Elza van den Heever

Rinaldo at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Rinaldo-lyric-opera

* Notes *
A new production of Rinaldo (Act II, Scene 3 pictured left, photograph by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago) concludes Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2011-2012 season. The Sunday matinée performance was nothing if not entertaining. Director Francisco Negrin created his own little circus within Handel's music, an internally consistent world whose elements all work together. The set, by Louis Désiré, involves a monolithic word scramble reading "Gerusalemme," glass panels that can be lit white or red, and an enormous piano-shaped box. Désiré's costumes are likewise striking and odd. Ana Yepes's choreography is amusing and was performed cleanly.

Harry Bicket conducted a rather dry performance from the orchestra. The keyboard solo from Jory Vinikour at the end of Act II was strong. Musically, one of the most interesting parts of the afternoon was during "Or la tromba," when the trumpet almost flubbed a note, but recovered magnificently.

Much of the singing was good, though not always historically informed. Iestyn Davies sounded bright as Eustazio, his fast notes lack deftness, but his timbre is pretty. Sonia Prina's vibrato was distracting at times, she tends to overdo the machismo for trouser roles, and her Goffredo was not an exception. She did rein in the bluster for "Sorge nel petto," which she sang nicely. The pleasant lightness of Luca Pisaroni's voice may not have been perfect for the wicked Argante, but his acting and movements were effective.

Elza van den Heever was a compelling Armida. Her voice is gorgeous and powerful, perhaps a tad heavy for Baroque repertoire. She had the meatiest role as far as direction was concerned, and certainly made the most of this. Julia Kleiter made for a cute, sweet Almirena, she started off sounding a bit breathy but improved as the performance progressed. In the title role, David Daniels also had a shaky start, especially at the beginning of "Cara sposa."

* Tattling *
The audience seemed engaged with the performance. There was some light talking in the dress circle, but not a lot of electronic noise.


Elza van den Heever at SF Performances

Elza-van-den-Heever-Dario-AcostaWhilst the Opera Tattler attended the sold-out performance of Takács Quartet in Berkeley last Sunday, the Last Chinese Unicorn was over in San Francisco for Elza van den Heever's recital presented by San Francisco Performances.

* Notes * 
My biggest complaint today when it comes to opera singers is that nobody is willing to take risks anymore. Everyone wants to play it safe for fear of cracking or screwing up a note, so they stay within their comfort zone and manufacture one sterile, cookie-cutter performance after another. I quote the character of Florence Foster Jenkins in play Souvenir: "Nothing is more detrimental to good singing than this modern mania for accuracy...You say the notes are absolute, but what are they, after all? Signposts left by the composer to guide us."

I heard Elza van den Heever sing this past Sunday and the girl has a gorgeous voice. But singers with lovely voices are a dime a dozen. What sets Elza apart from the rest of the herd is that she is fearless. She understands that singing is not just about producing beautiful, precise notes, but about putting oneself out there even if it means being vulnerable and exposed. Elza is not afraid to relinquish a bit of control and allow the music to take her (and the audience) on a journey, potentially into unfamiliar territory. I have noticed on several occasions that she tears up during pieces and asked her how this affects her voice. "It is a give and take situation. You can either disconnect from the meaning to maintain that clear beautiful sound, but I really have no choice but to be in the moment," she says. "Whatever happens with the meaning of the poetry or the libretto, I am there. For me, staying truthful to the poetry and the message is most important and I just work with my voice as the emotions come and the music happens." Yes, the tears may interfere with her breath and distort her sound at times. She does make mistakes, but she just laughs them off nonchalantly in such a charming and endearing way that the audience cannot help but laugh along with her. Watching Elza's performance made me think about the origin of the word "Bravo," which literally means "brave" or "courageous" in Italian. Elza van den Heever is one soprano who is definitely worthy of that praise.

Elza opened with two Handel arias from Rodelinda and Alcina which, in my opinion, does not belong in her repertoire. Her voice, while perfectly suited for the long sustained phrases of German opera and lieder, lacks the agility to handle the fast-paced scales and ornamentation of Baroque music. In "Mio caro bene" and "Ma quando tornerai" Elza's breathing was somewhat labored and the long runs were a bit choppy. The accompanist, John Parr, was disconnected from the singer and appeared lost in his own little bubble of oblivion with his head stuck in the sheet music. Not once did he look at Elza or offer her a little support when she required slight adjustments in the tempi. However, even though the Baroque was not her forte, Elza's delivery was packed with emotion and sincerity, you could tell she knew exactly what she was singing about.

Elza seemed much more relaxed as she shifted gears and entered the realm of German lieder where it was evident that she was in her element. Strauss' Wiegenlied, one of my favorite songs, was beautifully executed with crisp clarity and nuanced coloring. Her Frauenliebe und - leben, a song cycle by Robert Schumann that documents a woman's passage through love, marriage, motherhood, and the death of her beloved, required no translation. Especially moving was her interpretation of "Du Ring an meinem Finger" and "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan" where her breaths turned into grieving sobs as her character mourned the loss of her husband. The set of Afrikaans songs was a rare treat. Elza sang these songs that depicted the beauty of her homeland with such enthusiasm and nostalgic melancholy that the smells, sounds, and sights described in the text became almost palpable to the senses. She gave two encores, both by Brahms: "Botschaft" and "O komme holde Sommernacht."

* Tattling * 
There was an error in the program notes. The text printed was for the wrong Wiegenlied that was written by Strauss in 1878 with the text by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallerslebenthat that starts "Die Ähren nur noch nicken." The one that Elza performed was Wiegenlied, op. 41, written in 1899, with the text "Träume, träume, du mein süßes Leben" by Richard Fedor Leopold Dehmel.


Elza van den Heever Interview

Evdh-full-length-smaller-version Soprano Elza van den Heever (pictured left) is currently an Ensemblemitglied at Oper Frankfurt, but as been in San Francisco this month for Vier letzte Lieder at San Francisco Symphony and a recital presented by San Francisco Performances. She sings Elsa in Bayerische Staatsoper's Lohengrin this January, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos and Leonora in Il Trovatore at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux from February to April, Vier letzte Lieder with the London Symphony Orchestra next March, Antonia in Les contes d'Hoffmann and Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito at Oper Frankfurt in April through June, Verdi Requiem with the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester at the Alte Oper Frankfurt in May, and finishes the season as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Opéra national de Paris in June and July. The Opera Tattler caught up with van den Heever before a rehearsal.

How are you enjoying San Francisco?
It is great, this is where I lived for more than 10 years, so it is like coming home. I spent one week in San Francisco just to be here, and the rest of my time has been rehearsing, first with San Francisco Symphony and now for the recital on Sunday. Sheri Greenawald is still my primary teacher, so I have spent a lot of time with her.

Where did you live in San Francisco?
Out in the Sunset for 6 years, because that's where the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was, and in Civic Center for 5 years.

What do you miss most about this city?
Climbing hills, you don't realize what a difference this makes until you move away and see how flat other places are. You get into this fit zone! There is such a health conciousness in the Bay Area, and an awareness about how what you put into your body matters. San Francisco is also so close to nature, in a couple hours you can be in Point Reyes, for instance.

How was it singing with San Francisco Symphony this time around?
Michael Tilson Thomas is one of my mentors, he gave me such particular care, since he knows Vier letzte Lieder so well. Since there is only one soloist in this, unlike the 8 in Mahler's 8th, Michael Tilson Thomas really took me under his wing.

How are you liking Frankfurt?
It actually has a lot of greenery. In a way it is like a provincial town with high-rises, as soon as you get out of downtown it is less urban than you would think. At the same time, it is the banking capital of Germany, so it is comsompolitan and diverse.

How about Oper Frankfurt?
It is wonderful. It is an important house and I feel lucky to be able to try all these big roles there for the first time. For new productions we get 7 weeks of rehearsal, and then 8 to 10 performances, which is great.

You were the first-prize winner in the 2008 Seattle Opera Wagner Competition. Are you planning on going in that direction as far as repertoire?
That was a lot of pressure! It was my first and last competition! I was really glad to win, especially based on just the arias I did from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, the only Wagner operas I will sing from right now. As far as repertoire, I want to keep all my options open, to sing as much as is right for me. I'm only 31 so I have lots of time, and I'd rather be prudent with my voice.

Do you have a favorite composer?
Right now I am really enjoying Verdi, he really lets the voice fly and I feel a special affinity for him. I am working on parts from Otello, the Requiem, and Il Trovatore at the moment.

Who do you look up to?
I look up to my colleagues, especially the ones that are of the same age as me, because they make me want to work harder and strive further. My absolute favorite singer is Maria Callas though. I know it is a cliché, but she was truly great.

Your San Francisco debut in Don Giovanni has been in cinemas and was broadcast on public television. How do you feel about live simulcasts?
That's right! The Met HD Broadcasts are amazing, they are so impressive. They do make me a bit nervous, I hope people don't cancel their subscriptions and watch them instead of going to the opera house. As a performer, it does make you all the more nervous to be recorded live, since most of media we see or hear are edited to perfection.

Do you feel pressure to be able to move and act well?
Yes, there is pressure. This was one of the great things about being in Merola, we had movement lessons. But I still can't dance, I have two left feet, and I always find I want to lead!

Are there singers in your family?
No, but my family is artistic. My mother was an actress and now a producer and my father is a film-maker. I have a photographer, a painter, and a chef as brothers.

I heard you also wanted to be a chef? How did you pick singing as a career?
Yes, I didn't know what I was in for! [Laughs] I figured I could a chef at any age but if I wanted to be a singer I would have to start training young.

What do you like to cook?
I like to go to the grocery store with no idea of what I'm going to get, so I can see what is in season. I like to be creative with vegetables, but I don't specialize in a particular type of cuisine. I never follow a recipe!


Elza van den Heever sings 4 Last Songs

Michael_tilson_thomas * Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Schubert and Richard Strauss this week. MTT introduced the Schubert piece, the Entr'acte No. 1 (Allegro molto moderato), from Incidental Music for the Play Rosamunde, D.797, noting it has never been played by SF Symphony before and is in B minor like Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. The Entr'acte struck me as being a bit silly, but fun to play. The orchestra did sound together and the dynamic contrasts were good. Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder was more impressive, not least of all because of the soprano, Elza van den Heever. Her voice is thrilling, and she soared over the orchestra with a beautiful calm. The second Strauss piece, Ein Heldenleben, Opus 40, seemed rather long in comparison to the first. Violinist Alexander Barantschik played well, as did the pair of harpists and the off-stage trumpet players.

* Tattling * 
The people in the center of Row E on the Orchestra Level were very quiet and attentive.


Mahler's 8th at SFS

  * Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony continued their Mahler recording project with Mahler's Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major, the so-called Symphony of a Thousand. The work struck me as a bit strange, the first part being in Latin and rather religious in feel, whereas the second part is in German, and more like an unstaged opera or an oratorio. Overall the work seemed both impenetrable and architectural to me, especially the Latin bit, which I had more difficulty understanding.

The soloists were wonderful, though I was particularly fond of baritone Quinn Kelsey, soprano Erin Wall, and most especially of soprano Elza van den Heever. These three were best at cutting through the immensity of the orchestration and the three choruses. Kelsey's voice is perfectly warm and velvety, and Erin Wall's was rather the opposite, icy, but lovely. Van den Heever's voice sounded as gorgeous as ever, full, lovely, yet not at all cloying.

* Tattling * 
Despite all the microphones and admonitions, a few people still whispered during the sold-out performance on Friday. The noise levels were much more reduced than usual, though the person to my left did hum along a few times.

Both Elza and Erin were crying by the end of the performance.


Seattle Opera's 2nd International Wagner Competition

Soprano Elza van den Heever and tenor Michael Weinius won Seattle Opera's second International Wagner Competition, held on August 16, 2008. Elza is an alumna of the Merola Program and a former Adler Fellow. The judges included Hans-Joachim Frey, Ben Heppner, Peter Kazaras, Pamela Rosenberg, Stephen Wadsworth, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site


Elza van den Heever's Salon at the Rex

Elza * Notes *
The lovely
Elza van den Heever gave a recital of various songs for the Salons at the Rex series yesterday evening. Van den Heever began with five Brahms Lieder. She skipped a verse in "Die Mainacht," and was somewhat loud as she sang the word "Morgenrot." Her German diction was nearly perfect, only the vowel in "strahlt" was possibly off. She sang three Richard Strauss songs quite beautifully, "Morgen" was particularly fine. Next came three Debussy songs, two from Fêtes Galantes and "Green" from Ariettes oubliées. These she sang nicely, with good control of her volume. The last three songs on the program were in English, and Elza has a fine grasp of this language as well. She was cute singing Gershwin's "By Strauss" and was quite nearly sassy. Her voice was a bit too operatic for "I Will Follow My Secret Heart" and "I Am a Stranger Here Myself," and I was relieved she did not sing Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," though it was on the program. Elza's encore, a song in Afrikaans, was gorgeous.

* Tattling *
The recital was sold out, possibly a first for this performance series. The audience was well-behaved, and there was only one watch alarm at 7pm during "Von ewiger Liebe," right after the words "Redet so viel und so mancherlei."

Elza's floral black and white dress and black patent leather heels were both elegant and sweet.


Penultimate Performance of Macbeth

Act IV, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
I wasn't going to bore you with yet another review of Macbeth, but I had some thoughts about OperaVision and also wanted to pose a question. Thank goodness for OperaVision, or else one would never be able to see the large hole in the ceiling! Generally, I did not look at the screens too much, and they were only distracting during Lady Macbeth's Act IV mad scene, as the stage is dark except for the box. For certain parts of that scene, the cameras were focused on the bright white of the box, so it was slightly blinding and difficult to avoid. I noticed that the close-ups brought to light certain stage mishaps that would ordinarily only be seen by a fraction of the audience. For example, Duncan's crown fell off at the end of Act I, when he was being passed around by Banquo, Malcolm, and Macbeth. Elza van den Heever discreetly put it back on his head, and it was not really a problem. More absurdly, during Lady Macbeth's mad scene, Georgina Lukács did not manage to extinguish the candle precisely when the lights in the box went out.

In the last season, I have been hearing a lot of high-pitched squeaks. These noises are not the doors, which also squeak, at least in the back of the balcony, for I am able to localize exactly where the door squeaks are coming from. I am pretty sure they are not hearing aids, because the squeals seem too loud for that. I have heard squeaking in every performance I have been to at SF Opera in the last week, except for The Rake's Progress on Wednesday. I know I'm not entirely alone, for my friend noticed squeals during Tannhäuser. I appeal to you, gentle reader, have you noticed these high-pitched sounds? I've been trying my best not to notice them, but it is quite an exercise.

* Tattling *
The house was not totally full, anyone in standing room who wanted to sit could have. I had the misfortune of being behind a pair of women who moved into the center at the last moment, almost directly in front of me but not quite. They wanted to sit behind some empty chairs, which makes perfect sense given that in balcony rear, if the person in front of you leans forward, it blocks your view. Too bad these women were somewhat noisy, they whispered when there was no singing, so during the overture and such. I first sighed, then coughed, and then I hushed them and they were quiet for most of the first half.

I considered moving for the second half, but since they were silenced, I figured they would be quiet for the second half, especially as it has proved most soporific, despite its great beauty. In fact, one of the women was asleep for most of the last two acts. She only woke up during the applause, when she would make demands of her companion, as she was rather cold. She spoke during Macduff's aria, a shame considering that Alfredo Portilla was sounding the best he has.

By the end of the opera I was sniffling a great deal, and it occurred to me that I was allergic to the vast quantities of perfume the two women were wearing. At least I didn't have a coughing fit. I am happy to report that the sleeping woman clapped excessively, and screamed at the top of her lungs. Interestingly, after hearing others bravo, she switched to that instead.

Actually, it was not as bad as I've made it out to be, they were quiet for Thomas Hampson, so I shouldn't complain. The most amusing thing was they were both quite cold, kept putting on layers and layers of clothing during the performance, and had to snuggle up to one another. On the other hand, I was overheated, and had to bundle up my hair and roll up the sleeves of my fake Bavarian outfit:

Opera Tattler Fake Bavarian


Opening of Macbeth

Thomas Hampson and Georgina Lukács, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
It was as expected, the audience at the Macbeth opening was, on the whole, discontent with the production and even booed the members of production team that dared to take bows. That is quite a feat, the last time I heard Americans boo at a production was five years ago at Alcina. Personally I found Alcina to be more offensive than this Macbeth, since the former is more inaccessible to a general audience and an alienating staging just makes matters worse. Additionally, David Pountney's Macbeth production has a lot of intentionally absurd elements, and somehow the earnestness of the Alcina was particularly grating. Incidentally, both of these productions are on DVD (
Alcina and Macbeth), should you want to view them.

Despite the silliness of Marie Jeanne Lecca's fashion don'ts (pink and red witch costumes, Lady Macbeth's S & M dress, the Star Trek outfits on the murderers), the hula hooping, paper mummies, and drag queens, it was all a little boring. The person in front of me fell asleep at one point. The set, designed by Stefanos Lazaridis, was not terribly fascinating, just one round room with huge gash in the ceiling and a box with doors that got shoved about. It was too noisy, of course moving the box around wasn't at all quiet, but particularly in the parts in which curtains were drawn over the back wall. The first time this happened, during a scene change in Act II, I was able to hear some stage directions.

The choreography was likewise loud, Vivienne Newport has a witch hula hooping, paper mummies tearing themselves, Birnam Wood banging on the box, and the chorus inexplicably taping up the side of box at the end. The hula hooping and the Wood were, at best, cute, but the mummies and tape were obnoxious. The choreography for the witches was overly busy, but the chorus did well. As did Georgina Lukács as Lady Macbeth, her movements were terrifying, very predatory and slightly revolting.

The Adlers in this production were all great: Noah Stewart (Malcolm), Jeremy Galyon (A Doctor), and Elza van den Heever (A Lady in Waiting) had small roles but sang well. Raymond Aceto sang Banquo with good volume, but his voice is somewhat thin. Tenor Alfredo Portilla was a mournful and suitable Macduff, his aria in the beginning of Act IV was fine though a few of his high notes toward the end were strained. The Lady Macbeth, Georgina Lukács, had impressive acting, but lacked control of her voice. She sounded lovely in her lower range, but her higher notes wobbled a great deal. Thomas Hampson has suitable gravity and pathos for the role of Macbeth, and sang well. His fine volume and rich tone were pleasing. 

* Tattling *
The turnout was poor for an opening night, but perhaps it was because of the
Obama rally that took place nearby or possibly fatigue from last week's opening of La Rondine. Many people were late because streets were closed for the rally, but they were seated during the short pause between Acts I and II. Standing room only had a few dozen people, I was all alone at the box office until 9:10 am, when a small line started forming for the rush tickets. Too bad there weren't any available, and no sign indicating so. It was odd given that I saw many open seats, most standees found seats without a problem.

The audience was subdued during the performance, as the aforementioned sleeping will attest to. A pair of men in Y 18 and 20 of the orchestra were very upset by the production, and I kept laughing at this, because it was so darling. I laughed so much at the booing I could not manage to boo myself.


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.


Appomattox Opening

Dwayne Croft, photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Appomattox had its world premiere last Friday. I must confess I do not enjoy contemporary music, in fact, I am not overfond of many operas after Fidelio. This is ridiculous, given that this encompasses Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini. Setting that aside, I found Appomattox rather less challenging than Doctor Atomic, Le Grand Macabre, or Saint François d'Assise. I even got the chorus of Jimmie Lee stuck in my head after the final dress rehearsal, and noted that this was the only part that garnered applause during the music.

As for singing, I thought it was something of a shame that all the lead female roles were filled with Adler Fellows. It is not that they are not good or have poor voices, but they do lack experience. Particularly with Julia Dent Grant, the role is prominent and may have been better with someone with more control of her voice. Rhoslyn Jones, who sings this role, has a big voice with lots of vibrato. Her voice is pleasing in her middle range. I remember her quite clearly as Frasquita in Carmen last season, so she is, at least, consistent and distinct. On the other hand, it was difficult to tell that is was Elza van den Heever in the role of Mary Custis Lee, the role did not show off how pretty her voice can be. Her Southern accent was not as prominent as it could have been, at times she dropped it. Ji Young Yang's accent as Julia Agnes Lee was certainly not Southern, her alveolar approximant /ɹ/,had a certain lateral quality.  Yang's voice is otherwise bright and very pretty. Heidi Melton sang well as Mary Todd Lincoln, though her voice is a bit harsh in the higher range too. Her acting was strong. Kendall Gladen was the only mezzo, as Elizabeth Keckley, and she sounded lovely, though she was quieter than Melton, with whom she sang.

Dwayne Croft was excellent as Robert E. Lee, his voice is sweet and he carried himself in a suitably dignified manner. There were a couple of times that his voice was overwhelmed but the orchestra, but I suspect this is partially because I was in orchestra standing room, where quieter voices sometimes get lost. Andrew Shore was slightly less appealing as Ulysses S. Grant, but his American accent was clear and he was always audible. He sang a duet with Julia Dent Grant in Act I Scene 3 that was particularly moving. For the other male roles, tenor and Adler Noah Stewart stood out as T. Morris Chester, his acting was stirring and his voice carried well.

* Tattling *
Sara Jobin did not seem comfortable giving the opera talk, she looked at her watch many times. The conductor did sing parts of the opera, since there were no recordings for her to play, and that was absolutely charming. The orchestra and boxes looked full, though I heard the attendance up in the balcony was sparser. There was a little whispering, but for the most part everyone was respectful and quiet. The work received a standing ovation.


Don Giovanni and OperaVision

Survey* Notes *
For the second performance of Don Giovanni, I thought I would check out the new OperaVision screens in the balcony. The two screens are retractable, and the images are not fixed, so that at first we were seeing the conductor and orchestra members and later we saw both close-ups of singers and full-stage views. Most importantly, everyone in the balcony was also able to see the Death Chicken in Act II Scene 13.

The performance itself seemed to run more smoothly than opening night, as is typically the case. The long dining table actually sank so that it was flush with the floor this time, instead of getting stuck in the middle with a large clatter. Elza van den Heever sounded more comfortable as Donna Anna, but her acting was lacking, and this was evident in the close-ups on the OperaVision screens. The timing between music and singers was still off a bit. This time around I noticed that Don Giovanni is just so boorish as he throws food at Donna Elvira in that last scene of Act II, he also pushes her around quite violently.

* Tattling *
The sound is better in the balcony, but the patrons tend to be noisier. A girl in L 116 spoke into her companion's shoulder for some reason during the first scene of the opera, saying that it was "funny." Please note that this when Donna Anna was trying to fend off Don Giovanni, not the most pleasant scene. The women in L 120-122 were quiet for most the opera but could not contain themselves in the finale, they were concerned about getting out of the opera house.

Before the opera I was chatted up by another standee, he is apparently running for mayor of San Francisco, was a supernumerary in Carmen, and will be a supernumerary in the upcoming Tannhäuser. These seemed like outlandish claims, but the Tattler has verified at least the first one.


Opening of Don Giovanni

Dongiovannibrussels_2* Notes *
Don Giovanni opened the summer half of the 2006-2007 season in San Francisco last Saturday. The co-production with Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie premiered in 2003, and has been also been performed at the Grand Théâtre de la ville de Luxembourg and Opéra de Lille. David McVicar's production was designed by John Macfarlane and directed by Leah Hausman. The staging was rather dark, from the black raked stage to most of the costuming. Jennifer Tipton's lighting was not as minimal as we had been lead to believe, as one could recognize the faces of the singers from the back of the orchestra section without much effort. The choreography was demanding, at times there were a great many dancers on stage along with the singers. For the ball scene in Act I, the singers held their own and looked very good among the dancers. Some of the choreography was overwrought, especially at the end of Act I, when Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio and Donna Anna unmask. A few of the dancers were flailing in the background at this point. The acting was strong and the characterizations energetic. This is the only production I have seen in which Don Ottavio is not completely boring. He has a tendency to fade into the background or to be utterly insipid, yet here it was not the case. However, overall, the production tends towards humorlessness, especially at the end with the descent of Don Giovanni into Hell. The enormous death chicken wielding a sword was hilarious, but probably unintentionally so.

Musically the performance was a bit shaky. The orchestra and singers were not always quite together, I noticed this especially with two of the basses, Oren Gradus and Luca Pisaroni. Both sang very beautifully, but were a bit ahead of the music a few times. Mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke was much better suited for Zerlina than Cherubino, which she sang last summer here. Her voice is breathy, but not unpleasant. Charles Castronovo played and sang Don Ottavio well, though when he was singing with others, one can hear that his voice is slightly underpowered. Former Adler Twyla Robinson was a charming Donna Elvira, but vocally she was harsh and her intonation was imperfect, especially when she first took the stage. That said, she was sublime at certain points in Act II when her voice was warmed up and she was singing more quietly. Elza van den Heever did a commendable job of stepping into the role of Donna Anna at the last moment, she did sound hesitant at first, but sang well. Her voice is awfully cold and sounds a bit like it is stuck in her head somewhere, but her volume is adequate. Mariusz Kwiecien was excellent in the title role, but in this production he was not quite as domineering as he was in the Chris Alexander one at Seattle Opera earlier this year.

* Tattling *
The performance was sold-out several days in advance, but the standing room line was not as hectic as it can be. After coercing several young people to agree to attend this opera, the line situation was anticlimactic, we very easily got tickets 2-11. The box office opened a few minutes after 10, and the tickets were not yet printed, making the whole ordeal take longer than usual. Standing room itself was moderately full, and there was no late seating. The ushers spoke during the overture, and a man in seat ZZ 117 started unwrapping candies at that point as well. He left during the beginning of Act II with the 3 people he was with, it was unclear as to why. During the beginning Act II, a woman in standing room walked back and forth with a plastic shopping bag, until a man in standing room (not an usher) finally asked her to "Silence her bag." A baseball capped man in row ZZ (only for Act II) fell asleep in the middle of Act II.

During Act I, the photographer for Elza van den Heever was a bit loud, one could hear the clicking sounds as he worked pretty clearly. These performance photographs are usually taken during the final dress rehearsal, but in her case this was not possible. There was also an alarming amount of applause for Ms. van den Heever at every opportunity, for each aria and also at the end of the performance. If one was unaware about her minute replacement of Hope Briggs in the role of Donna Anna, it would have made no sense. It makes one curious, if Ms. Briggs was so unsuited for this role, should that not have been clear before the final dress rehearsal?


Adler Fellows Gala Concert

Adlers* Notes *
The Adler recital last night started off with the overture from
Bernstein's Candide. This was followed by a most terrible butchering of Händel's Alcina Act III, Scenes 2 through 7. Soprano Elza van den Heever was a shrill, nasal, and gasping Alcina. Mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen was cold and too quiet as Bradamante, but she sounded much better latter in the evening, when she sang "Va! laisse couler mes larmes!" from Massenet's Werther. Counter-tenor Gerald Thompson did not have control of his voice as Ruggiero. The rest of the evening went better, soprano Kimwana Doner sang "Tacea la Notte Placida" pretty well, though her voice is thin in her higher range.

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu is certainly the star of the Adler Fellows, he sang "Mira di acerbe lagrime" with Doner and a scene each from Billy Budd and Eugene Onegin. His tone is full and warm, not too much vibrato, and never harsh. of the others, soprano Melody Moore and tenor Sean Panikkar were fine as Mimi and Rodolfo. Moore's voice has an effortlessness that is lacking in many of the others. Panikkar strained his higher notes when accompanied by the full orchestra, but his voice is lovely. Bass Jeremy Galyon and tenor Matthew O'Neill show promise, and they were hilarious when they broke out into random Italian, shuffling chairs as Sean Panikkar took the stage. Soprano Rhoslyn Jones annoyed me as Frasquita in the current production of Carmen, as her voice is incredibly loud and wavering. However, she wasn't terrible in the Eugene Onegin excerpt, when she sings piano her voice is pretty, but the forte bits can be frightening.

* Tattling *
People were seated during the Alcina excerpt, and the pair that stepped over me to get to Z 117 and 119 apologized as the music continued. Soon after this a woman in Z 115 decided she couldn't wait for Alcina to be over either and made us all stand so she could get out. There was a great deal of chatter the whole time, plus wonderful amounts of screaming, especially from standing room. David Gockley spoke after the intermission, and he forgot 2 of the 3 names of the departing Adlers. Thankfully, members of the audience were able to yell "Gerald" and "Eugene" for him.