John Relyea

Carmen at the Met

Carmen-metMetropolitan Opera's new production of Carmen was revived this season. Here is the Unbiased Opinionator's account of the performance that occurred on November 16th.

* Notes * 
The Metropolitan Opera's reprise of its 2009 production of Carmen, directed by Richard Eyre, updates the story from Prosper Mérimée's 1830s setting to the time of the Spanish Civil War. This concept is not new: Frank Corsaro imposed it on the low-budget New York City Opera production back in 1984, which was reprised several times. I saw the NYCO production in the late 90s, and an unfortunate parallel must be drawn: one has the impression that the updating is done only to save money by substituting drab costumes and sets for what should be a rich visual spectacle. Audiences "listen with their eyes" as well as their ears, as the saying goes, and in this case the visuals cast a pall on the entire opera, with some exceptions, to be noted below.

One exception to the dreariness of the color palette of this production was the striking blood-red slash streaking downward through the fire curtain as one entered the auditorium, which found an admirable symmetry in the gown in which Carmen meets her fate at the end of the opera: a black lace dress (trajes de faraleas) with an identical red streak down the front, something akin to a lightening bolt.

To this listener, the performance was murdered in its cradle by the impossibly fast tempi chosen by conductor, Edward Gardner, in his Met debut. The opening overture was driven to such an extreme that the only the marvelous Met orchestra could have kept up. The result was a depressing lack of rhythmic drive, absence of phrasing, loss of clarity of instrumentation and ragged ensemble. This was particularly obvious in the third act, and the failure of coordination verged on outright disaster. Perhaps Gardner was told by management to keep his eye on the clock, as overtime starts at midnight. Seated relatively closely to the stage, I could not discern a prompter's box, and absent a prompter, and even with TV monitors, the cast displayed almost telepathic capacity with which to maintain minimal coordination with the pit. I believe this to be one of the curses of our time, the confusion of speed with energy.

The admirable Met chorus seemed underpowered in this performance, except for lyric passages which were sung with great beauty and balance. The children's chorus was brilliantly energized and forceful. I often marvel at the capacity of a child's voice to carry in a house the size of the Met, an object lesson to adult singers and to voice teachers alike.

We had, once again, the ever present Met turntable set design; rotating vertical cuffs which serve in their various permutations as cigarette factory, tavern, gypsy hideout and bullring. Peter Mumford"s lighting design washed the stage in a dim haze throughout the evening. Piercing, brilliant Spanish sunlight was nowhere to be seen, even in the final act, except at the moment where Jose murders Carmen, when the sky momentarily turns blood red.

The Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanča possesses a voice of great beauty, graced with a secure technique and a powerful top. She is also blessed with an extremely attractive physical presence and the ability to move well on stage. However, one wished for more risk-taking, more earthiness. Her delivery undercut Carmen's predatory sexuality by substituting finely formed vocalism for dramatic power. It seemed that she either lacked, or was unwilling to dig into, the chest register where the music and drama require it. This is a great challenge for a good singer: how to go beyond certain technical boundaries without risking vocal health. I would love to hear this singer in other repertory, Mozart, Strauss or Mahler, where her cool Baltic temperament and vocal gift might be heard to better effect.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich's Don José was vocally gratifying and visually handsome. He possesses a voice with the sufficient "blade" (as Colin Davis used to call it) with which to fill the large Met auditorium, and he finished his Flower Song with a beautiful voix-mixte B-flat. He overcame an initial impression of physical stiffness and unease and built his delivery to fine dramatic effect in the last act. On the minus side, he was not served well at the opera's conclusion by the costume designer, who draped him in what looked like a monk's robe with a huge cross dangling across his chest – a too literal take on his line to Carmen: "laisse moi te sauver." A fine bit of staging, having José slam Carmen into a wall, dazing her as he pleads with her not to desert him, was spoiled by an unsupported piece of the set which tottered comically upon impact.

Of the remaining cast, John Relyea's Escamillo was to this listener a disappointment in every respect except one, his dashing physical presence. I have greatly admired this singer in other roles, particularly, Faust in Berlioz's Damnation of Faust. Here, however, his ample bass-baritone was hampered by a swallowed delivery and weak top. Nicole Cabell as Micaëla, while sweet of voice, seemed underpowered in the Met's cavernous auditorium although she played the role with sincerity. At the risk of belaboring the point, one has to again fault the conductor, who put Cabell into a rhythmic vice in her signature aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante." His dictatorial, metronomic beat robbed this singer of any chance to employ expressive rubato or flow. She wisely delivered her high B front and center, figuratively wresting the baton from Edward Gardner's hands and giving herself a chance to make a true impact. Michael Todd Simpson as Moralès and Keith Miller as Zuniga were effective. Joyce El-Khoury (in her Met debut) as Frasquita, Eve Gigliotti as Mercédès and their gypsy cohorts didn' t stand a chance vocally, given Gardner' s whirlwind tempi, although they executed their choreographic and dramatic duties with expertise.

A special mention should be made of the beautiful and expressive dancing of Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey, and of the beautiful rendition of the Act III Entr'acte by members of the Met orchestra.

* Tattling * 
The Met audience was better-behaved than usual, although one man behind me insisted on humming alone with the "Toreador Song" in the overture. Two women of a certain age insisted on exchanging remarks despite nasty looks from UO and from Miss LCU. There was the usual, inevitable standing ovation by the audience members who chose not to bolt for the doors the minute the show ended. How one longs for European audiences, who rarely give standing ovations, except for performances of extraordinary "once-in-a-lifetime" impact.

Faust at SF Opera

Brian Mulligan (Valentin) and John Relyea (Méphistophélès), photo by Cory Weaver * Notes * 
Gounod's Faust opened at San Francisco Opera last weekend. I had briefly entertained the idea of driving back from Southern California where I was seeing LA Opera's Ring for this, but decided it would be too disruptive to both my schedule and state of mind. Even at Tuesday night's performance, it was a bit odd to have left the world of Wagner for this frilly, pretty piece. Robert Perdziola's production, directed here by Jose Maria Condemi, is straightforward, with attractive sets and amusing surprises as far as staging. The chorus was not handled with particular deftness. The chorus did not sound precisely together, and the way the entrances and exits were choreographed in Act I Scene 2 did not help. However, the off stage choral singing "Sauvée! Christ est ressuscité" was lovely, and the playing was especially fine here too. Maurizio Benini had the orchestra sounding appropriately frothy and nice, and perhaps a bit hazy.

As usual, Catherine Cook acted the comic role of Marthe convincingly. Current Adler Fellow Austin Kness sounded boyish, and Daniela Mack even more so as Siébel. Although Mack's vibrato could be a bit much, her "Faites-lui mes aveux" came off well. Baritone Brian Mulligan sounded absolutely wonderful as Valentin, his "O Sainte Medaille" was the highlight of Act I, and his music at the end of Act IV was poignant. John Relyea sleekly embodied Méphistophélès, his voice remains very rich, and his acting is strong. On the other hand, Patricia Racette was less persuasive as Marguerite, somehow all her wobbling did not project youth or naïveté. Her Jewel Song bordered on the grotesque, though her rendition of "Il était un roi de Thulé" was less unsightly. Racette seems more believable as a fallen women, so by the end her Marguerite, crazed and in despair, was moving. Stefano Secco was a pleasant enough Faust, his voice has volume without roughness. Something about the way he hits the high notes gave me the sensation of watching someone hoisting a sail with great effort.

* Tattling * 
Standing room was not crowded, and there was not much to say about the audience in Act I. After the first intermission I was given a ticket for the first row of the Grand Tier, on the aisle but near the center. Talking aloud was heard from a certain person in A 101, but in my immediate vicinity, the audience was quiet.

Seattle Opera's 2010-2011 Season

July 31- August 21 2010: Tristan und Isolde
October 16-30 2010: Lucia di Lammermoor
January 15-21 2011: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
February 26- March 12 2011: Don Quichotte

May 7-21 2011: Die Zauberflöte

There are five operas scheduled for next season at Seattle Opera, none of which are particularly adventurous. Many familiar conductors return: Asher Fisch conducts Wagner, Dean Williamson conducts Rossini, and Gary Thor Wedow conducts Mozart. Bruno Cinquegrani and Carlo Montanaro have debuts on the Seattle podium, in Lucia and Quichotte respectively. As for singers, Greer Grimsley is Kurwenal, William Burden Edgardo, John Relyea Quichotte, and Christine Brandes Queen of the Night.

2010-2011 Official Site | Subscription Information

Ashkenazy conducts SFS

Yevgeny-sudbin * Notes * 
Last night Vladimir Ashkenazy conducted San Francisco Symphony in the world premiere of Steven Gerber's Music in Dark Times. The piece was commissioned by Ashkenazy and also dedicated to him.The fanfares of the first and last movements did not show off the brass to their best advantage, though the woodwinds sounded beautiful in the second movement. I was most drawn to the third movement, as it was a tarantella, and the various rhythms were of interest. The fifth movement "Elegy for Strings" was played with subtlety.

The main draw of the evening was likely Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. The soloist, Yevgeny Sudbin, played in an almost ridiculously tasteful manner, with such restraint. He was able to find a percussiveness as well when necessary. There was a particular fineness in the strings, a precariousness. There were, however, two times in which the viola and the cello were a bit strident. Oddly, though the concerto did not come off, and by the end, I had the very strange physiological impression being stabbed in the forehead with a fork.

The second half of the concert brought us Belshazzar's Feast of Walton. Though the music was more akin to a film score than an oratorio, the chorus sounded lovely. Bass-baritone John Relyea gave a strong but perhaps unnuanced performance.

* Tattling * 
The composer Gerber was in attendance, and he ran from the audience to the stage in a very adorable way. One imagines he was quite excited.

The audience was perfectly terrible. A cellular phone rang four times in the Upper Orchestra during the quietest part of the Beethoven, in the second movement. Hot on the heels of this was a veritable chorus of watch alarms at 9pm.

If you happened to be distracted by some girl in the center of the fifth row who entirely lost her composure at the beginning of the Walton, I apologise.

Bluebeard and Erwartung at Seattle Opera

Bluebeard * Notes *
A double-bill of Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung opened at Seattle Opera this evening. The two works were originally directed by Robert Lepage for the Canadian Opera Company, but were directed by François Racine in Seattle. The Bartók was stunning, though the orchestra was not always perfect under Evan Rogister, the music is compelling and the production does not get in the way. Michael Levine's set and costumes were understated, the clean lines were pleasing but offered surprises. Only the interaction at the end between the three other wives and Judith seemed a bit too obvious. The media effects, designed by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy, were striking without being overwhelming.

As for singing, Malgorzata Walewska (Judith) had incredible moments, her voice has warmth, but it is also somewhat wobbly. There were points in which she was simply shrieking. John Relyea seemed a bit blunt at first as Bluebeard, though his voice is lovely. He was impressively mournful after the opening of the sixth door, as he sings about tears.

Erwartung involved more acrobatics. The piece seemed interminable, though it was a mere 30 minutes long, even with all of the visual effects and overt illustrations of narrative. Susan Marie Pierson sang well, she had good control and was never shrill.

* Tattling *
The hall was not full, and though there was a little talking during the music, it was very minimal. Afterward, a person asked us if these were the worst operas we had seen, and we responded in the negative. Apparently he had not enjoyed himself at all, and has attended at least a hundred opera performances.

Lyric Opera's 2009-2010 Season

September 26 2009- January 29 2010: Tosca
October 5- November 7 2009: Faust
October 27- November 23 2009: Ernani
November 22- Deceumber 12 2009: Katya Kabanova
December 5 2009- January 16 2010: The Merry Widow
January 23- February 22 2010: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 20- March 17 2010: La Damnation de Faust
February 28- March 27 2010: Le Nozze di Figaro

René Pape and Kyle Ketelsen share the role of Mephistopheles in Faust. Salvatore Licitra sings opposite of Sondra Radvanovsky in Ernani. Karita Mattila will sing the title-role of Katya Kabanova. Susan Graham, Paul Groves and John Relyea star in La Damnation. Le Nozze features Joyce DiDonato and Mariusz Kwiecien.

Tribune Article | Official Site

La Damnation de Faust Live in HD Met Simulcast

Damnationfaust   * Notes *
Director Robert Lepage's production La Damnation de Faust was shown as a simulcast over the weekend. His Met debut certainly had the marks of a production from that company. Carl Fillion's set was not entirely unlike the one for Doctor Atomic from a few weeks ago, both being vertical and grid-like. Both also made use of projections, though the ones here were more elaborate, reactions to the performers themselves.

Lepage did serve up one arresting image after another, and one must say that choreographers Johanne Madore and Alain Gauthier did especially fine work. However, at times it did seem like overkill for a piece that is most often performed unstaged. Going wild with video projections, dancing, and acrobatics was dizzying, though it translated well cinematically. The cameras moved quite a bit, but it seems that Barbara Willis Sweete is being less creative with her work, there were no moving or doubled images as in Tristan. It is, however, difficult to judge the overall impact of a production when there are so many closeups.

The musical values were exceedingly high, as usual, and conductor James Levine was impressive. Bass-baritone John Relyea had suitable eyebrow makeup for Méphistophélès, and he sang with great vigor. Marcello Giordani had not a trace of warmth in his voice, but sang perfectly well. Susan Graham was, however, sublime as Marguerite. Her "Autrefois un roi de Thulé" was lovely.

* Tattling * 
Both sound and picture briefly stopped twice at the beginning of "D'amour l'ardente flamme" at the beginning of Part IV. The audience whispered a bit during the music, and there was much coughing. The cinemacast was supposedly sold-out in San Francisco, though there were quite a few seats that were empty in the first few rows.

The Royal Opera's The Rake's Progress Reviews

Robert LePage's production of The Rake's Progress is currently at Covent Garden. The reviews seem mixed, Rupert Christiansen found the production dull, but Warwick Thompson found it magical. I should have liked to hear John Relyea sing Nick Shadow, as I found James Morris a bit boring in that role last year.

Richard Morrison's Review in the Times Online | Evening Standard | The Stage | | | The Telegraph | Bloomberg | Metro | Hugh Canning's Review in the Times Online

Seattle Opera's I Puritani

Ipuritanicast1_4  * Notes *
Bellini's last opera, I Puritani, had its Seattle Opera premiere at the beginning of the month, and Linda Brovsky's production is magnificent. The sets, the work of Robert A. Dahlstrom, look inspired by the Getty Center, as there are many steel staircases and landings. This kept the action in the vertical plane rather than the horizontal, so though the set was static, it was not dull. This also kept the staging simple and made the singers visible from different parts of the house. Peter Hall's sumptuous costumes were from the Met, though he modified them to work with the staging. The lighting designer, Thomas C. Hase, was tasteful in his approach, never harsh or overwhelming.

The horns were flat at first in the overture, and one note in the horn solo of Act II was sour, but they all managed to be in tune by the end. Otherwise the playing was good, the orchestra was usually with the singers and was not too loud. Also out of tune was Norah Amsellem (Elvira), from the very beginning I cringed at her voice during the off stage quartet (La luna, il sol, le stelle) in Act I. The arpeggios in first duet were poor, and the last note was quite unpleasant. Amsellem's voice is lucid and beautiful when she isn't flat, even resplendent, but she was often a half or quarter tone off. This was especially evident in Act III, when she sang "A una fonte afflitto e solo" and the tenor repeats these lines in "La mia canzon d'amore." She was most in tune for Act II, perhaps madness, at least at first, becomes her. Amsellem did look beautiful as Elvira and her acting was not bad.

On the other hand, Mariusz Kwiecien was wonderful in "Ah!, per sempre," his legato was gorgeous, and his singing as Riccardo was clearly distinct from his Don Giovanni of last season. In fact, I barely recognized him, his manner was so different and someone has finally figured out what to do with his hair. Kwiecien did rush during "Bel sogno beato" and was not with the orchestra, but sang beautifully in the rest of the opera. His singing in Act II with John Relyea was the highlight of the evening. Relyea was instantly recognizable from his gait and posture. His characterization of Giorgio wasn't terribly dissimilar from his Banquo or Garibaldo, as far as coloring, but he did sing well. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee did not have a convincing wig, but he was not disappointing as Arturo. His voice is bright and flexible, with a bit of strain at the top, but still lovely.

* Tattling *
The orchestra level was nearly all full, but before the performance began an usher kindly offered the standees seats as he explained that the opera was very long. Seattle Opera put two intermissions into this opera, which made for one 75 minute block, followed by 45 minutes and 35 minutes blocks that could have easily been combined.

There were no mobile phone rings, but there was one watch alarm with many beeps in succession during the Act II overture. Someone was making vocalizations on the orchestra level, I could not tell if they were singing along or just snoring. Plenty of talking, whispering, and coughing was observed, and a woman in Section 2 of the orchestra level, in Row BB Seat 6 both spoke and coughed a fair amount. I tried to look at her disdainfully when she stared at me during the Act III overture. I'm not sure why she was staring, given that she had to turn her head around to do this, and the light reflecting off her glasses made it very obvious that she was doing so. 

Bayerische Staatsoper's 2008-2009 Season

October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo

Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.

New Productions for 2008-2009 | Official Site

Macbeth Live in HD Met Simulcast

Metmacbeth* Notes *
The Met's simulcast of Macbeth aired today. The production, by Adrian Noble, is new to the Met and opened October 22, 2007. Set after World War II, Mark Thompson's set and costumes are dark, lots of black, grey, olive, khaki. There were many leather jackets and machine guns, Banquo, for example, seemed to be dressed as Rambo for most of Act I. The witches were based on Diane Arbus, each witch wore some sort of hat and smeared lipstick. The purses of the witches were much too loud in Act I, it sounded like coins were dropping on the stage. There were a few supernumeraries used in this group, including three female children. A low point of the opera was the beginning of Act III, when a witches brew was created from little girl vomit, the three had to eat bread and spit it out in an over-sized chalice. I never imagined I would see simulated bulimia onstage at the Met. Sue Lefton's choreography was a little vulgar for the witches, a lot of hip thrusts and such, though when the witches set out chairs for Lady Macbeth to walk on just before she sings in her mad scene worked well.

The cast was impressive, everyone sang at a high level. Baritone Željko Lučić was a fine Macbeth, with much emotional range, going from mournful, to afraid, to defiantly angry with ease. Maria Guleghina was incredible as Lady Macbeth, her voice sounded almost angelic at times, but also could be crystalline and downright frightening. She had good control of her vibrato, for the most part, though she did have a tendency to have an occasional wobbling gasp, especially at the beginning of the brindisi in Act II. Dimitri Pittas (Macduff) sounded a little reedy to me at first, but he was incredible in his Act IV aria, singing well and even shedding tears. He was somewhat difficult to hear over the movements of the chorus and the playing of the orchestra toward the end of the opera. Bass-baritone John Relyea also had a few inaudible moments after the discovery of Duncan's body, but sang his Act II aria "Come dal ciel precipita" quite beautifully. I was most moved by the choral parts at the end of Act II and IV, everyone sounded together and James Levine had the orchestra well in hand.

I do find the May performances of Macbeth tempting, for René Pape will be singing Banquo, and Joseph Calleja sings Macduff. As for the lead roles, I have never heard baritone Carlos Alvarez, but I do avoid Andrea Gruber, whom I find grating. It might be fine, given that Lady Macbeth is supposed to be unpleasant to the ear. 

* Tattling *
The line to enter the Century San Francisco Centre 9 formed before 9:30 am, and Theater 4 was pretty full. Lado Ataneli was listed online as Macbeth today, and his name also appeared on the program I was given at the theater. Apparently he took ill, and Lucic replaced him. The picture at this theater was clearer than at Bay Street, though I did get a headache by the second half. The image did go fuzzy or slowed down at least four times, once in the first chorus, another during "Mi si affaccia un pugnal," once again in "Ah, la paterna mano," and a last time at the last scene. These were minor, more unfortunate were the disturbances in sound, one lasted half a second near the end of Banquo's last aria, the other was during Macbeth's "Pietà, rispetto, amore," in which we were treated to three brief but loud sounds. A shame, considering these are two great moments of the opera. They also did not cut the sound from backstage fast enough for the beginning of Act IV, and we could hear stage directions with the orchestra.

The host today was Peter Gelb himself, the General Director of the Met. He gave a brief interview of James Levine just before the conductor went out to the orchestra pit. The cameras moved around quite a bit, and I was better able to appreciate this by sitting a bit further back this time. It gave me a headache, but for the most part it wasn't too bad. The worst was when Banquo's ghost appeared, it was difficult to make sense of how he appeared or what exactly was going on, because there were so many close-ups. Again, I would have preferred not to see the young supernumeraries regurgitate bread up close or see John Relyea's fillings. I did enjoy Mary Jo Heath's interviewing the two leads at the beginning of intermission. Lučić told us he is a Verdi fan, and Guleghina stated "I am becoming crazy" of her character, not herself.

Seattle Opera's 2008-2009 Season

August 2-23 2008: Aida
August 16 2008: International Wagner Competition
October 18- November 1 2008: Elektra
January 10-24 2009: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
February 21- March 7 2009: Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung
May 2-16 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro

I may avoid Aida, as Andrea Gruber is in the title role, and her vibrato is overwhelming. I am not terribly fond of Les Pêcheurs de Perles, but William Burden will sing Nadir, so I might just go, considering it is also during the San Francisco Opera hiatus. I am most interested in hearing Bluebeard's Castle, as I missed this in Los Angeles. John Relyea is singing the title role in Seattle. Mariusz Kwiecien is singing the Count in Figaro, but the rest of the cast may not be up to his level.

Seattle PI Article

Große Messe No. 17 in C minor K427

Masscminor* Notes *
Ingo Metzmacher conducted Stravinsky's Orpheus and Mozart's C minor Mass last weekend at San Francisco Symphony. The former is ballet music, I had no ear for it, I found it rather dull, though it had some pretty moments in the harp part. Perhaps it would make more sense in the context of ballet. As for the Mass, I enjoyed it thoroughly. The work was edited by Monika Holl with Karl-Heinz Köhler, with the Credo, Et incarnatus est, Sanctus, and Osanna reconstructed and completed by Helmut Eder. The lead soprano, Camilla Tilling, seemed a bit nervous at the beginning of the Friday night performance, but was calmer on Saturday night. She had good control of her vibrato, but some of her higher and lower notes were not clear. She was much more strained in this part than in the role of Susanna she appeared in last summer. The other soprano, Sarah Fox, had a lot of vibrato and more dark hues in her voice. I found tenor Timothy Robinson somewhat lackluster, and I couldn't hear him that well. Bass-baritone John Relyea only sang at the end in the Benedictus, by then his voice was cold, he was also somewhat quiet after waiting on-stage for 45 minutes.

* Tattling *
This is the first time I've sat in the rear boxes at San Francisco Symphony. During Stravinsky on Friday, some people wandered into the box, talking as they came in, but they were confused and in the wrong place.

We wanted to hear the Mozart again, but not the Stravinsky, so we waited in the lobby and read during the first half of the Saturday night performance. When we went to our seats in the second row of the orchestra level, a middle-aged woman in B 111 had her foot propped up on my seat. Her ankle was wrapped up, so perhaps it was sprained. I mentioned that B 112 was my seat, and she rolled her eyes and only unapologetically moved. My companion gave her a cutting look, and her companion might have scolded her, because some angry words were exchanged between the two of them. Thankfully, they were both quiet the entire performance. It just confused me, I do not believe I was outside of my rights to want to sit in the seat my ticket was for, and there was no reason to be hostile.

Se vuol ballere, signor Contino

FigaroactiA revival of Le Nozze di Figaro opened last Saturday, directed by John Copley. The production is of the standard traditional type, the setting is a Spanish villa, curiously there is no set designer credited. There are four sets, one for each act, none painfully elaborate, no moving parts, everything is quiet and simple. This is not to say the sets were not beautiful nor to suggest they were modernist in any way. The costumes were also 18th century, they were not striking but also not gaudy.

The cast is rather impressive, both vocally and dramatically. The only errors I noticed were minor. Camilla Tilling (Susanna) had her debut at San Francisco Opera with this performance. Her voice is pretty, though she has a bit of a raw edge. She cracked just slightly during Venite, inginocchiatevi in Act II, and she and Relyea seemed slightly off from the music in Act I, but just for a few seconds.

Peter Mattei sings Count Almaviva well, I have never heard him in another role, but I did hear him in Le Nozze at Bayerische Staatsoper. His voice is pleasing and sweet. He acts well even though he is terribly tall and gangly, he manages to look elegant. I first saw this production in 1997 with Bo Skovhus as the Count, so I'm a bit spoilt. Skovhus is amazing.

John Relyea is slightly more awkward as Figaro, though he is not as tall, I believe it is something about how he holds his hands. His voice is rich, he can hit all the notes in the lower range with enough ease to be quite pleasing. He is not terribly subtle in his shading, but it is Figaro, so this is fine. It is straightforward music.

Ruth Ann Swenson was a marvelous Countess Almaviva. Her voice is cold, sweet, and bright, never shrill, with great control. Her carriage is also good, clear even from the back of the balcony.

The audience was appalling. Apparently it is too difficult for certain people to arrive on time, and in the balcony, the ushers cordon off the seating and then watch the operas themselves. This leaves tardy and disgruntled patrons to wait in the standing room area. They are often disoriented, out of breath, and not particularly polite. They speak and one man decided that he was going to wedge himself between me and my companion. He apologized as he put his elbow between us, this was during Figaro's cavatina in Act I. I suggested that next time, he might wait until the music was over before he inserted himself between people. I do not enjoy talking during the opera, and what's worse this didn't make him leave. There wasn't enough room for him there, so my companion and I spread out just a little more so that he had to remove his elbow from the railing. He was pretty close to me, we were touching, but he was pressed up against my companion, and she had to kick him away. He wanted to intimidate us into making room for him, and possibly he did not know we were together. It was unpleasant but also humorous. He finally left after Act I, when he was seated.

During Act III, a young blonde wearing noisy high-heeled mules was late after intermission. She was uncomfortable and walked around a lot and also spoke to her friend, once loudly exclaiming "Totally!"

San Francisco Opera needs to keep late people in their own special section. Los Angeles Opera has a telecast in the lobby, and they simply don't let you in at Bayerische Staatsoper if you are late.