Ewa Podleś

La fille du régiment at San Diego Opera

Jkw_regiment012313_390* Notes * 
San Diego Opera's 2013 season opened with La fille du régiment last night. The production, directed by Emilio Sagi, is set in France during the final days of World War II, rather than in 19th century Swiss Tyrol. This made the sung or spoken text go against the super-titles at times. Otherwise, Sagi seems rather detail oriented, it seemed that all the scenes were rife with activity. The audience appreciated the sight gags and various jokes interpolated in the dialogue.

The orchestra sounded buoyant under Yves Abel, but were not always with the singers. There were rough moments for the brass. The chorus was entertaining. Carol Vaness was a funny Duchess of Krakenthorp, and even sang a little. Kevin Burdette was a charming Suplice. Ewa Podleś was a perfectly haughty Marquise de Berkenfield and her acting is convincing. Her voice is still beautiful, though not as smooth as in former days. Stephen Costello sang with a great deal of power, his high C's were a bit raw in Act I. Costello's second act aria was plaintive without being cloying. L'úbica Vargicová was cute as Marie, and was impressively awkward in Act II, persuasive embodying the role. Her sound has a slight tendency to be shrill, and is pleasantly fluttery, but has a fullness to it.

* Tattling * 
The audience laughed a lot, and kept conversations to a minimum.

Il Trittico at SF Opera

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

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

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

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

Opera in the Park 2009

Mtwohy * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's Opera in the Park performance this year was rather charming
. Incoming Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducted with great enthusiasm, and to begin he faced the audience for the National Anthem and conducted us. Both the overture to La Forza del Destino and the intermezzo to Manon Lescaut sounded grand and sweeping. He also  We heard quite a lot from the current Trovatore at SF Opera: Sondra Radvanovsky sang "Tacea la notte...Di tale amor," Marco Berti sang "Ah, si, ben mio...Di quella pira," Quinn Kelsey sang "Il balen del suo sorriso," and the three of them sang "Deserto sulla terra...Di geloso amor" together.

The Adlers sang several selections starting with Daniela Mack's "Non più mesta." Mack was a bit choppy and did sing "Voi che sapete" with greater fluidity. Leah Crocetto did well with both Donizetti and Puccini. David Lomelí sounded very fine as well, singing "Che gelida manina" and then "O Mimì, tu più non torni" with Quinn Kelsey. The afternoon also saw a lovely performance from Ewa Podleś of "Cruda sorte" from La Italiana in Algeri. Her low notes are richly secure, but those higher up in her tessitura are not exactly in tune. Continuing with Rossini, Andrea Silvestrelli gave an amusing rendition of "La calunnia." Brandon Jovanovich closed the afternoon with a beautiful "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca.

* Tattling * 
There was some talking, including a woman on her cell phone as Crocetto sang from Lucia.

The rehearsal earlier in the day was exceedingly entertaining, Luisotti sang in place of the singers for the first half. Podleś did not rehearse, nor did she sing in the encore "O sole mio." The encore was hilarious, and the women held their notes longer than the men. Luisotti danced around the stage during the ovation.

Giulio Cesare at Seattle Opera

Cesare* Notes *
Händel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto opened for the first time in Seattle late last month. The production came from Florida Grand Opera and featured a great deal of dancing, choreographed by Donald Byrd. It was a bit loud and distracting at times. Paul Steinberg set had the effect of a pop-up book, rather flat and plenty of primary colors. The scribbles on some of the scenery reminded me of the painter Lilo Rinkens.

The singing was not particularly stunning. Everyone had far too much vibrato, especially for Baroque music. Alexandra Deshorties did not impress as Cleopatra, though she is rather pretty, her stage presence left something to be desired. Ewa Podleś was certainly not the most convincing Cesare, she is not terribly manly in her deportment. The role seems tasking for her, she was better as Erda at Seattle in 2005. Kristine Jepson at least looked boyish as Sesto Pompeo, but her voice was thin. Brian Asawa was a villainous Tolomeo and his voice was good. Helene Schneiderman was strongest as Cornelia, she both sang and acted well.

The orchestra, conducted by Gary Thor Wedow, did not seem to be together. The horn solo in "Va tacito e nascosto" was appallingly bad on the March 3rd performance. It sounded as if the person playing was being strangled, the notes were not just off-key but completely wrong.

* Tattling *
This was a very well-behaved audience. A few people fell asleep and snored, but other than that, there were no disturbances


Ken_howard_brian_asawa_lisa_medThe Met production of Händel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto opened at San Diego Opera last Saturday. This production was in San Francisco in 2002, so I was familiar with both the music and the staging. This was somewhat unfortunate, as it started off badly, Ewa Podleś, in the lead role, was ahead of the orchestra. The conductor, Kenneth Montgomery, attempted to catch up to Podleś, and it was just painful, they sounded rushed and confused. It was a disappointment, as Podleś has an incredible voice. She was also off during the aria "Va tacito e nascosto." The production would have benefited from a prompter. If there was one, I did not see this person, and it certainly did not sound like there was a souffleur.

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux played and sang the part of Sesto rather well, her aria that ends Act II was one of the best moments of the evening. Perhaps my poor impression of her in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria was just because the production was so awful, because she sang well in L'Italiana in Algeri.

Countertenor Brian Asawa was fabulous as the villain, Tolomeo, acting and singing well. He seemed so unassuming when he replaced David Daniels in Saul, I was surprised to see how much he swaggered and so forth.

I was unimpressed by Lisa Saffer's Cleopatra, her voice is nice, if not somewhat bland, until she gets to her high range. When singing loudly at this range, she sounded out of control.

I hope that Florida Grand Opera's production of this opera, which comes to Seattle next year, is better. Alexandra Deshorties joins Podleś and Asawa, it should be interesting.

Der Ring des Nibelungen at Seattle Opera

RheingoldSeattle Opera is especially dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner. The founder of this opera company, Glynn Ross, apparently adored Wagner at a time in which his works were generally neglected by most American opera houses. Seattle Opera has built its reputation on staging Wagner in a traditional manner, a reaction to the ultra-minimalism of Bayreuth. From 1975 to 1983 they gave Der Ring des Nibelungen every summer, in both English and German versions. This month Seattle Opera is staging their third production of Der Ring for the second time. Glynn Ross' ambitions certainly have been fulfilled, as these performances were sold-out a year in advance, even the waiting list had to be closed 8 months before the cycle began.

Stephen Wadsworth's production has a particular emphasis on nature, many of Thomas Lynch's sets are covered in greenery. The most evident motif throughout were human coverings: the robes of Wotan and Siegmund were especially prominent, the former used as Brünnhilde's pillow, the latter dragged all about by Siegmund, Sieglinde, and Siegfried.

Das Rheingold
The audience was rather delighted with the acrobatic Rheintöchter, they were suspended from the ceiling and did all sorts of flips and dives. They were still able to sing quite well despite the athleticism required, good thing they were forced to be on some sort of cardio/yoga/pilates regimen beforehand. I was a bit confused by the staging though, it leaves Alberich on the bottom of the Rhein, since he is on the stage and they are above him.

They cast people well, Richard Paul Fink and Thomas Harper were suitably small as Alberich and Mime respectively, and Fasolt and Fafner, Stephen Milling and Gidon Saks, were convincing giants.

The weakest scene of the opera, and possibly the whole cycle, was the third scene in when Wotan and Loge go to Nibelheim and trick Alberich into changing into first a giant snake and then a toad. Both simply looked like children's toys, and the snake was not impressively larger than the toad. This received an audible giggle from the audience.

The singing was fairly even. Compared to the Bayerische Staatsoper Ring production of 2003, the only singer that was less impressive was Greer Grimsley, because John Tomlinson was an amazing Wotan. Grimsley was slightly quiet, but consistent. Tomlinson was fuller and more brilliant, but he was also singing with a poorer cast, so it could be simply the contrast. The most exciting vocals came from Ewa Podleś in her tiny role as Erda. As she rose from the earth her enormous voice seemed a force of nature.

Die Walküre
Everyone seemed to adore Margaret Jane Wray and Richard Berkeley-Steele as the Wälsungen, but I found Stephen Milling's voice most compelling in his role as Hunding, though he did not make a particular impression on me as Fasolt in the earlier opera. His voice had a certain command, it is very solid. Jane Eaglen was at her best as Brünnhilde, her high range never grates nor threatens to break glass, her low range is quiet.

The set for Act III (Auf dem Gipfel eines Felsenberges) where we find the Walküre left something to be desired. It looked too clean and neat, as if one had bought it from IKEA. It reminded me of the set for Seattle's Lohengrin, similarly flat and linear. Thomas Lynch designed both, no surprise there at all.

Also, the Walküre threw around the various body parts of fallen heroes during that first scene. For some reason, this struck me as slightly tacky, something out of a horror movie. Another trivial point, it might have been nicer if the rest of the Walküre had been a little more substantial physically, since Jane Eaglen may well be around 300 pounds. This visual contrast was slightly bizarre.

The most notable flaw in this performance was having the singers be percussionists. One would never force the singer of Siegfried to play the famous horn call, why should a singer then, be forced to be a percussionist? Thomas Harper (Mime) was more confident of his playing, but still was off at times, and Alan Woodrow's playing was just painful to watch, and more importantly, hear. It was too bad, since he made a nice enough Siegfried otherwise, singing adequate, and his acting was charming. He does petulant and boyish well. They also pulled off the bear part at Siegfried's first entrance, the bear suit donned by tenor Steven Goldstein.

Surprisingly, the Act II scenes with Fafner as a dragon were also done well. The puppet was suitably grand. However, the Waldvogel part came off less well. A stuffed bird was illuminated in the trees, but it was very difficult to see. Wendy Hill's voice sounded very pleasing, and it might have been better if we could have heard her from the stage.

Act III Scene 1 was definitely the best part because of Podleś. The Act III love scene was slightly painful, Eaglen waddles, and when she spun around in delight at Siegfried, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The beginning Norn scene was impressive, Podleś and Stephanie Blythe have such big voices, Wray is full but not as hefty. Gidon Saks (Hagen) was ill and his voice was quiet and strained. Woodrow's singing in Act III Scene 2 as Siegfried dying was especially good, not flawless, but very beautiful. Eaglen put everything she had into the Immolation scene, it was transcendent, her voice gleaming.

As for the staging and set, the Halle der Gibichungen was very dull, it was in no danger of being a distraction. Act III Scene 1 with the Rheintöchter down from their harnesses was charming, though the arm choreography didn't much make sense, it looked like they were flapping. The last scene was utter madness, the scrim came down with fire projected on it, the gods all reappeared on a platform, and the Rheintöchter reappeared to catch the ring that Brünnhilde throws up into the air. Somehow this all came together.

Overall, it certainly was ambitious. Robert Spano did not seem to have any exquisite control over the orchestra, nor was his conducting particularly fiery. The traditionalist approach to the stage direction makes it obvious how difficult it is to stage something so fantastical without being kitschy. One begins to understand why all those bizarre contemporary stagings exist, they are a sort of distraction.