Irina Mishura

Salome at San Diego Opera


* Notes * 
Yesterday evening's opening performance of the 2012 season at San Diego Opera was Salome. Seán Curran's production (pictured left with Irina Mishura as Herodias and Lise Lindstrom as Salome, photograph by Ken Howard) was seen in San Francisco two years ago, with the same sets and costumes designed by Bruno Schwengl, and elegant lighting by Christopher Maravich. There were some differences from the earlier performances in 2009, most notably in Salome's dance. The San Diego version sounded strong, the orchestra seemed restrained under Steuart Bedford, the brass only a bit ragged.

The principals were all impressive. Sean Panikkar sang Narraboth with a painful loveliness. Greer Grimsley gave a powerful performance as Jochanaan. Allan Glassman acted and sang the role of Herodes with complete conviction. As Herodias, Irina Mishura was both visually and vocally complementary to Lise Lindstrom in the title role. Lindstrom was viscerally disturbing, with devastatingly gorgeous high notes. Her movements were rather girlish, and her dancing, aside from a slight awkwardness with her second veil, was graceful.

* Tattling * 
There was some limited whispering from the audience. Two chirps were heard when Salome was singing without much accompanying orchestration.

Salome at SF Opera

Nadja Michael, photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's Salome had a second performance last night, after opening last Sunday. Maestro Luisotti was more restrained in this than in Il Trovatore or the Brahms he conducted across the street. The orchestra never overwhelmed the singing, but still had a florid quality.

The sleek production, designed by Bruno Schwengl, is elegant and has gorgeous lighting. Oddly, the costumes were attractive for everyone but Salome, Herodes, and Herodias. Salome's first costume was a flowing evening gown whose cut emphasized the length of Nadja Michael's torso, a contrast to the typical coltish look of an adolescent girl. This dress did move splendidly, unlike the third costume, a heavy gold-toned velvet sack. Herodes and Herodias looked fond of sequins. Director Seán Curran's choreography was straightforwardly modern, though the Dance of the Seven Veils was not entirely convincing, the ridiculous bat-like movements Salome made with her arms draped in a black veil was laughable. Michael was entirely committed to both the acting and dancing, and she was terrifying. Her singing almost didn't matter. She could sound scarily sweet or shriek like a banshee, bringing to mind Diamanda Galás.

The rest of the cast was almost uniformly great. Garrett Sorenson sounded appropriately plaintive as Narraboth. Greer Grimsley was imposing as Jochanaan, especially when singing off-stage. His disdain came through brilliantly. Kim Begley was a slimy Herodes, yet his voice was bright and had a certain appeal. Irina Mishura (Herodias) was also impressive, sounding imperious and rich.

* Tattling * 
The audience was engaged with the performance, very little talking was observed. There were watch alarms at the hour, and someone's mobile phone rang right before Salome went on about touching Jochanaan's hair.

Casta Diva

NormaThe Canadian Opera Company's production of Norma opened at San Francisco Opera last Sunday. The cast is strong, so it is certainly worth seeing. The production itself is uninspired. Remember those tiny houses you built in 3rd grade with your meticulously saved popsicle sticks? The set, designed by Allen Moyer, is reminiscent of these crafts, but on a larger scale. The haphazard walls made from wooden boards, along with the tree stumps, were apparently metaphor for how the Romans did not care about what the Druids held most dear. I wonder what the dirt-covered hems of Druidic costumes were a metaphor for, also note that the wooden structures were painted black at the bottom, but were light-colored at the top.

The costumes for the Druids were more bizarre than the Roman ones. The priestesses wore gauzy straightjackets that laced up the back and flowing gowns. Some of the Druid men wore loincloths in Act II, which was slightly startling, some put on robes later, others did not. The Romans wore short tunics with breastplates, military belts, and greaves.

Catherine Naglestad is a beautiful Norma, she sang well, though not without great effort. Mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura was more impressive as Adalgisa, her tone is sweet but her voice is powerful.

I spend much of the intermission speaking to the architect-coot from Napa, who introduced himself as Dave. We first met in the standing room line for Rodelinda last month, and he recognized me because of my absurd costume. Dave started going to San Francisco Opera in 1957. His first opera performance was Gounod's Faust, when he was around 20, at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival. He asked me if I was a music student, and when I had seen my first opera.

Sans Elephants

BsoaidaThe Ides of March performance of Verdi's Aida had a stunningly hideous staging. This production premiered the 19. January 1996, and was acclaimed by critics as "striking."

John Fiore conducted adequately, the orchestra was together with the singers for the most part. There were horns playing onstage at one point, and they did not have issues with synchronization, as in Don Giovanni.

David Pountney's staging was a bit busy, even without elephants and pyramids. So much was going on, especially in the first two acts, the sheer number of bodies was utterly confusing. Especially strange were the people who crawled on the ground, swathed a bit like mummies in white linen, they were like maggots and occasionally they bumped heads by accident.

Robert Israel's set consisted of a few walls set in triangles, each one pulled on and off stage by supernumeraries. They looked like construction sites for hyper-modern German buildings, with metal pipes here and there, a segmented glass wall, and so forth. There were a few large images incorporated in some of these, two of a brown-skinned person's nose and cheeks, one of a woman's very white thighs, another of a woman's white hands at her neck. They would lower various objects as well, including a dried tree, some stage lights, a huge boat-shaped stone, and another stone that looked like a ruin.

The costumes by Dunya Ramicová were simple, sheaths and mantels in white, black, and various blues and greens. Though Amneris did wear dark red during the first two acts, in contrast to Aida in sage green the entire time.

Nils Christe's choreography was overwrought. They used 6 dancers in various scenes in the first half, these dressed in unitards, dancing in modern technique, lots of squat-like plies, contraction, but with some more balletic movements as well. The dancers were solid and silent, if they were to reveal something about the opera, this was largely unsuccessful. Also, the choreography for the singers was not particularly good. Having Amneris spin around with joy after her engagement with Radamès is just silly.

The singing was fairly good. Baritone Giovanni Meoni stood in for Alexandru Agache as Amonasro, and was perfectly fine in the part. Tenor Stephen O'Mara was a fine Radamès, though his voice was not distinctive. In contrast, Irina Mishura, the mezzo-soprano who sang Amneris, had a dark, rich voice. Soprano Norma Fantini was nice enough in the title role, she was especially good in Act III's "O patria mia." Her voice thins out at the top, but her volume and control seemed good.