Baritone Michael Todd Simpson (pictured left) will replace Nathan Gunn as Gaylord Ravenal in Show Boat at San Francisco Opera. Gunn has withdrawn from the the production. Other casting updates include Bill Irwin as Cap'n Andy Hawks and Harriet Harris as Parthy Ann Hawks.
* Notes *
The Magic Flute (Alek Shrader as Tamino and the animals of the woods in Act I Scene 3 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera Wednesday night. The new production, from artist Jun Kaneko, is an utter delight. Kaneko's use of bright colors and whimsical shapes is charming. The video projection of his designs are integrated with both the music and Harry Silverstein's direction. The lighting, designed by Paul Pyant, helped unify the production into a coherent whole.
Conductor Rory Macdonald chose some fleet tempi at times, but for the most part the orchestra sounded taut and together. Mozart left the brass exposed, which was not always to the advantage of those instruments. The chorus did a fine job, and the last scene of Act I was particularly beautiful.
Greg Fedderly made for a very funny Monostatos and Nadine Sierra was a winsome Papagena. The three ladies, Melody Moore, Lauren McNeese, and Renée Tatum, played nicely off each other. Kristinn Sigmundsson (Sarastro) was imposing. As Pamina, Heidi Stober sounded warm and strong. Alek Shrader (Tamino) was ill, but still sang respectably. Nathan Gunn's light baritone was adequate for Papageno, and his acting skills served him well. Albina Shagimuratova shone as Queen of the Night.
The performances are in English, which is much more sensible than when San Francisco Opera did The Abduction from the Seraglio with sung German and spoken English back in 2009. I did notice that the Three Ladies used "fare thee well" as opposed to Pamina and Tamino, who sang "fare you well." Probably makes more sense to just go with the latter, given that the dialogue references drag, carb requirements, and other contemporary concepts.
* Tattling *
Renée Tatum tripped in Act I, but recovered quickly, without losing her cool.
The woman in Row R Seat 8 on the orchestra level whispered loudly, but did manage to keep quiet when hushed. Some one in Row S fought with cellophane for several minutes of the second act.
* Notes *
A new production of Show Boat (Act I, Scene 1 pictured left, photograph by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago) opened at Lyric Opera of Chicago last month. The Friday matinée performance was an utter delight from top to bottom. Director Francesca Zambello is at her best in this co-production with Lyric, San Francisco Opera, Washington National Opera, and Houston Grand Opera. The humanity of the characters is clear and compelling. Peter J. Davison's set is not overly ornate, move cleanly, and work well with Mark McCullough's characteristically elegant lighting. The costumes, by Paul Tazewell, often make use of a pleasing contrast of red, white, and turquoise. The dancing, choreographed by Michele Lynch, is charming.
The straightforward music sounded effortless as far as the orchestra was concerned, conducted here by John DeMain. The chorus was robust, as were the principals. Cindy Gold and Ross Lehman were entertaining as Parthy and Captain Andy. Alyson Cambridge made for a striking Julie, with her incisive, but never shrill voice. Angela Renée Simpson sang Queenie with beauty and feeling. Morris Robinson was most impressive as Joe, his music is perhaps the most famous in this particular work, and he sang "Ol' Man River" with warmth and beauty. Ashley Brown was an adorable Magnolia, she chirped sweetly. Nathan Gunn turned out a believable Ravenal, the lightness of his voice having an appeal in this role.
* Tattling *
The house was full of seniors and children, which meant there were watch alarms at the hours and a lot of fidgeting. The family in Upper Balcony Row Q Seats 10-16 could not stay still, one of the sons kept running across the aisle and the other would occasionally stand up as he was unable to see the stage from his seat.
* Notes *
The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia had a promising opening at Seattle Opera last night. The production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and designed by Thomas Lynch, is both smart and tasteful. Some of the scene changes were rather noisy, and this was particularly unfortunate as it interrupted the music.
Wadsworth's story came together in the libretto, written by poet Gardner McFall. The text did not display the awkwardness that marks many contemporary operas. The words fit the music, and the deft overlapping of narratives condensed the plot without being confusing or tedious. Layering of the Icarus myth and the life of Amelia Earhart with the main story line worked surprisingly well. There were a few moments that were ungainly, and it might have been better to be shown rather than to be told, given that this was an opera.
The orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, sounded lively. The brass sounded clear in Act I, but perhaps had more trouble with the second half. The cello sounded brilliant, especially at the beginning of Act I Scene 2. Hagen's orchestration could be overgrown, and at times it was somewhat difficult to hear certain arias. However, the use of silence was effective and compelling. There was quite a lot of singing as an ensemble, and the voices were handled astutely. The a cappella section at the end was striking.
The singing was all quite lovely. Museop Kim, David Won, and Karen Vuong were convincing in their duel roles as North Vietnamese villagers and American hospital staff. The voices of Nicholas Coppolo (Icarus/Young Boy) and Jordan Bisch (Daedalus/Young Boy's Father) were evocative and blended nicely together. As the young Amelia, Ashley Emerson was eerily child-like. Her voice was very pretty, flexible, and youthful.
Jane Eaglen fit the role of Amelia's Aunt Helen perfectly, and produced a full sound without overwhelming the others. Jennifer Zetlan cut a cunning figure as the Flier, the way she sat on the hospital bed with utter aplomb as Amelia is whisked off was strangely delightful. Zetlan's voice was piercing, a good foil for Eaglen. Nathan Gunn was fine as Paul, the husband of Amelia, as was Luretta Bybee as Amanda, her mother. William Burden (Dodge) sounded warm and sweet, and could be heart-rending. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey impressed in the title role with her clear, bright voice.
* Tattling *
There was some light talking during the music. A cellular phone rang during Act II as William Burden sang.
This was the first time in many years that I was not in standing room for Seattle Opera, and my press contact for Amelia made sure I was sent to the box office for a seat upgrade. I was right in front of the composer himself on the orchestra level.
* Notes *
Last Sunday Il Barbiere di Siviglia opened in a matinée performance at Los Angeles Opera. The orchestra sounded unfocused under Michele Mariotti, often not with the singers. As Fiorello, José Adán Pérez sounded fine, as did Kerri Marcinko (Berta). Andrea Silvestrelli was an amusing Don Basilio, his throaty, resonant tones were spot on. Bruno Praticò looked and acted convincingly as Doctor Bartolo, but could not always be heard over the orchestra. both lacking heft and fullness.
Nathan Gunn (Figaro) moved so well, and he really has the physicality to pull off the humorous choreography in this production. His voice seemed just a little thin, especially for a baritone. Juan Diego Flórez was perfectly sweet as the Count, never straining. He started off slightly quiet, but seemed to warm up as the afternoon progressed. On the contrary, Joyce DiDonato (Rosina) was wonderful from the beginning. Full of sass, she sang with a gorgeous ease and good volume, but not overwhelming anyone else.
Emilio Sagi's production, directed by Javier Ulacia, was certainly informed by The Wizard of Oz, starting off monochrome and ending in lurid colors. The scenic design, from Llorenç Corbella, was perhaps overly precious. It was all terribly cute, especially Doctor Bartolo's tiny dog.
* Tattling *
Everyone on the left side of Handrail Obstructed Balcony B was quiet, no talking, hardly any whispering. Unfortunately there was talking from the center, and of course, cellular phones rang during Act II, some more than once, even though we had all been reminded to turn off our electronic devices.
September 12-30 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
September 26- October 17 2009: Siegfried
November 21- December 1 2009: Tamerlano
November 29- December 19 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
April 3-25 2010: Die Götterdämmerung
April 12-24 2010: Die Gezeichneten
May 29- June 26 2010: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Nathan Gunn stars in L'Elisir with Rolando Villazón and in Il barbiere with Juan Diego Flórez and Joyce DiDonato. Plácido Domingo and Bejun Mehta sing in Tamerlano.
October 10-24 2008: Fidelio
November 14-23 2008: L'Italiana in Algeri
February 20- March 6 2009: Turandot
April 24- May 3 2009: L'enfant et les sortilèges/Gianni Schicchi
June 5-14 2009: The Rape of Lucretia
Nathan Gunn and William Burden will be singing in The Rape of Lucretia.
September 6-26 2008: Il Trittico
September 7-26 2008: The Fly
October 2-18 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 15- December 14 2008: Carmen
January 10-25 2009: Die Zauberflöte
February 21- March 15 2009: Das Rheingold
April 4-25 2009: Die Walküre
April 11-26 2009: Die Vögel
May 21- June 21 2009: La Traviata
Two U.S. premieres and the company's first Der Ring des Nibelungen. Quite a lot of film directors this season: William Friedkin (Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica), David Cronenberg, and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi). I'm most interested in hearing Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund. I have to say I'm disappointed that LA Opera is starting Der Ring the same year as Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera, and only a year after San Francisco Opera unveils Francesca Zambello's production on the West Coast.
* Notes *
The seventh performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia this season was at least better than the last I saw. Things may have been helped by standing in the balcony, where the sound is better. I could definitely hear Nathan Gunn (Figaro) more clearly except when he was in the upper room of Bartolo's Bauhaus house. Apparently his height made it so he could not project out of the set properly, but both John Osborn (Count Almaviva) and Allyson McHardy (Rosina) were audible. The finale of Act I was closer to being together, but I must say I'm not impressed by Maurizio Barbacini as a conductor. The music was taken so fast and seemingly without regard to the singers, it was like some sort of precarious race to the end.
* Tattling *
The later start made it easier for people to be on time, but there were still latecomers hanging out in standing room. Certain people are completely boggled by the concept that there are repercussions for being tardy.
Just before Bartolo's aria "A un dottor della mia sorte," someone took a photograph with flash, and as Bruno de Simone started singing, another photograph was taken.
* Notes *
Alarmingly, the fifth performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia this season was worse than opening night, at least as far as Act I. John Osborn (Count Almaviva) was flat, Allyson McHardy (Rosina) gasped in her prominent aria "Una voce poco fa," Nathan Gunn (Figaro) seemed more concerned with his Vespa than with singing, and the finale of Act I was not together. This last bit was rather embarrassing, utter chaos. Act II was markedly better, but on the whole not inspired.
* Tattling *
Because the performance began half an hour earlier than usual, in order to get us to bed at a reasonable time, there were many latecomers. They were not allowed to take their seats, so there were nearly two dozen disgruntled patrons waiting about in standing room, For some reason, they preferred to speak during the arias, duets, and ensembles rather than the recitative.
I've also noticed that people love to check their mobile devices during the performances, one young lady in X 102 seemed to be intently staring at her phone. I don't much care if people are paying attention or not, but the lighted screen is distracting.
Considering my lack of enthusiasm for this production, perhaps I should not go again for the Sunday matinee. I've already made two more dates to see in the latter half of the month, so maybe five times isn't strictly necessary.
* Notes *
A revival of Johannes Schaaf's Il Barbiere di Siviglia production from 2003 opened last night on Halloween. Hans Dieter Schaal's set looked as white and stark as ever, the centerpiece being a German fantasy of the Barbie Malibu Dream House, which Thomas May describes as "Bauhaus inflected." The scene changes do go quite smoothly as the set turns. The construction site complete with manhole and barrier with blinking light in Act I was a bit gratuitous, at least it was off to the right from the orchestra.
Perhaps I'm missing something, but Nathan Gunn's voice is not spectacular. The baritone does cut a nice figure as Figaro, but his voice is a bit light and languid. Mezzo Allyson McHardy (Rosina) has a dark tone, strong, but some of her arpeggios were muddy. I liked her very much as Olga in Eugene Onegin, and it was interesting to hear her as the lead this time around. John Osborn (Count Almaviva) is possibly the loudest tenor we've had all season, he has a good deal of vibrato, which perhaps makes his intonation less than perfect. Baritone Bruno de Simone (Dr. Bartolo) enunciated well, his parlando parts were all clear. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu sang well as Fiorello, and he also was the Sargeant, but there isn't much singing for the latter. His voice has a notable resonance that Gunn's lacks.
* Tattling *
A young man was whispering into his cellular phone in standing room during the overture. After he was done with his call, he tried to go to his seat in the orchestra, but the usher would not allow him in. He argued with her for a bit, then tried the usher at the center aisle, who also did not allow him to take his seat.
There weren't that many costumes this year, sadly. The house was not full either.
* Overheard *
The third and fourth people in the standing room line told the house manager that his absence at the final performance of Rigoletto was sorely missed, as there were many people in line and much chaos. They also expressed their disapproval of latecomers who talked in standing room, and the house manager assured them that they were working on having the opera on screens in the lobby.
Britten's Billy Budd returned to San Francisco Opera for the second time in twenty years. Willy Decker's sedate and elegant production was designed by Wolfgang Gussmann and staged by Sabine Hartmannshenn. The music was certainly more charming than Britten's work Death in Venice, particularly the absurd duet "Don't Like The French!," whose words include "hoppity-skippity ways." No one less than E.M. Forster wrote the libretto. Baritone Nathan Gunn in the title role did rather well, he is also a good actor.