Lawrence Brownlee

SF Opera's Don Pasquale

_F2A0816* Notes * 
After an absence of over thirty years from the War Memorial stage, a new production of Don Pasquale opened Wednesday at San Francisco Opera. Inspired by Italian comedic movies from the 50s and 60s, the slapstick staging from Laurent Pelly features a charming turntable set (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) and extensive choreography that the superb singer actors pulled off immaculately.

Everything came together, the clever set and the pantomime style movement of the singers were not overwrought and always very funny. All the singing was great too, and the design of the set seemed to help project the voices.

Maurizio Muraro is hilarious in the title role, as is Lucas Meachem as Dr. Malatesta. Their duet in Act III, "Cheti, cheti, immantinente," was delightful. Heidi Stober certainly makes for a vicious Norina, the metallic tang of her voice adds to this reading of the character (which comes from the director, incidently). She can sing and pirouette perfectly, and one should note that she hurt her ankle in rehearsals, making it all the more amazing.

The big draw of this run is the San Francisco Opera debut of tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and he did not disappoint as Ernesto. His sound is unmistakable, very sparkling and agile, and with a certain tautness at the top. He sang in a closet, with his head against a wall, and on a ladder, but none of this seemed to effect his voice.

The orchestra was lively under Maestro Giuseppe Finzi, not always perfectly synchronized, but always full of energy. The trumpet solo at the beginning of Act II from Adam Luftman was particularly beautiful.

* Tattling * 
The last few rows of the balcony were nearly empty, making standing room ideal. This production looks great from the back and all the movement reads clearly.

Twitter indicates that there was a lot of bad behavior in the audience, but I only noted that the person in Row L Seat 108 took her shoes off and that the woman in Row L Seat 126 crumpled a wrapper as Heidi Stober sang in the beginning of Act III.

It is too bad that SF Opera isn't putting on an Opera for Families version of this Don Pasquale. I know my son would adore the set because it has so many goofy sight gags involving doors, chairs, and light fixtures. Speaking of which, it would be fun to see the narrated set change that SF Opera periodically does during intermission for this one.

Alternate Cast of I Puritani at Seattle Opera

Eglisegutierrez_3  * Notes *
The alternate cast of
Seattle Opera's I Puritani was almost infuriating. It was as if the intensity had been sapped out of the whole cast, and then, for some sadistic reason, poured into the soprano. It is a pity that newcomer Eglise Gutierrez was not in the A cast as Elvira, if she had been, the Brownlee/Kwiecien/Relyea performances would have been unbelievable. Her voice is more on the metallic side than Amsellem's, colder, and at first, not as penetrating. The lovely pianissimo of her high notes in Act I gave her somewhere to build from as far as the drama was concerned. Gutierrez also was fiercer in the mad scenes, though tiny, she pushed the rather tall Morgan Smith (Riccardo) with conviction, and ferociously tore at her veil.

The horns were more in tune during the overture this time, and the horn solo of Act II was better. The orchestra drowned out Denis Sedov during his last lines, but other than that sounded good. Sedov was better than I remembered, he was only slightly gravelly and was less awkward than John Relyea. His voice is not as velvety as Relyea's, and certainly quieter. Morgan Smith acted well as Riccardo, he was committed to the movement in the Act I sword fight, though one did feel slightly nervous for little Bradley Williams (Arturo). Smith's legato is not as gorgeous as Kwiecien's, but his voice is pretty. Williams was less vital than Brownlee, he was reedy and a little quiet, though always audible. He sang "Son salvo...La mia canzon d'amore...Ad altro lato" well in Act III.

* Tattling *
I had forgotten that concessions at the Seattle Opera card those who look under a certain age. I had purposefully dressed childishly and worn pigtails, because I find it quite frightening when strangers wish me a "Happy Mother's Day." Thus, I was carded for my glass of merlot, and the young lady at the counter inadvertently gasped when she saw my birth-date. It was very flattering.

The matinée was considerably less full than the evening before, perhaps because of the casting difference. There were many more watch alarms marking the hour, during Arturo's first aria in Act III, I heard no less than four watches, and as Elvira sang "A una fonte afflitto e solo,"  two more sounded.  I was in the same spot behind Section 2, at CC 2, but all alone. I would have stayed there, but for one thing, the young woman in BB Seat 5 was giving a running commentary during the arias.

An elderly woman with a walker was unable to make it down to her seat in the orchestra level. She arrived after 2pm, ostensibly the start time of the opera, and her caretaker and an usher were not able to get her to her seat. Instead, she sat on her walker (it was the sort that folds into a chair) behind Section 1, and spoke loudly in a Slavic language to her companion during the overture. After this she unwrapped candies and sucked on them in a most disgusting and loud manner. I did feel bad for the people in front of her, as no one was supposed to be in that area. I also felt bad for her, the usher simply seemed to abandon her until Act I Scene 1 was over. However, she did not want to move, so I took a seat in Row AA to get away from the noise. I could still hear her from several meters away, but it was less vile from a distance. She disappeared after Act II, perhaps finding her seat or maybe leaving altogether.