Frederica von Stade

Trio Appassionato at SFCM

Frederica-von-stade* Notes *
Last Sunday and Monday San Francisco Conservatory Opera Theatre presented works by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. The performance, entitled Trio Appassionato, was held as a salon in which the biographies of aforementioned musicians were covered. Frederica von Stade (pictured left) hosted, with Darryl Cooper and Curt Pajer accompanying four student singers. The conceit, thought up and directed by Lotfi Mansouri, worked very well for Flicka. She is charming and explaining the songs and how they related to the lives of the Schumanns or Brahms seemed to come naturally to her. Both pianists spoke, made musical commentary, and played solo pieces.

The script, developed by Richard Harrell, and written and researched by Kathryn Cathart, held together fine. One can see how it would work as a presentation in schools. The young singers did not sell it as expertly as Flicka or the pianists, but perhaps this just made them more endearing. The singers on Sunday afternoon were soprano Antonia Tamer, mezzo-soprano Raquel Fatiuk, tenor Daniel Bates, and baritone Ryan Bradford. For the most part their singing was strong though not always nuanced. Flicka joined in for Brahms' "Rede, Mädchen, allzu liebes" and for the encore, Wiegenlied.

* Tattling *
The audience was attentive, though some electronic noises were heard.

Dawn Harms Interview

Dawn-harmsDawn Harms is conducting Symphony Parnassus in a spring concert this weekend with guest artist Frederica von Stade at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Harms also plays violin in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and is Associate Concertmaster of New Century Chamber Orchestra. She spoke with The Opera Tattler on March 19, 2012.

How did you come to be a violinist?
My parents always wanted a violinist in the family. My sister played cello, my brother played viola, and my mother was a voice teacher. I still remember a lot of the etudes and exercises she taught me. She was my accompanist when I was growing up too.

So you are from a musical family! I heard that one of your cousins is Tom Waits, is that true?
Yes, our mothers are sisters. Tom is a great guy. I've played on three of his albums. He'll often tell me that my playing is too sweet, and that I should play more like a child, rough it up more. He really loves the weirdest sounds!

How did you start playing for the opera?
I was in a string quartet in Amarillo, Texas, and that's only 4 hours away from Santa Fe Opera, so I auditioned and played there for 5 summers. The atmosphere there is really something.

How did you meet Frederica von Stade?
It was actually in Santa Fe, and because of recycling. It was early in the morning after a party, and I was recycling some bottles. I happened to see Flicka and introduced myself. She was and is so gracious and down-to-earth.

When did you come to San Francisco?
San Francisco Opera had an opening for the principal violist. I auditioned, and actually, I didn't get the position, the current principal, Carla Maria Rodrigues, did. She couldn't start right away though, so I played principal viola for one season, and then switched to violin.

What appeals to you about opera?
Who doesn't love drama? My favorite operas are Der Rosenkavalier and Peter Grimes. I tend toward the more dramatic. I'm a Puccini freak and also I love Jake Heggie's music.

How is working with other string players different than working with singers?
Playing a string instrument is similar to singing. It is an analogy I use with my students at Stanford, and I have them sing phrases. It helps them connect to the music and emote. The bow is like a vocal cord.

How did you start conducting?
I studied conducting in 2008 at Aspen, for an intensive 9 weeks. It was great to conduct such a fantastic orchestra.

What do you like about conducting?
A lot of people think conducting is about power and egotism, but I would say it is a bit more like dance. It is expressing music through movement, and the whole orchestra becomes your instrument.

Tell me about Symphony Parnassus.
It is a community orchestra made up of doctors, health care workers, and students from UCSF. People have to pay dues in order to join, and they are there for the love of the music. They are very devoted, rehearsing every Monday night after a full day of work.

Fates of Flesh and Stone

Flicka-jake * Notes * 
A performance of recent songs by Jake Heggie closed Music at Meyer's 2009 Season on Monday. Emily Albrink began the evening by singing Rise and Fall, four songs set to texts by Gene Scheer, accompanied by Heggie himself on piano. Albrink's soprano is cold and bell-like, she was particularly good in the last song, "The Shaman," which was rather jazzy. Brian Leerhuber sang 2 pieces from For a Look or a Touch. I find Leerhuber a very solid singer, but not striking. Cellist Emil Miland played a third piece from the work, "Silence," and this was possibly the most beautiful moment of the program. Next came tenor Nicholas Phan singing 4 songs based on the life of Poulenc, Friendly Persuasions. His voice is sweet and appealing, and his accompaniment of Julie McKenzie (flute), Carey Bell (clarinet), and Emile Miland (cello) was impressive.

After the intermission, the darling bass-baritone John Lindstrom sang a song set to Robert Browning's "Grow Old Along with Me!" Kristin Clayton and Frederica von Stade sang Facing Forward/Looking Back, 4 songs about mothers and daughters. Clayton had a few gasps, but her voice blended very nicely with von Stade's. This was the first time I have gotten an inkling into why von Stade is held in such high regard, her voice can be scintillating, and in those close quarters this was apparent. Catherine Cook held her own singing Statuesque with an ensemble of flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, and cello. Her voice is distinct, she had good volume for this space, and she is hilariously funny. She did crack or wheeze a little, but it was hardly distracting. The work itself did have a Broadway or jazz sensibility, and was fun.

* Tattling * 
The performance was dedicated to the ailing Zheng Cao, who is friends with Heggie, von Stade, & co. The audience was fairly well-behaved, no cellular phones rang, no watch alarms sounded, and there was only a bit of whispering. During intermission, the coffee line was rather chaotic, and I noticed that the marketing director of San Francisco Opera cut in front of us. A moot point given that there was only decaf, so we did not actually get any coffee in the end.

Wait, Wait in Berkeley

* Notes *
NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! returned to Cal Performances last night. Host Peter Sagal was as entertaining as ever, as was official judge and scorekeeper Carl Kasell. Kasell was particularly cute when he high-fived panelists Tom Bodett, Paula Poundstone, and Mo Rocca. The show ran long, so for 2 hours instead of 90 minutes, without an intermission. As one would expect, there were moments of utter hilarity, the Limerick Challenge was particularly funny. Oddly enough, there were also some jokes about Belgium, of all places.

The celebrity guest was mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who seems like a genuinely lovely person. Sagal mentioned that opera fans are both highly fanatical and rather elderly. Von Stade told a nice story about someone named Lois who goes to every Met performance. She also commented that new operas are important in building a younger audience, and cited the recent production of The Bonesetter's Daughter as an example of this in action.

* Tattling * 
The audience was enthused but well-behaved for the sold-out performance. There were no cellular phones, watch alarms, or even much talking. However, the person next to my companion had a five-course meal during the performance.

World Premiere of Last Acts

The world premiere of Jake Heggie's Last Acts (Three Decembers) occurred on Leap Day at Houston Grand Opera, the first of eight performances. The reviews do not look favorable so far, laughter was mentioned, as was Broadway. The same cast is set to sing when the production comes to Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley at the end of the year.

The Dallas Morning News Review | Houston Chronicle Review

Long Beach Opera's 2008 Season

February 17-19 2008: Orpheus & Euridice 
March 14-16 2008: Enoch Arden and Frankenstein!!
May 9 2008: Frederica von Stade Recital
June 4-8 2008: The Diary of Anne Frank

Long Beach Opera opens its 2008 season next weekend with Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus & Euridice with Todd Palmer and Elizabeth Futral in the title roles.

SF Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 5-27 2008: Simon Boccanegra
September 6 2008: Angela Gheorghiu in Concert
September 13- October 3 2008: The Bonesetter's Daughter
September 23- October 12 2008: Die Tote Stadt
October 15-31 2008: Idomeneo
October 15-November 15 2008: Boris Godunov
October 29- November 26 2008: L'Elisir d'Amore
November 16- December 7 2008: La Bohème
December 11-14 2008: Three Decembers
January 10, 2009: Salvatore Licitra in Concert
May 29 2009: Verdi's Requiem
June 2-26 2009: Tosca
June 9-27 2009: Porgy and Bess
June 13- July 5 2009: La Traviata

San Francisco Opera's "Grand and Glorious" 86th season was revealed today, there are 78 performances of 11 operas, running from September 5, 2008 to July 5, 2009. Many big names this year, as promised. Angela Gheorghiu returns in La Bohème, Anna Netrebko in La Traviata, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Simon Boccanegra for the first time since he sang Germont in 2004. Samuel Ramey will sing in the title role of Boris Godunov and Frederica von Stade stars in the West Coast premiere of Three Decembers.

Another world premiere this year, no Baroque opera, three operas in English, none in French, but finally an opera in Russian. Inva Mula, the voice of the blue space alien singing Lucia di Lammermoor in The Fifth Element, will have her SF Opera debut as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. She sings opposite of Ramón Vargas.

I am most looking forward to Kurt Streit and Alice Coote in Idomeneo. I am glad to see that Joseph Calleja is having his San Francisco Opera debut as Rodolfo in La Bohème.

Summer of 2009 will be the first time in three years that I won't feel compelled to spend every spare moment at the War Memorial Opera House. I have seen the Mansouri/Bosquet Tosca several times, though I do find this opera to be one of my favorites by Puccini. Porgy and Bess is intriguing, but I doubt I'll become obsessed. Though La Traviata will be great, and I'm glad it is a new production (from Los Angeles Opera), I am not holding my breath either. Puccini, Gershwin, and Verdi will get people into the opera house, but I'd rather hear Mozart, Gluck, or Händel.

However, perhaps I should go to Bayreuth in 2009, since I will have the time. It is interesting that there will be such a large gap between the San Francisco Opera this production of Das Rheingold and whole Ring Cycle, which is slated for 2011. I had complained about too many Rings, given that LA and Seattle both have them on the schedule for next year. It was reported that Donald Runnicles would end his tenure as music director here with the Ring, just has he began his career here.

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

L'incoronazione di Poppea

Claudio Monteverdi* Notes *
Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea was performed at Los Angeles Opera from November 25th to December 16th this year. I had the opportunity to attend the penultimate performance in the Grand Circle. All in all, the experience was moving. The music is amazing and the production did not detract from it. Harry Bicket conducted the dozen musicians well, although the hall rather cavernous for such a small ensemble. All the singers had too much vibrato for Baroque music, most notably Frederica von Stade as Octavia. Flicka does not have control of her voice and should retire, she was simply embarrassing. Susan Graham sang well in the title role, though there were times in her higher register when she was shrill. Tenor Kurt Streit was wonderful as Nerone, he did not strain too much and had good volume. Reinhard Hagen made a fine Seneca, his last scene was strong, both in his acting and singing. Countertenor David Daniels was also pretty good, neither shrill nor gritty.

Pierre Audi's production was nondescript, though it had a few interesting moments with the device of deus ex machina. The choreography was the weakest part, it seemed that no one considered that the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is immense and poorly-suited to Baroque music. Many times the singers were made to turn upstage and deliver their lines in the opposite direction of the audience. The stage, designed by Michael Simon, was mostly empty but had a few props, such as a large sphere or a wall, depending on the scene. Emi Wada's costumes were at best pretty and at worst nonsensical, especially Arnalta's costumes, one of which looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland, and another one which looked like an origami project gone awry. Arnalta was played by a tenor, and this seemed to amuse the audience to no end.

* Tattling *
A couple came in just before the music began and took their seats in front of me. The female half of the couple fell asleep within 10 minutes, and the male half kept checking his mobile device for the entire first act. They had the good sense to leave at the first intermission. Unfortunately, the people next to them moved in, and they whispered throughout the entire opera. The elderly man next to me had a watch that beeped at each hour, and when I asked him to silence it at the second intermission, he denied that his watch made sounds. At the end, the two women in front of me gave Frederica von Stade a standing ovation, and I could not stop laughing at the irony in this.

La scuola degli amanti

The last opera of the season was Così fan tutte, which also had opened it last Fall. The co-production, owned by Opera Monte Carlo and San Francisco Opera, was produced by John Cox and directed by Jose Maria Condemi. Robert Perdziola's charming set was updated to a WWI era resort, which worked splendidly. Fiordiligi does have one ugly costume of fushsia and aqua in Act II, but this is a minor quibble.

The cast was fairly strong. Soprano Alexandra Deshorties was a fine Fiordiligi, her voice is pretty and controlled. Frederica von Stade acted well as Despina, but her voice was breathy and slightly dull. Flicka is, of course, renowned and a favorite at San Francisco, but past her prime. The audience cheered her ecstatically anyway.