring

Der Zerbrochene Krug and Der Zwerg at LA Opera

Dwarf* Notes *
Der zerbrochene Krug had its US premiere at Los Angeles Opera yesterday, along with the West Coast premiere of Der Zwerg, both part of James Conlon's Recovered Voices: A Lost Generation's Long-Forgotten Masterpieces project. Both operas are impressive. The comedic Der zerbrochene Krug (1941/1942) was Viktor Ullmann's last composition before he was sent to Theresienstadt. Based on Heinrich von Kleist's 1806 play of the same name, the 40 minute opera treats a seemingly simple story,  the standard Commedia dell'arte love triangle. However, Ullmann's opera can be read on literal, sexual, and political levels, and is all the more fascinating for it. The music has some wonderful percussive parts, which the orchestra well. The production, directed by Darko Tresnjak, is perfectly charming. Peggy Hickey's choreography for the overture is particularly brilliant, a shadow ballet clearly explains all that happens before the scrim comes up is both helpful and very funny. As for singing, I was glad to hear Melody Moore as Eve, she is one of my favorite sopranos in recent years to come out of the Adler Program in San Francisco. She has a good handle on her vibrato, and never sounds harsh, yet her volume is fine. Elizabeth Bishop (Frau Marthe Rull) made me a bit uncomfortable, and her voiced uvular fricative was not quite right, especially in the word "hier." Richard Cox has a pretty tenor voice, though a bit quiet, and he played the indicant Ruprecht well. James Johnson was hilarious as Adam, his diction was clear and dramatically, he never missed a beat.

Alexander Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg is reminiscent of both R. Strauss and Mahler, and I was very surprised indeed to have liked it, even moved to tears. The opera is based on Oscar Wilde's The Birthday of the Infanta, which in turn was inspired by Velázquez's Las Meninas. Ralph Funicello and Linda Cho outdid themselves in set and costume design, as adorable as their work for Der zerbrochene Krug is, the Velázquez world come to life is gorgeous. No less important was David Weiner's contribution as the lighting designer, the use of light through the many doors worked well. Mary Dunleavy was certainly imperious and cold as Donna Clara, she was perfect as the cruel Infanta, though at times it was difficult to understand her German. Ghita, the kindly maid, was sung beautifully by Susan B. Anthony. Rodrick Dixon was excellent in the title role, his volume was good and acting quite fine, though also, at times, I found his diction less than perfect.

* Tattling *
The house was not full, which was sad considering how good the performances were. The applause did last a long time. During the intermission I overheard some ladies speaking with security guards and ushers. Apparently there was some altercation due to a cellular phone that had been on, but had not rung. One of the ladies was turning her phone off during the performance and another patron hit her shoulder rather brusquely and admonished her not to speak on the phone. One of the ladies felt it was because they happen to be Latinas, and in her account explained that they had not just come out of the jungle and knew their manners. The opera employees said they could not do much about what had happened unless the ladies wanted to press charges against the person in question, in which case the police would come, but the report would go on that person's record at Los Angeles Opera. They were also moved down to the Loge. I've never seen an altercation at LA Opera, but one of the employees mentioned that it was rather common, as people are quite passionate about opera.