James Conlon

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Met

MacB_0032a* Notes *
A revival of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk opened at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Graham Vick's 1994 production is humorous and makes quite good use of space, despite being essentially constrained to one room (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard). Though there was much going on at all times, the staging enhanced the piece, rather than detracting from it. The brides wielding vacuum cleaners in Act I and the disco ball of Act III were particularly entertaining.

Maestro James Conlon conducted the Met Orchestra to fine effect. The playing was intense yet polished. There were beautiful contributions from the bassoon, English horn, and bass clarinet. The brass sounded imposing. Likewise the chorus sounded together and formidable.

Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is a fiery Katerina Lvovna Ismailov, radiating strength, but able to sound desperate and ultimately despairing. Brandon Jovanovich convinced as Sergei. His voice is both powerful and lovely. Raymond Very's voice contrasted nicely with Jovanovich's. His Zinoviy Borisovich Izmailov was bungling without being a complete buffoon. Anatoli Kotscherga made for a sinister Boris Timofeyevich Izmailov, his voice entirely suiting the role.

* Tattling *
We sat in a part of the dress circle that was not especially crowded. At least one watch alarm and one mobile telephone rang during the second half of the opera.

LA Opera's I Due Foscari

I-due-foscari-la-opera* Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera gave a third performance of I due Foscari (Act II pictured left with Francesco Meli as Jacopo Foscari and Plácido Domingo as Francesco Foscari, photograph by Robert Millard) Sunday afternoon. The orchestra seemed comfortable playing under the direction of James Conlon. The clarinet was especially pretty. The chorus sounded full.

The cast seems ideal, rendering the opera rather engaging. Ievgen Orlov radiated evil as Loredano, so much so he was enthusiastically booed by the audience when he took his first bow. Though Marina Poplavskaya does have a gasping quality to her voice, it worked to her advantage as the fiercely angry Lucrezia Contarini. Francesco Meli sounded bright and plaintive as Jacopo Foscari. There was a certain rawness to his singing that had the right appeal for the character. Plácido Domingo was convincing in the baritone role of Francesco Foscari.

The production features an elaborate set with many moving parts. At times the direction seemed hampered and constrained by all that was on stage. On the other hand, the circus-like scene that opened Act III was spectacular, and the ending effective and disturbing.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking in the Grand Circle, but mostly from one rather elderly person who probably had no idea he could be heard. A woman in the Founders Circle caused more than once disturbance during Act II as she climbed over several people to exit the hall.

LA Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-la-opera-2012* Notes * 
Peter Stein's production of Don Giovanni (Act II pictured left with Soile Isokoski as Donna Elvira, David Bizic as Leporello, Roxana Constantinescu as Zerlina, Joshua Bloom as Masetto, Julianna Di Giacomo as Donna Anna, and Andrej Dunaev as Don Ottavio; photograph by Robert Millard) for Lyric Opera opened at Los Angeles Opera yesterday. The direction, from Gregory A. Fortner, is sensible, but entertaining. The entrances and exits of various characters on stage are clearly motivated. Relying heavily on drawn curtains to change scenes, Ferdinand Wögerbauer's set is stark and serviceable. Moidele Bickel's costumes share this neat simplicity.

James Conlon had the orchestra zipping along, often ahead of the singers. The brass sounded exposed at one point in the overture, but was otherwise satisfactory. The chorus members made for cheerful peasants in Act I, and sang heartily in Act II.

The cast has many charming singers. Joshua Bloom is convincing as Masetto, oafish and silly, but with a pretty voice. Roxana Constantinescu is a lusty, vivid Zerlina, yet sang "Batti, batti" with tender appeal. Soile Isokoski has a mellifluous voice, but could sound perfectly hysterical as Don Elvira, as the role requires. Ievgen Orlov could have sung The Commendatore with more authority, as his voice seems fairly strong. Andrej Dunaev impressed as Don Ottavio, singing both his arias with good volume. Julianna Di Giacomo (Donna Anna) sounded bright but silvery. In fact, all the female voices were very distinct from one another.

David Bizic's Leporello was more charismatic than Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's Don Giovanni. Bizic and D'Arcangelo sounded somewhat similar, perhaps because the latter is a bass-baritone. D'Arcangelo lacked appeal in "Là ci darem la mano," and sang "Fin ch'han dal vino" without verve. He was extremely funny in Act II whilst pretending to be Leporello, and he did sing "Deh, vieni alla finestra" with beauty and sweetness.

* Tattling * 
There was a tiresome amount of talking, singing, and snoring in the Grand Circle. The couple in Row P Seats 30 and 31 spoke to each other without regard to music or singing.

Albert Herring at LA Opera


* Notes *
The fourth performance of Los Angeles Opera's Albert Herring (Act II Scene 1 pictured left, photograph by Robert Millard) on Sunday boasted a balanced ensemble cast and fine musicianship all around. Conducted by Maestro James Conlon, the playing in the pit sounded taut and clear. The horn only made one slight error, but otherwise sounded quite agreeable. The singers all seemed perfect for their roles, and distinct enough from one another in sound. The diction was clear.

Liam Bonner (Sid) and Daniela Mack (Nancy) made for a nice, youthful pair. The various pillars of society sang humorously together, or against one another, as need be. As Superintendent Budd, Richard Bernstein was warm in contrast to Robert McPherson's rather bright Mr. Upfold. Jonathan Michie sang nimbly as Mr. Gedge. Though Stacey Tappan's voice is pretty and bird-like, her Miss Wordsworth still managed to be convincing. Ronnita Miller's acting as Florence Pike was confident, and her singing hearty. Janis Kelly played Lady Billows with the right amount of self-importance and hysteria. Her cold, brilliant voice is piercing. As for Albert Herring himself, Alek Shrader seemed ideal, it is hard to imagine a more suitable tenor for this role. Shrader's voice is lovely.

The production, directed by Paul Curran, was first seen at Santa Fe Opera last summer. The set and costumes, designed by Kevin Knight, are charming and sweet. The use of supernumeraries to change the scenes in various cunning ways made for good laughs.

* Tattling * 
The performance was not particularly full. There was light talking in the Founders Circle, especially in the first half of the opera.

Simon Boccanegra at LA Opera


* Notes *
The third performance of Simon Boccanegra (Act I Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Robert Millard) at Los Angeles Opera on Sunday was quite good. The production originates from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and is directed here by Elijah Moshinsky. Michael Yeargan's set is sleek, and Duane Schuler's lighting did help frame the many scenes. The late Peter J. Hall's costumes are lavish and are a fine counterpoint for the relative simplicity of set.

The tempi taken by Maestro James Conlon were brisk, and occasionally the orchestra seemed somewhat rushed. The brass was fairly clean, there were no obvious sour notes. The chorus was not always right on top of the beat, but sang with passion.

The singing was solid. Stefano Secco (Gabriele) was uncharacteristically fervent, perhaps being broadcast live and sharing the stage with Plácido Domingo (Simon Boccanegra) brought out the best in the former. Domingo sounded rather like a tenor in the title role, his voice is, of course, just so resonant and beautiful. Some of his lower notes were not particularly rich. Ana María Martínez made for an ethereal yet girlish Amelia. Paolo Gavanelli made for a convincing Paolo, his voice is sumptuous. Vitalij Kowaljow (Fiesco) also has a weighty sound, and seems bottomless.

* Tattling * 
Watch alarms were heard at 3pm and 5 pm. A mobile phone rang in the middle of Act II from the Loge. The audience talked during the scene changes. A woman in Row E Seat 53 was especially loud, commenting that Domingo sounded "the same" as he always does as he was singing, and making other accurate but unhelpful comments to her husband in 54 and friend in 55.

During a pause, this friend mentioned that "in San Francisco we would have had five intermissions already" and that concessions must generate much income for that opera. An odd statement, given that this production has been performed in San Francisco twice (in 2001 and 2008), both times in two acts with one intermission. One will also note that Patina provides food and beverage for LA Opera and SF Opera.

Conlon conducts Verdi's Requiem at SFS

Sondra.Radvanovsky_-_Photo_by_Pavel_Antonov* Notes * 
This week James Conlon conducts San Francisco Symphony in Verdi's Requiem. Fabio Luisi was originally scheduled to take the podium, but took over most of James Levine's fall engagements at the Met. Perhaps it is just as well, Maestro Conlon did a fine job with the work, the phrasing was lucid and taut. The pianissimi were especially beautiful. The chorus sounded robust.

As for soloists, tenor Frank Lopardo sounded a bit strange. He has a plaintive voice, but at times he seemed to hum rather than sing. In contrast, the bass, Ain Anger, sang with much less effort and much more confidence. Mezzo Dolora Zajick also gave a powerful performance, her full voice is never lacking in brilliance. Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured above, photograph by Pavel Antonov) however, was still the star of the evening. She never strained for the notes, her voice has a metallic brightness that does not get lost in the orchestration, but is never harsh.

* Tattling * 
There was a magnitude 3.8 earthquake at 8:16 pm, about 10 minutes into the performance on Thursday. A slight murmur was heard from the audience, but the singing and playing simply continued.

Conlon conducts SFS in Shostakovich & Mussorgsky

Conlon-credit-ravinia-festival* Notes * 
This weekend James Conlon (pictured left, photograph courtesy of the Ravinia Festival) conducts San Francisco Symphony in Shostokovich's Symphony No. 14 and the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Before the soprano and baritone took the stage on Friday evening, Conlon spoke about the two pieces in turn, noting that the Shostakovich had never been played at SF Symphony before. The 11 songs that comprise the work are poems set to music, the original texts translated into Russian, with the exception of Kücherbecker's "O Delvig, Delvig," written in that language already. Sergei Leiferkus sounded mournful and gritty, which was quite effective for "De profundis" and "In Santé Prison." Olga Guryakova has a flexible, piercing voice that has a darkness to it. She was alluring in the "Lorelei" and was appropriately disturbing in "Keeping Watch." The concluding duet was beautifully played and sung. The piece calls only 19 string players and a percussion section of 8 instruments, so singers and orchestra were rather exposed. The 3 cellists were especially wonderful, and the 2 bassists were not far behind.

Pictures at an Exhibition seemed a welcome change in mood for most in attendance. The first trumpet played with strength and clarity. There might have been a missed cue in the percussion near the end. Conlon let the work breathe, never pushing the orchestra to race along. There were moments of stateliness and grace, but also ones of joy and playfulness.

* Tattling * 
The subscribers in K 11 and 13 of the orchestra were aggressive about moving over to K 5 and 7. The woman who took seat K 5 spoke loudly enough during the music to annoy the people in front of her, but she did not seem to notice the many glares she received. At least she slept silently for much of the Shostakovich.

Some distinctly high pitched noises from a hearing aid were heard throughout the performance.

LA Opera's Così fan tutte

La-opera-cosi-fan-tutte-actii * Notes * 
Nicholas Hytner's 2006 Glyndebourne production of Così fan tutte (Act II pictured left with the Los Angeles Opera chorus, Aleksandra Kurzak as Fiordiligi, Saimir Pirgu as Ferrando, Ruxandra Donose as Dorabella, and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Guglielmo; photograph by Robert Millard) opened at Los Angeles Opera last Sunday. The scenic design from Vicki Mortimer involved a muted Rococo interior and a smooth modern patio complete with water feature. Mortimer also was responsible for the costumes, which had the standard traditional look and featured some gowns that looked inspired by cotton candy and peppermints. Ashley Dean directed straightforwardly enough, though the movement of furniture and the drawing of shutters was not always clearly motivated.

The orchestra played fleetly under the direction of Maestro James Conlon. The brass was uneven, and someone had particular trouble in Act II, Scene 4. One can only imagine that the horn must be one of the most stressful instruments to play. The chorus, however, sounded lucid and together for much of the opera.

The singing was all pleasant. The singers sounded best when they sang together, and it seemed they were listening to one another. The acting was also strong, perhaps because most of the cast looked youthful and as if they could really be these characters. Roxana Constantinescu made for a cute Despina, she swallowed a few of the notes, but was winsome. Lorenzo Regazzo (Don Alfonso) did not have much heft to his voice, yet his comic timing was precise. Regazzo got laughs at the correct spots, even if most of the audience presumably does not understand Italian.

Ildebrando D'Arcangelo sang Guglielmo emphatically. There was half a phrase in the duet "Il core vi dono" where his voice disappeared, but the rest of his performance was quite nice. Saimir Pirgu's Act I aria as Ferrando ("Un'aura amoros") was especially pretty, and sounded almost like a lullaby. Pirgu does not have a huge voice, and can sound a bit pinched when singing at full volume. Ruxandra Donose sounded cold and bright as Dorabella, her breathing were noticeable in "Smanie implacabili." Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiordiligi) was perhaps the strongest. Her low notes may have not projected well in "Come scoglio," but her high notes were not shrill or effortful.

* Tattling * 
The center of Balcony B was much more full for this matinée than for opening night. Oddly, the audience was quieter, only the people in Row M Seats 43 and 44 were unacceptably noisy. This couple tried sitting elsewhere during the overture, only to return, causing a lot of discussion. They spoke during much of Act I, but did find seats with a better view for Act II.

LA Opera's Eugene Onegin

La-opera-eugene-onegin-acti * Notes *
The 25th season of Los Angeles Opera opened with Eugene Onegin (
pictured left with the Los Angeles Opera chorus, Ronnita Nicole Miller as Filipievna, Margaret Thompson as Madame Larina, Oksana Dyka as Tatiana, and Ekaterina Semenchuk as Olga; photograph by Robert Millard) last night. The 2006 production originates from Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, directed there by the late Steven Pimlott, and was co-produced by Finnish National Opera. Francesca Gilpin directs these performances with simplicity and directness. At first, Antony McDonald's costumes and sets employ a pleasing color palette of pale greens, bright reds, and crisp whites. This develops into further bold contrasts in other scenes, all quite smart. The only misstep was the use of three paintings projected on the scrim, not only did the back curtain get caught on the scrim twice, the effect was a bit obvious and detracted the drama. Otherwise, the set was especially charming, especially the use of water and the final ball scene as an ice skating party.

Maestro James Conlon kept the music going at a fine clip, and the Los Angeles Opera orchestra sparkled. There was a brass blooper in the overture, but the sounded lovely in the Letter Scene. The singers of the chorus were not always perfectly together but sang gamely.

Much of the singing was pretty and heartfelt. James Creswell was vocally convincing Prince Gremin, though did not appear particularly elderly in his movement. Ekaterina Semenchuk made for a hearty Olga, and in some of the early ensembles along with Ronnita Nicole Miller (Filipievna), Margaret Thompson (Madame Larina) it seemed a bit as if they were in a sing-off, so powerful were all the voices. Tenor Vsevolod Grivnov (Lensky) has a pleasantly creaky voice with brightness that cut through the orchestra. His big aria in Act II went well.

Oksana Dyka sang Tatiana with vitality. Her lack of restraint in the Letter Aria was the perfect foil for her self-posession in Act III. Dyka had some throatiness and slight shrillness in Act I, but nothing inappropriate. Dalibor Jenis (Eugene Onegin) also nuanced his voice from one scene to the next. He was abrasive in the early scenes, but showed sweetness when necessary.

* Tattling * 
Some electronic sounds were noted during the performance, a few mobile phones and hearing aids could be clearly heard. There was talking all around me in Balcony B. For Act I, a woman directly behind me just had to mention how "awesome" the set was, not once but twice. During the second half, the woman in Row L Seat 38 would not cease her talking during the recitatives. I hushed her, and her husband chuckled, and at least tried to keep her quiet. After the performance, she mistook Maestro Conlon for the director, and insisted that he must not have read the libretto in English translation.

Il Turco in Italia LA Opera

La-opera-turco * Notes *
The opening performance of Il Turco in Italia at Los Angeles Opera was delightful. The production originates from Hamburgische Staatsoper, directed there by Christof Loy, with attractive costumes and sets from Herbert Mauerauer. Here Axel Weidauer directed the amusing action to good effect, the audience certainly was engaged. Even though the specifics of immigration and Orientalism are different between Hamburg and Los Angeles, the production still made sense to an American viewer. For example, the fear of both the Romani and the Turks is more keenly felt in Germany than the United States, but this did not detract from the our understanding of the opera.

As usual, the Los Angeles Opera orchestra was sounding its best under Music Director James Conlon. The brass soli were a bit tentative, perhaps occasionally sour, but not bad. The chorus had a particularly transparent sound.

Kate Lindsey made her Los Angeles Opera debut as Zaida, she was awfully spunky and sang with zest. Maxim Mironov's light, pretty tenor suited Narciso, though there were times when he was not audible over the orchestra. Paolo Gavanelli was most impressive as Don Geronio. His voice is luminous and warm, and he always embodied the role convincingly. Thomas Allen was charming as Prosdocimo, his comic timing perfect.

As Fiorella, Nino Machaidze looked stunning, and sang well. Her voice has a penetrating quality to it, just bordering on shrill. Simone Alberghini (Selim), the Turk of this opera, was comic and his voice had good volume. He does have a lot of vibrato, but this was fine for this role.

* Tattling * 
The performance was dedicated to Maria Altmann, who died last Monday.

There was some light talking from the audience on the orchestra level, but otherwise, everyone behaved acceptably. The slow moving zombie dancers in the background of many scenes were given great applause, though so were the singers, and Machaidze received a standing ovation.

LA Opera's Lohengrin

La-opera-lohengrin * Notes *
Yesterday's matinée performance of Lohengrin opened at Los Angeles Opera was the second of six. The new production, designed by Dirk Hofacker and directed by Lydia Steier, is exceedingly silly. The set is on a turntable and appears to be set amidst German ruins in a Prussian army camp. One especially enjoyed the fact that the swan that brings Lohengrin is a bed covered tent (pictured left with Soile Isokoski and Ben Heppner, photograph by Robert Millard). The choreography was not well-motivated and perhaps merely served the set, which was rotated at various points. At times it seemed that people rushed aimlessly around the stage and ended up at their marks too early.

Maestro Conlon kept the music going at a good pace. For the most part the woodwinds sounded pretty. The brass make a few mistakes, especially in Act II, but managed to be effective. The chorus was lovely, though again, as with Rigoletto, there were a few times when synchronization was a problem. "Treulich geführt" came off beautifully, sounding clear and together.

There were many familiar faces in the cast. Robert MacNeil and Greg Fedderly were the First and Second Noblemen, while Domingo-Thornton Young Artists Matthew Anchel and Museop Kim were the Third and Fourth. Baritone Eike Wilm Schulte was the Herald. All sang nicely.

Most of the principal singers were impressive. Dolora Zajick made for the perfect Ortrud, she sang with strength, richness, and with appropriate haughtiness. James Johnson played a tormented Friedrich von Telramund, his voice too is robust. Kristinn Sigmundsson sounded noble as King Heinrich.

Soile Isokoski gleamed as Elsa, and sounded particularly sublime in "Einsam in trüben Tage." Some of her lower notes in Act II were not as lucid as her high ones. In the title role, Ben Heppner struggled. From the start the production did not make him seem heroic. When he emerged from the tent he hardly cut a fine figure, as his coat was unbuttoned, which was not a flattering look. If Heppner was in good voice, this would not have mattered, but unfortunately this was not the case. He had a few good moments, his voice has a warmth to it, and volume. However, he wailed his way up to high notes that were strained and rough. It was painful to hear him hail Elsa in Act II and he even cracked badly in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Nearly every type of unpleasant behavior was on display from the audience members in Balcony B. The couple in K 40 and 41 talked nearly every time a soloist was not singing, so even during the famous Bridal March. The woman in L 37 unwrapped cough drops and incessantly scratched herself during Act I, but had the good sense to leave, as she clearly was not feeling well. Someone in Row M tapped her stiletto heels against the concrete floor distractedly, while someone else in Row L quietly sang along. A mobile phone rang during Act II, but it was on so low that he or she did not even hear it, and did not turn it off. There was periodic beeping, perhaps from a recording device. Flash photographs were taken during the ovation. The worst offender was a person at the back of the house with a very loud phone, which rang at the end of the opera on four separate occasions.

LA Opera's Rigoletto

La-opera-rigoletto * Notes *
Rigoletto opened at Los Angeles Opera last night. San Francisco Opera's production, designed by Michael Yeargan and directed by Mark Lamos, takes inspiration from the painter Giorgio de Chirico. The stage looked clean, and Mark McCullough's lighting was effective in defining the various spaces, but garish at times. Constance Hoffman's attractive costumes did not seem to take as much from the scuola metafisica art movement founded by De Chirico, except for the color palette, perhaps.

Music Director James Conlon kept the orchestra together, and the brass sounded more focused than usual. The flute may have had some harsh moments, particularly in "Caro nome," but the oboe was sweet and clear, especially in "Tutte le feste al tempio." The cello solo in "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" was also strong. The chorus sounded clear, but was not always with the orchestra.

Many of the smaller roles were filled by Domingo-Thornton Young Artists, including Matthew Anchel (Count Ceprano), Janai Brugger-Orman (A Page), Valentina Fleer (Countess Ceprano), Carin Gilfry (Giovanna), and Museop Kim (Marullo). All aquitted themselves well, but Carin Gilfry's lustrous voice stood out, even against Sarah Coburn's brilliant Gilda.

As Maddalena, Kendall Gladen acted convincingly, but was somewhat difficult to hear in the quartet of Act III, her voice blended too well with the orchestra. Andrea Silvestrelli was threatening as Sparafucile, his voice has such an endless richness to it. Daniel Sumegi sounded in character for the elderly Count Monterone, gravelly and shaky. Sarah Coburn had a burnished warmth as Gilda, but also a pleasing bird-like quality. She hit a sour note in "Caro Nome," but was otherwise great. Gianluca Terranova was dashing as the Duke of Mantua, he did started off barking a bit too much, but sang more legato as the night wore on. His voice is not meaty, but he sparkled above the orchestra effectively without screaming. George Gagnidze was fairly subtle in the title role. He was behind the orchestra in the "la ra, la ra" part of Act II. He was moving in the final scene, the duet ("V'ho ingannato!") with Coburn was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
One was amused to see that the dancers in the opening scene had their bosoms revealed again, as they had been covered up in San Francisco's last revival. There was not a huge amount of talking from the audience in Balcony B. I had a coughing fit during Act I Scene 2, and someone was kind enough to give me a cough drop. The woman next to me in J36 had her leather jacket draped over the arm rest. I should have said something but it was difficult to get her attention, she was ill and engaged in conversation with her companion. After the performance ended, she swung her jacket against me as she put it on, and I could only laugh at how ridiculous this was.

James Conlon & Joshua Bell at SFS

Joshua-bell * Notes * 
James Conlon, Los Angeles Opera's music director, is conducting San Francisco Symphony a program of Wagner, Bruch, and Dvořák this week. Yesterday's performance began with the Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which was lovely. The trumpet and trombone were particularly strong, and the orchestra sounded cohesive. This was followed by Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, played by the gifted soloist Joshua Bell (pictured left, photograph by Timothy White). The Allegro moderato was rather moderate, and was not entirely distinct from the Adagio that came next. The orchestra did provide a floating, cloud-like support to the solo violin. The Allegro energico, though not precisely together, was full of life. Bell's playing has a high polish to it, and his encore, Vieuxtemps' Souvenir d'Amérique, showed this off brilliantly. After the intermission, Maestro Conlon addressed the audience giving us some background on the three Dvořák pieces. A few musical examples were played and one horrible pun was made. He also corrected the order of the pieces as In der Natur, Carnival, and then Othello, asking us not to clap until the end. Though the brass had a few seconds of muddiness, overall the orchestra created a shimmery, swinging sound. The influences of both Verdi and Wagner were apparent.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking in Premier Orchestra, but nothing that was not easily ignored. There was much giggling at the Vieuxtemps because the piece is based on "Yankee Doodle." At intermission, I had the good fortune to be induced backstage by Miss LCU, where she made various introductions.

The audience was enthused, giving Joshua Bell a standing ovation. Some had great difficulty containing their excitement during the Dvořák, and it was especially hard for them not to applaud after In der Natur. A few scattered claps were hushed straightaway.

Götterdämmerung at LA Opera

LA Opera's Götterdämmerung, Photo by: Monika Rittershaus/LA Opera * Notes * 
The first cycle of LA Opera's Ring Festival concluded with Götterdämmerung last night. James Conlon kept the orchestra at a controlled pace, and the volume was never overwhelming. The brass was not terribly secure, even sounding chaotic at times. The horn calls were respectable, albeit very careful and slow. The chorus sounded lovely and together, even whilst fluttering their hands and doing choreographed stretches. The Norns were ominous, with Jill Grove sounding slightly strained, Michelle DeYoung sweet, and Melissa Citro a tad shrill. The Rheintöchter were enticing: Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Floßhilde) did well. Jennifer Wilson sang Gutrune with silvery ease, while Michelle DeYoung was a jarring Waltraute.

Richard Paul Fink was sinister as Alberich, ruthless but in the end helpless. Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) sounded merciless, his full, rich voice was still very beautiful. Alan Held was quite loud as Gunther, he sang without strain. Linda Watson remained dignified as Brünnhilde, her upper register can be harsh, but she conveys the emotional content of her text clearly. John Treleaven had a rough, quiet start, improved, but then had some trouble with the end of Act II. He pulled through for his last scene.

Achim Freyer's production was a continual delight, his vision carried through to the very end. Though not focused on the human aspects of the narrative, his ideas are clearly reasoned and fully committed to throughout. I was particularly amused by the enormous red bendy straw shaped into a triangle that was the thread of fate, and by the red balloons that were lowered on wires, then lifted, then popped at the end of Act II. Hagen's very special garage door opener that blinked and flashed in different colors was also highly entertaining. On a more serious note, the staging for when Siegfried takes on Gunther's shape was very effective, and more convincing than any of the others I have seen.

* Tattling * 
The orchestra level was more crowded than during Siegfried or Die Walküre, and the talking was not as loud. The usual watch alarms sounded at each hour. Someone was crinkling a plastic bag during the last two acts. The man in Row M Seat 12 booed loudly at James Conlon, and screamed "Go back to school, read the score." There were also boos for the production team, but these too where mostly drowned out by cheers.

LA Opera's marketing department sponsored a Tweetup Meetup with Jon Caves, Philip Horváth, Cody Melcher, Katherine M. Talley, and various others. We went to the press reception and got to go back stage to meet Maestro Conlon. We also ran into Achim Freyer, and I managed to speak with him a little, even getting out a few words of German. To my great delight, I found some of my favorite opera fans hanging around back stage as well, including Dr. Tamara Sanikidze, currently an Adler Fellow.