* Notes *
Festival Opera, the third largest opera company in the Bay Area, opened the 2008 season with Il Trovatore yesterday at the Hofmann Theatre. Giulio Cesare Perrone's production is straightforward, his set design is simple but evocative, only small changes are made for the different scenes. The only obvious weak point was in Act I Scene 4, when Leonora mistakes Di Luna for Manrico. Everyone was quite visible during the scene, so in Act I Scene 5 (pictured above, photo by Robert Shomler), when Leonora realizes she was wrong and sings "Ah, dalle tenebre tratta in errore io fui," one must work hard at suspending disbelief. Naturally, this was not helped by the fact that the Count di Luna, Scott Bearden (on the right), could hardly look more distinct from Noah Stewart (on the left) as Manrico. So when the supertitles flashed something like "the darkness deceived me," the audience tittered, and the woman next to me commented that "it must have been very dark."
The period costumes from Susanna Douthit were attractive, though I was confused by the gypsies at first, for some of them looked like normal citizens of Berkeley on any given day. I thought the gypsies were dressed in contemporary clothing, but after a second look, I realized it was because just a few of the women's exposed hairstyles looked fairly modern. Likewise Azucena could have been in a tribal belly dance troupe, particularly because of the designs painted on her face.
Michael Morgan conducted at a good clip, and the orchestra sounded fine. There were a few strange notes from the French horn, but only near the beginning. There were times when the chorus was not quite with the orchestra, undoubtedly this will improve with time. The anvils were played by choristers, and they were not all exactly on the beat. The organ in Act III Scene 2 sounded rather canned, it came out of the speakers, one of which sputtered for half a second.
In the smaller roles, tenor Alexander Taite (Ruiz) and mezzo-soprano Jessica Mariko Deardorff (Ines) both sang well and fit the look of their parts. Kirk Eichelberger had a rather big-voiced Ferrando, at least for this space, his bass is somewhat gravelly but not unpleasant. Mezzo Patrice Houston had some deep, lovely tones as Azucena, but she could also be rather terrifying. Her breathing was noticeable and some of her pitches were not convincing, but for the most part she did well. Scott Bearden was slightly off key in his Act II Scene 2 aria "Il balen del suo sorriso," but his voice has good heft and warmth.
I was most interested in soprano Hope Briggs (Leonora), as she was to sing Donna Anna last summer at San Francisco Opera, but was, to her dismay, replaced by Elza Van den Heever at the last moment. Briggs started off with a distinctly nasal sound, her voice strong, strident, and muscular. A couple of her arpeggios were strained, but for the most part, she sang well. She was moving in her last scene, fully convincing as the self-sacrificing heroine.
In the title role, former Adler Fellow Noah Stewart had a great deal of vibrato for his first high notes off stage. He also seemed to run out of breath at the end of the famous "Di quella pira." Otherwise Stewart sang admirably, he was plaintive in "Sconto col sangue mio," this has a bone-chilling beauty. Stewart will be covering at the Met next season, certainly he is one to watch.
* Tattling *
I was dreadfully late as I find Walnut Creek difficult to navigate. Although I have been to the Lesher Center for the Arts before and it is only half a mile south of the Walnut Creek Bart station, I still managed to become lost. In my flustered state, there was a bit of a mix up at the box office, so I only took my seat at 8:00pm exactly.
The orchestra level looked very full, but the audience was fairly polite. The talking was limited to the aforementioned scene, whispering was at a minimum and not during the singing. No watch alarms were noted, but unfortunately, there was a phone ring at the beginning of Act IV. At least it was during the recicative. During the quieter moments, some speaking was audible from the lighting booth, though this was less disruptive during the second half of the performance.
Many of the usual suspects attended this performance, and afterwards I cornered Merolino apprentice coach Allen Perriello during the reception. Albert Herring, which opens next Friday, sounds like it is going well. Noah Stewart and Hope Briggs were inundated with fans and supporters, but I did manage to speak briefly with the former.