Maya Lahyani

Alonzo King's Art Songs

MayaYujinMichael* Notes *
Alonzo King Lines Ballet opened a new season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last night. Though I enjoy contemporary dance and have walked past the Lines Ballet space countless times on 7th Street, I had not seen this company until now. It took an opera singer, of course, to get me to this performance. Despite the "ballet" in the name, there was not a tutu in sight, and the dancing eschewed mere prettiness, and it was well worth the effort to experience.

The opening piece, Art Songs, is a world premiere and features live music sung by mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani (pictured left with Yujin Kim and Michael Montgomery, photograph by Quinn B. Wharton) with accompaniment from pianist Efrat Levy and violinist Lisa Lee. The songs include three Baroque pieces -- a Bach cantata and arias by Handel and Purcell -- plus Schumann's "Stille Tränen." It isn't rep I associate with Lahyani, who was an Adler at San Francisco Opera in 2010 and 2011 and is a regular at the Met these days. But she sounded fine, especially in the Dido's Lament that ends the piece. There were a few tiny froggy moments in a low note or two, but Lahyani was ill, and did remarkably well considering.

The choreography has a raw, exposed quality to it that works really nicely with the singer on stage. I loved that there were no supertitles and there was no escaping the music or the dancing. The dancers are alive in the movement, even if they are only standing or walking. The piece was even disturbing, particularly the fourth part with soloists Yujin Kim and Michael Montgomery, there was much falling, and the pair looked more like an awkwardly beautiful many-limbed creature than ballet dancers engaged in a duet.

The second piece was Meyer, with recorded music from bassist/composer Edgar Meyer, and again the dancing had a wonderful brutality at odds with classical ballet. The female dancers wore pointe shoes, yet there were many times when they were not en pointe, or flexed their feet when their legs were aloft. The piece features an elaborate water machine with streaming jets in the background which was used to great effect. It was hard to look away from this one, even when images turned dark, as with the fifth part "Cards," in which a rather frantic dancer piles and moves pieces of paper, at times licking one or two.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet. Some of my opera fanatic friends left at intermission after hearing Maya, as they were much more interesting in the music rather than the dancing.

The Death of Klinghoffer at the Met

Kling_1463a* Notes * 
A sixth Metropolitan Opera performance of John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer (Act II, Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) was held last Saturday. There were a handful of protesters with signs reading "Shame on Peter Gelb Met Opera" and so forth. The opera itself is not particularly contentious, if anything, it is a mild, mournful piece. The characters are shown as rather human, and of course there was a choice line from Leon Klinghoffer regretting his hatlessness. One imagines that this production might not be as well-attended were it not for the vehemence of the demonstrators.

The orchestra had a graceful clarity under the baton of David Robertson. The strings were particularly lucid, as were the woodwinds. The Met chorus also sounded strong and cohesive.

The principal singers all seemed suited to their roles. It was a joy to hear former Adler Fellows Sean Pannikar (Molqi) and Maya Lahyani (Palestinian Woman). Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock had a strikingly disturbing aria as Mamoud in Act I, Scene 2. Baritone Paulo Szot made for an appropriately conflicted Captain. Baritone Alan Opie (Leon Klinghoffer) sang his finale aria with gravitas. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens was poignant as Marilyn Klinghoffer, her voice is rich and full.

Tom Morris' production makes use of projected text and historical photographs. The text is somewhat burdensome, and the photographs less so. The effect of the bright sun in Act II is haunting. The dancing, choreographed by Arthur Pita, is impressive, especially in the case of Jesse Kovarsky (Omar).

* Tattling * 
I repeatedly hushed the woman behind me in Family Circle, as she spoke during the quietest parts of the music at the beginning of Act I. She informed me that she was reading the projected text that she could see to the two blind women she was with, and I sheepishly apologized at intermission.

I moved down to the right side of the last row of the Grand Tier to sit with some friends. A young composer seated near us may have spoken quite a lot during the music, but it was difficult muster annoyance at this, having already been so mortified by my own previous behavior.

Merola Behind the Scenes Event 2011

Adler Fellows, photo by Scott Grieder * Program *
"Je suis encore toute étourdie" from Manon
Sara Gartland, soprano and David Hanlon, piano

"Quando me'n vo" from La bohème
Sara Gartland, soprano and David Hanlon, piano

"Aprite un po' quegli occhi" from Le Nozze di Figaro
Ao Li, baritone and David Hanlon, piano

"O du mein holder Abendstern" from Tannhäuser
Ao Li, baritone and David Hanlon, piano

"Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila
Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano and David Hanlon, piano

"O mio Fernando" from La Favorita
Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano and David Hanlon, piano

* Notes *
San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald and San Francisco Opera Center Director of Musical Studies Mark Morash held an event (pictured above, photo by Scott Grieder) about how they cast and program the Merola Opera Program's Schwabacher Summer Concert. We got to hear three mock auditions given by current Adler Fellows Sara Gartland, Ao Li, and Maya Lahyani. Gartland sang "Je suis encore toute étourdie" with a lovely vulnerability. Greenawald and Morash noted the easy top of her voice and the quality of the passaggio. Gartland is a very fine actress, and this came out in her flirty "Musetta's Waltz."

Next came Ao Li, who sang Figaro's Act IV aria with beauty. Greenawald remarked that Li has a giant head, which is good for Wagner, and praised him for his legato and the gorgeous line of his voice. Li also sang Wolfram's moving aria from Act III of Tannhäuser.

Our last performer was the fiery Maya Lahyani, who started with Dalila's famous aria. Greenawald and Morash agreed she is a real mezzo and that she would not be singing Rosina or Cenerentola. Lahyani was compared to Tatiana Troyanos and was told she is a riveting actor, so perhaps she would be good for Baroque pieces. Lahyani also sang "O mio Fernando" with great feeling.

Greenawald and Morash picked 3 phantom singers to cast with, these being David Lomelí, Alek Shrader, and Ryan Kuster. From this they constructed a 60-70 minute program of scenes from Don Giovanni, Le Comte Ory, Il Puritani, The Rake's Progress, and La Favorita.

* Tattling *
Greenawald and Morash debated on the proper spelling of "Anne Trulove." As for the audience, man were quite engaged in the lively proceedings. There were some that were slightly restless, a few cellular phones rang, and a few left early.

Merola Opera Program's L'Amico Fritz

Nathaniel-peake * Notes * 
The Merola Opera Program's production of L'Amico Fritz opened at the Cowell Theater last night. The offstage chorus sounded angelic and the supporting cast was strong. Even the tiny part of Caterina was sung and acted well by Susannah Biller. Eleazar Rodríguez and Yohan Yi were amusing as the rakish Federico and Hanezò. Maya Lahyani started off with a few gasps in the trouser role of Beppe, but was in good voice for the rest of the performance. Her two arias, especially the second, "O pallida, che un giorno mi guardasti," were lovely. Aleksey Bogdanov was convincing as Rabbi David, he began a bit quietly but improved steadily over the course of the evening. As the female lead, Sara Gartland (Suzel) looked the part, her movements were naive and perfect for a farmer's young daughter. She was also on the quiet side at the beginning, perhaps because she was so far upstage. There was strain at the top of her voice and a certain rawness that was still appealing, particularly in the last act. Nathaniel Peake was charming as Fritz himself, his tenor is sweet and light, but also warm.

The production, from Nic Muni, offered some gorgeous costumes and a set of nice clean lines. The staging for the "Cherry Duet" was not coherent somehow, with Peake inside the house suggested by a raked platform, and Gartland outside on a pile of sawdust with the cherry tree. Otherwise, one could appreciate that the production was not completely straight and traditional, and it was enjoyable to watch the lead characters walk through the invisible walls in Act III during that last duet.

The orchestra sounded pretty awful during the first two acts, even under the direction of Warren Jones, who clearly knows the work inside and out. The violin solo in Act I did not impress, nor did the clarinet solo later on, though the oboe solo was a welcome relief, and was beautifully played. The brass problems in Act II were painful. They did get it together in Act III, the overture was fine, as was the rest of the performance. One can only imagine they did not have much rehearsal time, and of course, the piece is not standard repertoire.

* Tattling * 
The seagulls were audible during the less noisy parts of the music. The audience was well-behaved, aside from some latecomers that were seated during the Act I overture. Only one watch alarm was heard, and no cellular phones rang. During the intermission I overheard a host of one of the Merolini complain about how boring the staging was.