Lucas Meachem

SF Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-sfopera-masks* Notes * 
The latest run of Don Giovanni opened last night at San Francisco Opera. The new production, directed by Gabriele Lavia, is fairly simple. Much of the singing takes place under the proscenium, which is great for hearing the arias, but not particularly dynamic. Half of the characters were able to find an impressive physicality in their roles, and others were rather static. Alessandro Camera's set was straightforward, consisting of 22 mirrors on wires, dozens of Rococo side chairs, and what looked to be an artificial lawn. Andrea Viotti's costumes had period silhouettes in a palette of burgundy, grey, and black. The masks for Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) were rather funny. As a whole, the stage direction was similarly absurd, Lavia did not pack in that many ideas, but he held onto them for the entire show.

The orchestra sounded charming and exuberant under Nicola Luisotti. The musicians were not, however, always together. The violins might have gotten just a bit ahead in the overture, and there were definitely times when the orchestra was ahead of the singers. On the other hand, the playing was restrained enough to only rarely overwhelm the singing. The chorus sounded strong and together.

Much of the singing was very nice indeed. Morris Robinson (The Commendatore) stayed truly as still as a statue for the graveyard scene, and his vocal entrance in Scene 18 of Act II was authoritative and terrifying. Ryan Kuster was a clownish Masetto, and his voice has a sweet, youthful warmth. Kate Lindsey moved beautifully as Zerlina, and her high mezzo had a brilliant clarity. Serena Farnocchia was strong as Donna Elvira, and acted rather well vocally, though she was less convincing in her movements. It was odd that the director had her plop down on her knees so often. Marco Vinco (Leperello) was sympathetic, he moves with ease and agility. His voice, though not beautiful, is serviceable enough for this role.

In contrast, Shawn Mathey looked visibly uncomfortable as Don Ottavio, though understandably, given that he took over the role so recently. Mathey sounded on the verge of a panic attack in his first scene with Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna), but improved over the course of the performance. Dehn struggled in "Or sai chi l'onore." This was not helped by the production, which belied the words of the aria by having the first scene be a tryst rather than an attempted rape. Dehn's "Non mi dir" was less effortful and had more grace. Lucas Meachem's Don Giovanni was a menacing sociopath. His sunglasses hid his gaze and this did not benefit his performance. It seems this is a role that Meachem still has to grow into, even though his voice is smooth and pretty, he did seem stiff. Perhaps he was just constrained by the stage direction. He did race through "Fin ch'han dal vino" at an incredible speed. However, his "Deh vieni alla finestra" was tender and lovely.

The epilogue has been cut from these performances, a choice of the Maestro and director. While dramatically, it makes sense end with the Don descending into Hell, musically, I for one missed "Questo è il fin."

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering during the music in Orchestra Standing Room, mostly from latecomers who were not seated until the intermission. People were confused by a roped off section of the railing, apparently not knowing this means this location is not an appropriate place to stand. At intermission some very nice subscribers who were leaving early gave us their tickets on the Center Aisle.


SF Opera's Figaro

Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Danielle de Niese (Susanna) with members of the chorus, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes *
The most recent revival of Le Nozze di Figaro opened last night at San Francisco Opera. Zack Brown's Goya-inspired set is nearly thirty years old, but is perfectly serviceable. Though the scene changes are awkward between acts, everything does look quite nice. The direction from John Copley is thoughtful, he handled the chorus especially deftly. The motivation for every movement was apparent.

Maestro Luisotti conducted the 42 musicians of the reduced orchestra, and played the fortepiano. The sound was verdant. The strings and woodwinds sparkled, and the brass was pleasant but hazy. The tempi were fast, and there was never a dull moment.

The cast was uniformly impressive, both in singing and acting. The chorus sounded particularly pure and clear in Acts I and IV. Adler Sara Gartland had a promising debut as Barbarina, her aria that starts Act IV went well. Robert MacNeil made the most of Don Curzio and was funny. Likewise, Bojan Kneževiċ sounded great as a rather wild-eyed Antonio. John Del Carlo (Doctor Bartolo), Greg Fedderly (Don Basilio), and Catherine Cook (Marcellina) were spirited and had perfect comic timing.

Michèle Losier (Cherubino) did not win me over in her first aria, her voice had a hysterical edge to it instead of sounding breathlessly youthful. Her "Voi che sapete" was pretty, and she does look convincingly boyish. In the title role, Luca Pisaroni started off slowly and lacked punch. By "Non più andrai" he did sound lovely, and looked comfortable on stage. Pisaroni's voice has taken more weight since we last heard him as Masetto in 2007. Danielle de Niese made for a sweet but sassy Susanna. Her "Deh, vieni, non tardar" seemed effortless. Lucas Meachem and Ellie Dehn were both strong as the Count and Countess. Meachem was warm and vibrant. Dehn can sound perfectly brilliant, and there was only the slightest roughness in "Dove sono i bei momenti."

* Tattling * 
Before the performance I had the pleasure introducing Axel Feldheim to Adler Leah Crocetto, the cover for the Countess, in the press room. We found we were seated in the same row as Adler David Lomelí, who got an introduction as well.

There was light talking during the music. Some audience members did not heed the request to remain seated during the brief pauses between acts. At least one person even made a telephone call during the first one. A watch alarm was heard during "L'ho perduta, me meschina."

John Copley was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal by David Gockley after the performance. Copley told an anecdote about Marilyn Horne being picked up at SFO. He also expressed his pleasure of being placed on the "diva list," as many renowned divas have received the aforementioned award.


Iolanthe at SFS

Sasha-Cooke * Notes * 
The semi-staged production of Iolanthe at San Francisco Symphony was disappointing aurally, but not because of the musicians, singers, or Gilbert & Sullivan. Frustratingly enough, it was the amplification system that was the problem, and last night's performance was dogged by balance problems and feedback from the microphones. The voices were painfully loud at times, and it was quite difficult to gage the quality of the singers. This is unfortunate, I had been looking forward to hearing Sasha Cooke (Iolanthe) in person, after hearing her in the Met simulcast of Doctor Atomic. Her voice seemed pure and lovely, but the amplification made it difficult to tell about her heft and volume. At least the feedback problem did not persist in the second act.

The performers seemed to have a good rapport with the conductor, George Manahan. The playing sometimes came off nicely, though again the balances were wrong due to the amplification. The dancing was very sweet, though the girls were not exactly together, they were charming. The choreography also worked on the singers, and Lucas Meachem (Strephon) in particular did well. The hula hooping in the first act from the fairies garnered a laugh. The acting was amusing, Joyce Castle was hilarious as the Queen of the Fairies, and Richard Suart was likewise funny as the Lord Chancellor. The diction was not perfectly clear, despite the loud volume, though I was able to follow the words without surtitles.

* Tattling * 
There was rustling and some quiet talking. Someone's watch alarm sounded at least 20 times during Act I, as the Queen of the Fairies spoke.

At intermission, I was blamed for the poor use of amplification, as it had to be someone's fault. Perhaps I would have much less to tattle on if things had gone better, indeed.


MTT Withdraws from Iolanthe

Michael Tilson Thomas is no longer conducting SF Symphony's performances of Iolanthe. George Manahan shall conduct instead, with Joyce Castle replacing Felicity Palmer as Queen of the Fairies. Sasha Cooke sings the title role, former Merolina Joélle Harvey sings Leila, and former Adler Fellow Lucas Meachem sings Strephon.

Event Details | Press Release [PDF]


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


ROH's 2008-2009 Season

September 8- October 4 2008: Don Giovanni
September 16-29 2008: La fanciulla del West
September 23- October 10 2008: La Calisto
October 11-18 2008: La Bohème
October 23- November 11 2008: Matilde di Shabran
November 9-24 2008: Elektra
November 25- December 13 2008: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
December 9 2008- January 1 2009: Hänsel und Gretel
December 22- January 23 2008: Turandot
January 20-31 2009: The Beggar's Opera
January 27- February 17 2009: Die Tote Stadt
February 10 -25 2009: Rigoletto
February 23- March 10 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
March 2- April 11 2009: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
March 31- April 20 2009: Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea
April 13- May 7 2009: Il trovatore
April 27- May 16 2009: Lohengrin
May 12-25 2009: L'elisir d'Amore
June 4-20 2009: Lulu
June 19- July 6 2009: La Traviata
June 26- July 18 2009: Un Ballo en Maschera
July 7-18 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
July 9-18 2009: Tosca

Simon Keenlyside and Mariusz Kwiecien share the role of Don Giovanni, and Keenlyside also sings Figaro in Il barbiere. David Alden has his ROH debut directing a production of La Calisto from Bayerische Staatsoper. Bryn Terfel is singing in Holländer and Tosca, while Deborah Voigt sings the title role of the latter. Renée Fleming is singing opposite Joseph Calleja in La Traviata and Thomas Hampson sings Germont. Die Tote Stadt has its UK premiere, Ingo Metzmacher will conduct. The production is from Salzburg and is the one that will be at San Francisco Opera this September. Lucas Meachem will be singing Aeneas in his ROH debut.

Bloomberg Article | Press Release [PDF] |Official Site


Lucas Meachem's Schwabacher Debut Recital

Lucasmeachem_2* Notes *
The Schwabacher Debut Recital Series continued yesterday with baritone Lucas Meachem singing selections from Dvořák's Zigeunermelodien, Poulenc's Chansons Gaillardes, Schumann's Zwölf Lieder, and Copland's Old American Songs. Meachem certainly is amiable, talking to the audience before each set of songs. His singing is vigorous enough to fill a small hall like the Martin Meyer quite well. The recital showed Meachem's dramatic range, he sang each composer's music distinctly, and did not sound like an opera singer when he sang a piece from Disney's Beauty and the Beast as an encore. For the most part his diction was good, though there were a few small missteps. His voice is strong, but perhaps lacks beauty, except in his rendition of Copland's "Long Time Ago," which was lovely.

* Tattling *
This time the Schwabacher Recital was competing against the Academy Awards, and the turn out was still good, even General Director David Gockley deigned to attend. Somehow I was recruited to usher in the balcony, where I sat a total of three people, but the main floor looked full. The audience in the balcony certainly was well-behaved. There is definitely something humming in that hall, it is either the lights or the climate control system.

Lucas Meachem was rather more formally dressed than Philippe Castagner was for the last recital. Meachem wore a black suit with vest and tie, but alarmingly, seemed to keep shedding layers as the evening wore on. Meachem is also an amusing raconteur, the best story was an account of how he met Susan Graham. Paul Groves introduced Meachem to Graham in Paris, and they went out to karaoke. Later when Simon Keenleyside withdrew from Lyric's production of Iphigénie en Tauride, Graham convinced William Mason to hire Meachem, saying she had heard him sing "American contemporary."


Forza Working Rehearsal

Forzaacti_5San Francisco Opera's new production of La Forza del Destino opens next week on Wednesday, November 2nd. The opera company invited subscribers to see a working rehearsal yesterday, and the experience certainly was educational. One could hear the director, Ron Daniels, screaming at the performers, and this is quite a different view than one usually has, to say the least.

The production looks to be an odd mixture of time periods, there are swords and machine guns, Preziosilla wears a red vinyl corset and trousers with a long black vinyl coat, but the dancers in the same scene wear long black gowns with ruffled petticoats. The scenery is bizarre, in the background of the first two scenes is a triumphal arch toppled over, the last scene features an enormous white sculpture of 3 beams leaning on each other like oversized sticks for a campfire. In Act II, the part which occurs in the forest near Velletri, Italy, the floor is covered with a camouflage design.

Though it is perhaps not fair to judge the singers based on this rehearsal, I found the Leonora, soprano Andrea Gruber, to be lacking. She doesn't seem to have much control of her vibrato, and her voice has a breathy, gasping quality. She did have sufficient volume. She fell out of character at times, brushing her hair off her face at inopportune moments, but this may not be representative of what will happen at the actual performances. Don Alvaro was sung rather well by tenor Vladimir Kuzmenko, who also has a good deal of volume. I most enjoyed the Padre Guardiano, bass Orlin Anastassov, but he only sang for Act I Scene 3, the rest was sung by an understudy or stand-in. Fra Melitone, sung by baritone Lucas Meachem, was a good actor, but he is a bit quiet, which was fine for Act I Scene 3, but for Act III Scene 1 he sang with most of the orchestra playing, and one could not make out much of his voice over the din.

The opera itself is strange, the main singers are kept off the stage for many scenes and only sing together at the beginning and the end. Musically, the ending is weak, it simply sputters out into silence. But it may well be I need to listen to this again.


Eugene Onegin

The Netherlands Opera production of Eugene Onegin ended its run at San Francisco Opera today. Director Johannes Schaaf finally brought us something that is stripped down but works, unlike the ugly minimalism of Kát'a Kabanová, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, or Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The lines are clean, but one doesn't feel as if one is stuck in an IKEA furnished flat in Berlin. The birch grove in the first scene is pretty, but not ornate. Undoubtedly, the designer who worked on this, Peter Pabst, had a part in making the set so. The highlight of the staging for the audience was in Act III. An enormous chandelier was lit from below, causing a chain reaction all the way around and up. Bambi Uden did a good job with the choreography, especially in Scene 4, during Tatyana's birthday party, when the chorus linked arms and danced.

In the title role for the first seven performances, baritone Russell Braun was a bit on the quiet side, this was noticeable as it is usually the tenor with this problem. Lucas Meachem also seemed to do well as Onegin, but I was in the orchestra, and the sound is somewhat distorted there. In contrast, tenor Piotr Beczala was absolutely wonderful, his tone sweet and volume powerful. Soprano Elena Prokina was also excellent as Tatyana, very convincing. Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy was charming as Olga, her voice was lovely in the opening with Prokina, and her acting was fiery in Scene 4.