Opera Review

Opera Parallèle's Trouble in Tahiti

OSTO4959* Notes *
Opera Parallèle is performing a very charming production of Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti again, this time presented with Jake Heggie's At the Statue of Venus as a single narrative. As an added bonus, we heard some Bernstein songs from West Side Story as people milled around the museum setting for the Heggie piece, and even Charles' Ives The Unanswered Question with dancing from living statue Steffi Chong (pictured, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) as Venus.

Maestra Nicole Paiement conducted with elegance and spirit, the orchestra sounded absolutely great. The only time things felt a little off was when baritone Eugene Brancoveanu was a bit ahead during "Something's Coming," when he was up above the stage in the Center Terrace of SFJAZZ's Miner Auditorium and Paiement was not conducting.

At the Statue of Venus involves only one mezzo, in this case Abigail Levis (Rose), singing as she waits for her blind date to arrive. The character is extremely neurotic and insecure, she goes on and on about how she shouldn't have worn slacks. Levis has a pretty voice, clear and bright. She's double cast with Renée Rapier, whose sound is perhaps richer and warmer, it's hard not to be curious about what Rapier's take is on the role. Steffi Chong's Venus, statue though she is, gave a sympathetic performance as Levis anticipated who was coming to meet her. I also really liked Sherry Parker's mixed media collage projected on the upstage screen that comprised most of the museum's works. Her work never could be mistaken for a screen saver or video game scene.

The Trouble In Tahiti is much like what we saw in 2013, when the company performed it at Z Space with Samuel Barber's Hand of Bridge, though Venus wanders in for Scene IV, as after Sam and Dinah run into each other. Director Brian Staufenbiel's production uses a similar quartered turn-table set with a kitchen, an business man's office, an analyst's office, and a gym. The theater ends up being up above in the Center Terrace where there is a large screen showing projections of little perfect houses falling into place on lawns and amusing print advertisements of the period.

Tahiti3351OriginalKrista Wigle, Andres Ramirez, and Bradley Kynard (pictured, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) are jaunty as The Trio, cheerily singing about suburbia. Eugene Brancoveanu, who along with Wigle and Ramirez reprises his role from 2013, is as funny as ever as Sam, he can be callous and impatient yet has a roguish warmth. Abigail Levis is lovely as Dinah, never shrill, and it was easy to feel compassion for her character.

* Tattling * 
Many of the audience members on the left side of Row L seemed to chatter quite a lot.


Opera San José's Der fliegende Holländer Review

10* Notes *
Opera San José kicked off a new year last weekend with an ambitious production (Act II pictured, photograph by Pat Kirk) of Der fliegende Holländer. The very loud performance on Saturday night was enjoyably and unapologetically grand.

Steven C. Kemp's set features wood planked walls that took on projections by Ian Wallace. Most of the time these were simple backdrops of the Norwegian coast, very cobalt blue and icy white. In the more supernatural and ghostly scenes the projections would illustrate the text. We saw fire and annihilation when the Dutchman sings ""Die Frist ist um, und abermals verstrichen sind sieben Jahr," for instance.

Brad Dalton's direction is straightforward and unambiguous, he gets in the humor of both the Steersman and Daland, and he created dramatic tension in Act II by having Senta face upstage so long, with only her black curls and the folds of her deep blue gown visible. The last scene was perhaps the most abstract, it was also blinding, but it was unequivocal and effective.

Maestro Joseph Marcheso had the orchestra go all out, the music was powerfully played. There were some beautiful shimmery and clear moments, but mostly it was vibrantly thunderous. This seemed to pose no problems for the singers, who could match the volume perfectly well. The chorus had a little trouble staying exactly on beat in Act III, but sang with force and charm.

This opera is nicely suited to the young singers cast. Tenor Mason Gates' Steersman was very sweet and bright, and he can walk on his hands and even did a backwards somersault in Act III. Bass Gustav Andreassen was an amusing and lovable Daland. His German was easy to understand, though the rest of the singers were also intelligible. Soprano Kerriann Otaño makes for a winsome Senta, her voice is lovely and very strong. Baritone Noel Bouley's Dutchman felt grave and human.

* Tattling * 
This audience was obviously the normal Opera San José crowd, so full of excitement for the singers and perhaps less concerned about Wagner. It was refreshing, I don't think I've ever heard an aria applauded in the middle of Der fliegende Holländer, even the performers looked slightly confused when this happened near the end of Act II.

The woman in Row E Seat 102 was (naturally) less tolerant of a very noisy person in Seat 104 of the same row who exclaimed loudly throughout the performance. She had to switch her seat with her companion, who had the aisle seat further away from the offending patron.


Island City Opera's Rimsky Korsakov Double Bill

Rimsky-korsakov-alameda-2018* Notes *
Island City Opera just finished a run of the obscure operas by Rimsky-Korsakov at the Elks Lodge in Alameda yesterday. The performance was one of the best I've heard from them, not in small part because of the conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya and the fine cast.

Music Director of the Chicago Opera Theater, Maestra Yankovskaya had the orchestra sounding spirited and together. She has an elegant authority, and though the orchestra was occasionally ahead of the singers, it was impressive how different the musicians sounded with her in the lead. The harp was particularly nice.

 The first piece was Mozart and Salieri, a very talky affair with only two singers that was thus done in English rather than Russian. The libretto is comes from Pushkin's play based on the rumor that Salieri had poisoned Mozart, and baritone Anders Froehlich's Salieri is suitably jealous but uptight. Darron Flagg is a sweet, amiable Mozart. Both singers had clear diction, I hardly needed the supertitles to understand them. The translation, by stage director Richard Bogart and conductor Yankovskaya, was natural enough with colloquialisms of American English peppered though it.

The second opera, Kashchey the Immortal, is more stereotypically Russian and involves a princess trapped by a villainous wizard whose death hides in his daughter's tears. The singing here was in Russian, and marked an American premiere of the work. Alex Boyer was transformed convincingly into the title role, the tips of his fingers covered by metal claws, his face covered with theatrical makeup. Soprano Rebecca Nathanson sang the princess (Tsarevna) with an almost outrageous beauty.

I very much enjoyed the touches of humor in the piece. Kashchey has Tsarevna look into a magic mirror and asks what she sees. She describes herself, as the mirror has not yet shown her Kashchey's daughter Kashcheyevna, who enchants and murders knights looking to destroy Kashchey. There's also a storm knight, played perfectly by baritone Bojan Knezevic, who is very amusing, blustering around in a cape covered with clouds.

The production in both operas was very straightforward yet effective. The metamorphosis of Kashcheyevna into a weeping willow was particularly artful. A few dancers arrayed in green wrap her with a trunk and arrange her boughs.

* Tattling *
The last performance was sold out and I had to put myself on a waiting list, but got in right before curtain. It was fun to see so many San Francisco Opera regulars in Alameda.


Candide at SFS

Candide-sfs-2018* Notes *
San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas celebrate the birth centennial of Leonard Bernstein with a delightful rendering of his Candide that opened last night. The concert version was animated and very funny with fine playing and singing all around.

Though done as a concert, this version of the operetta was made for the Scottish Opera in 1988. It was striking how theatrical and engaging the piece is despite a lack of frills, only a few props and costumes here and there.

Most of the comedy and drama came through simply in the gestures and interactions of the soloists, chorus, orchestra members, and even conductor with each other and the audience. Of course, this could only work because the piece itself is charming and was played and sung with clarity and vim. The sound design from Tom Clark was flawless, we could hear the narration and asides without squeaks or other distractions.

The music sounded vibrant, even when soprano Meghan Picerno (Cunegonde) harassed some of the brass players and the timpanist at the end of Act I. MTT infused both the orchestra and chorus with a nice ease and effortless cheekiness.

The soloists are all clearly talented singing actors. Even from the first tier, the cheerful shrugs or coy head tilts of tenor Andrew Stenson in the title role read plainly. His voice is pretty and sweet. Meghan Picerno's Cunegonde is amusing, her high notes soared and she conveys emotion not only in her body but with her sound. Both Stenson and Picerno brought a certain gravity to the end of the piece, after all the silliness, the contrast was stark and effective.

All the other singing was great, though baritone Michael Todd Simpson did trip over a few words as narrator, he is endearing and his Pangloss was perfectly pompous. It was fun to see and hear the artistic director of Merola Sheri Greenawald as the Old Lady, she really moves gracefully and has perfect comedic timing.

Tattling *
I did not hear any talking or electronic sounds where I was in the First Tier. There were a few people who left the hall in the middle of the performance during both acts, odd given the short 2 hour run time.

I had to run several blocks in the rain to this performance, traffic was worse than I expected and the Performing Arts Garage was full, so I only got into my seat at 7:59pm.


SF Opera's Girls of the Golden West Review

03_Stefan_Cohen_GGW* Notes * 
Last night's world premiere of John Adams' Girls of the Golden West (Act I Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) at San Francisco Opera had some gorgeous singing and playing. But neither the music nor the artful, elegant stagecraft could save a stilted and tedious libretto.

Tellingly, the best moment of the opera is without words. The music for Lola Montez's Spider Dance held my attention after the monotony of lines and lines of narration from Gold Rush era primary sources. It helps that ballerina Lorena Feijóo looked fantastic in her red, white, and blue ruffles and danced with absolute conviction.

The playing seemed very much together under the direction of Maestro Grant Gershon, and the woodwinds sounded especially lovely. The chorus too had a cohesiveness to be admired. In fact all of the singing and acting was impressive, from the supernumerary miners and dancing girls up to the youthful leads.

Much, if not all, of the opera's text comes from original sources rather than from librettist/director Peter Sellars, and as such, there is a lot more telling than showing. There is little in the way of dialogue and it isn't always easy to understand what exactly is going on since the characters sing at us rather than interact with each other. This is especially prominent for Dame Shirley, whose words are all her own, drawn from her letters. In this leading role is soprano Julia Bullock and her fine voice seems wasted on lines enumerating mining terms she doesn't understand and the like.

The parts of the libretto that work best are based on songs or poetry, as with the miners' songs sung by the chorus or the Cantonese rhymes brought to life by talented soprano Hye Jung Lee as prostitute Ah Sing. Mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges is a dignified Josefa Segovia, a Mexican-American woman who kills her would-be rapist Joe Cannon and is subsequently judged guilty of murder and hanged. Her words come from poems by Alfonsina Storni.

I really wanted to like this opera as it features John Adams, my home state, and a brilliant cast that includes many people of color. But sadly I found myself rather bored, especially during the first act (the one bright spot being Davóne Tines' aria as Ned Peters at the end). It felt more like a discombobulating lecture in a dream than an opera, though I'll give the piece another chance next week, as it is in my subscription.

* Tattling * 
The orchestra level and boxes looked very full, and standing room had a respectable crowd at the rail. A standee did collapse during Act I, but was apparently fine and did not need to be taken out of the hall.

The audience was very polite, and tried to clap after some of the main arias, but was most enthused by the Spider Dance. The opera did get a standing ovation, though I might have heard someone mutter that Peter Sellars deserved a pie in the face.


Opera San José's La Rondine Review

#7* Notes *
La Rondine, that funny little Puccini rarity, opened last weekend in a charming production (Act II pictured, photograph by Pat Kirk) at Opera San José. The youthful cast looked perfectly suited for the piece and the playing was a delight.

The production has lovely traditional sets and costumes and I appreciated Candace Evans' sympathetic direction, never heavy-handed but with touching details. She seems to have a certain compassion especially for those in service roles, a servant endures cigar smoke as he holds a humidor in Act I and a waiter in Act II gets an extravagant tip only to have it taken by a superior. These specifics go far in drawing you into the world of this opera, despite its unconventional form.

La Rondine, though it has some similarities to the vastly more popular Butterfly and Bohème, has its big aria in the first ten minutes and a much less dramatic ending (spoiler alert: no one dies). Opera San José does make a fine case for the work, no one more so than the orchestra, lead by Christopher Larkin. It wasn't perfect, there were times when the singers dragged slightly or the brass had a stray note, but the playing was light and had a lot of appeal.

The young singers fully embody their roles, and it was hard not to smile at how cute they all are. Maya Kherani and Katharine Gunnick titter and revel as fashionable Yvette and Bianca, friends of our leading lady. Elena Galván, the maid turned opera singer turned maid again, is lively and funny. Her voice sparkles and she plays off of Mason Gates, whose Prunier is also adorable.

Tenor Jason Slayden is an ideal Ruggero, it is easy to see why Magda falls for him, he's tall and handsome and has a beautiful voice. His earnestness in the Act III aria "Dimmi che vuoi seguirmi" is completely convincing. Soprano Amanda Kingston too looks the part, she is very pretty, slim, and graceful. Her voice is powerful and almost strident, her Magda knows her own mind and isn't dissuaded from her pursuits, whether it is leaving her patron in Act II or deciding to return, like the swallow, in the end.

* Tattling * 
The audience at Opera San José is ever supportive and gave the Sunday performance a standing ovation.


Refuse the Hour Review

Refuse-the-hour-2017* Notes * 
The West Coast premiere of William Kentridge's multimedia extravaganza Refuse the Hour (ovation at Saturday's evening performance pictured) was presented at ACT last weekend before heading south to Los Angeles. The frenetic piece is the companion of Kentridge's Refusal of Time, a video installation recently at SFMOMA, and it too contemplates nature of time and colonialism throughout the world.

The work, billed as a chamber opera,  is chock-full of ideas and features declamations (some backwards) from Kentridge in his characteristic uniform of white button-down shirt and black slacks along with dance from Dada Masilo and Catherine Meyburgh's video design.

Philip Miller's score probably would not stand well on its own, this is very much opera as theater rather than music, but so much the better, it would be distracting for the images and sounds to compete even more than they already were. The musicians were conducted by Adam Howard (who also played trumpet and flugelhorn) also included percussion -- most notably a drum kit attached to the ceiling -- violin, trombone, tuba, piano, and two vocalists. Joanna Dudley's vocalizations were much more like speech, while Ann Masina sounded rather more rich and operatic.

What I loved most was seeing Dada Masilo in person, it was thrilling to watch her move with such speed, elegance, and beauty through the chaos of sounds and images. Her stillness too was impressive, especially when she posed on a circular platform, holding her arms and one leg in large metal megaphones, as Kentridge slowly spun her around.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet and in any case, it was hard to hear anything much over the sounds coming from the stage.

There was a reception afterward on the fourth floor of Kensington Park Hotel that many of the cast members attended, including William Kentridge, who, like everyone else, was not in his performance costume.


Les Arts Florissants' Actéon/Dido and Aeneas

Arts-florissants-2017* Notes * 
This year a second obscure French Baroque opera was seen at Cal Performances last Thursday, this time from Les Arts Florissants (pictured).

Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Actéon, only rediscovered in 1945, is the first half of a show being toured by the French based Baroque ensemble whose name comes from a chamber opera by the very same composer. The piece is perfectly elegant and was played adroitly by a small, tight group of seven instrumentalists including conductor William Christie on harpsichord. I particularly liked the oboist, Pier Luigi Fabretti, whose notes sparkled like those of a woodland bird.

The seven singers were equally exquisite, and I was impressed that baritone Renato Dolcini (Chasseur) managed a convincing tambourine. The dusky, sensuous sound of mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre as Junon is completely at odds with her spare frame and a beautiful contrast with tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen's pure clarity in the title role of Actéon. Soprano Elodie Fonnard was bright and light as Diane.

The second half of the performance was Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Both the leads, Desandre as Dido and Dolcini as Aeneas, sang beautifully. The baritone, being the only one, also had to sing with the chorus and would take off his jacket to do so and perhaps overdid it with the acting to distinguish his characters. Desandre, on the other hand, was more understated. Her "When I am laid in Earth" was nothing short of gorgeous.

Most of the singers are French or Italian, and not native English speakers, but this was only noticeable in a few cases. Unsurprisingly, Scottish soprano Rachel Redmond (Belinda) was the most easily understood. Her voice gleams but has a rich and mellow tones to it.

Sophie Daneman's direction for both operas was uncluttered and simple, but effective. The scene in the sorceress' cave was certainly the funniest as the naughty spirits teased the instrumentalists, especially William Christie himself.

* Tattling * 
My Cal Performances subscription for the three Baroque opera performances this season has me in the second row, which I did not realize until I found my seat on Thursday evening. I was able to see the singers almost a little bit too well since there was no one in front of me.


SF Opera's Manon Review

Sf-opera-manon-balloons* Notes * 
The latest Manon at San Francisco Opera is visually striking and has some fine singing and playing.

The opera hasn't been seen on the War Memorial stage since 1998, and Vincent Boussard's direction is a welcome departure from the very traditional stagings of the past.

The set (Act III, Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) seems to use the same shiny floor as seen in I Capuleti e i Montecchi five years ago, and has a similar wall in the background, but this one is curved with an uneven, slanted top. The direction produces some gorgeous images, the lighting is atmospheric and the play of shadows works very nicely. However, the acting, especially for our two leads, can feel stilted and bloodless. There was even a cringe-worthy moment at the end of Act III, Scene 2 when Des Grieux tears open his cassock and shirt out of passion for Manon, which garnered both gasps and giggles.

The much of the other acting and singing was charming. Monica Dewey (Poussette), Laura Krumm (Javotte), and Renée Rapier (Rosette) were adorable together, very minxish and almost sounded like Rheinmaidens. It is no surprise that mezzos Krumm and Rapier will both be in San Francisco Opera's Ring next summer. Tenor Robert Brubaker was perfect as lascivious Guillot de Morfontaine. His eager skips across the stage in pursuit of the ladies had a cuteness, and his anger at being snubbed by Manon is believable. Baritone David Pershall also had an attractive roguish quality as Lescaut, and a pleasant enough voice.

Vocally, our lovebirds sparkled. Soprano Ellie Dehn has a beautiful voice that has a lightness but is also seems deeply rooted and resonant. Her Manon glittered, from beginning to end. Michael Fabiano sang Des Grieux with a lot of power, and his voice is also very lovely from top to bottom.

Maestro Patrick Fournillier had the orchestra in hand, the music sounded clear without being square. The chorus shone, sounding very strong and cohesive.

* Tattling * 
Though I only arrived at 7pm, I got standing room ticket 18. It was easy to find a place at the rail downstairs. This may have been the first opening performance I've attended at San Francisco Opera this year, and I saw many familiar faces in the audience.

There were some noisy latecomers during Act I, but for the most part the audience was pretty quiet, though there was some electronic noise from devices from time to time.


LA Opera's La Belle et la Bête

Laopera-belle-bete* Notes *
LA Opera just did a short but sweet run of Philip Glass' La Belle et la Bête with the Jean Cocteau film at the ACE Hotel Theatre. It is hard to imagine a cooler venue for the production, the flagship movie house of United Artists is glorious in its 1920s splendor, decked out in Halloween finery.

Seven members of the accomplished Philip Glass Ensemble, including music director and conductor Michael Riesman, played from the stage along with the four fine singers. There were moments when the singing of the score did not synchronize with the lips of the actors, but this is to be expected, since speaking and singing take different amounts of time. Perhaps Cocteau's 1946 film hasn't aged very gracefully, there is a bit of a kitsch factor here and this produced a fair amount of giggles from the audience, especially the first glimpse we get of the Beast and his transformation to Price Ardent at the end.

The singers navigated the difficult music very nicely, everyone but La Belle has to sing more than one role. I liked the contrast of the two female singers and the parallel contrast of the two male ones as well, even though it was hard judge the weight of their voices given all the amplification. Mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn had a honeyed sound as La Belle, with throaty richness and ethereal high notes. Soprano Marie Mascari was suitably shrewish as mean sisters Félicie and Adélaïde, but her voice was not too shrill or unpleasant. Baritone Gregory Purnhagen (La Bête, Officiel du Port, Avenant, and Ardent) sounded bright and flexible, while baritone Peter Stewart (La Père and Ludovic) sounded plusher and mellower.

This was certainly immersive theater, and it is easy to see why LA Opera chose the piece for its Off Grand series, which aims to attract new audiences.

* Tattling *
I only barely made it to DTLA in time for the Sunday matinée, as the Burbank airport was fogged in. My morning flight from Oakland was in a holding pattern for about an hour, then diverted to Las Vegas where more people were boarded, and arrived where we needed to be around noon.

The audience was much more well-behaved than at the opera house, I heard hardly any talking at all.


SF Opera's La Traviata Review

_B5A8025* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's recent La Traviata is very pretty both in the orchestra pit and on stage.

This is Maestro Luisotti's last series of performances as music director, and the orchestra sounded spirited during the Sunday matinée last weekend. I felt like I could hear every individual instrument from the back of the balcony. Though not always with the singers, the effect was still strong.

The production, from John Copley (lovingly known by many as "Uncle John"), is traditional, though has been livened up by Shawna Lucey and includes quite a spanking by Flora of the Marquis d’Obigny in Act II Scene 2 that I don't remember from before.

The singing had much to recommend it, and certainly was not dull. The Adlers all did well, from Amina Edris' sympathetic Annina to Anthony Reed's despairing Doctor Grenvil. Amitai Pati was particularly tantalizing as Gastone, one would love to hear him in a major role, his voice is just so beautiful.

It was fascinating to hear each of the three major principals, all of whom are new to the War Memorial stage. Artur Ruciński may have lacked a certain gravity for Giorgio Germont, he really seemed no older than his son, but his reedy, plaintive sound was lovely. Atalla Ayan (Alfredo Germont) had a wonderful rich warmth, though there were times when his voice did seem to disappear into the orchestra, as at the end of Act II, Scene 1.

Aurelia Florian has a bright, though bordering on shrill voice, but her Violetta is convincing, and she has an appealing, delicate quality that works nicely for a consumptive. She does express a lot of emotion through her sound, and could channel a wounded animal or a sweet angel depending on what was required.

* Tattling * 
One definitely missed the seriousness of the Elektra audience during this performance. Many people were late as it was Fleet Week and the last day of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and traffic getting into San Francisco must have been bad.

Then again, standing room upstairs was nearly empty and I could place myself away from those who needed to chatter during the music.


SF Opera's Elektra Review

_37A6151* Notes * 
Despite glowing reviews, I was apprehensive about hearing San Francisco Opera latest Elektra yesterday afternoon because I have never much liked the music of Richard Strauss. My doubts were dispelled almost at once, this stylish production has an excellent cast and conductor, and works both theatrically and musically.

Originally directed by Keith Warner in Prague last year, Anja Kühnhold has taken the reins here to fine effect. The opera is set in a museum, and looks very convincing. People wander around the exhibits before the music begins and even the announcement asking patrons to turn off devices has been switched to one for a museum rather than a performance. I really enjoyed the artfulness in the direction, the eye is drawn around the stage and there are surprises as far as the space and the entrances of singers.

The look of the set matches the singing and playing, everything is clean and crisp. Maestro Henrik Nánási had a promising San Francisco Opera debut, though the orchestra included 100 musicians, the music did not blare or overwhelm. The brass played neatly and the woodwinds sounded absolutely lovely.

The cast is top notch. Though I was disappointed that Stephanie Blythe was replaced by Michaela Martens as Klytemnestra in these performances, Martens was commanding in the role. Tenor Robert Brubaker simpered perfectly as Aegisth, while bass-baritone Alfred Walker (Orest) sang with power. The recognition scene of Orest and Elektra was incredibly creepy, and Walker definitely can act and sing.

In the title role, soprano Christine Goerke likewise is a respectable singing actor, though there isn't really a dance for her at the end, and this works perfectly well. Goerke has some beautiful deep rich low notes and a ton of endurance. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka's sound as Chrysothemis is a very pretty counterpoint to Goerke, her high notes are so shimmery.

* Tattling * 
I loved how quiet the balcony level audience was for this performance.

The end of the Elektra program (and I'm going to guess it is in the Turandot one also) has a "Postlude" from General Director Matthew Shivlock that addresses "Inclusion, Equity, and Opera." I liked that it recognized orientalism in opera and addressed building dialogue with new audiences, but remain vaguely skeptical as always. It will be interesting to observe what happens.


Ars Minerva's La Circe Review

La-circe-2017* Notes * 
Ars Minerva gave the modern premiere of Pietro Andrea Ziani's La Circe last night at ODC Theater. It is almost alarming how pretty all the unknown music the group has uncovered is, this being the third Baroque Venetian opera the company has staged. It is clear that there is simply a ton of lovely pieces that languish in obscurity, as with Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire that Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra did in April and Vicente Martín y Soler's L'arbore di Diana recently at West Edge Opera.

Ziani was the organist at Basilica di San Marco and then worked for Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg in Vienna. He's a generation after Monteverdi and one before Handel, and operas in this period are not at all in the standard opera repertoire.

The music is perfectly attractive, and the plot of La Circe is a standard sort of convoluted Baroque opera inspired by a few lines from Ovid, which involves multiple overlapping love triangles. There is a gorgeous duet at the end of Act I between Pyrrhus and Andromaca, but mostly it is da capo aria after da capo aria for the various voices that highlight a certain low female or high male vocal range.

The breadth of Bay Area musical talent was on full display here and the diversity of sound was impressive. Mezzo-soprano Céline Ricci, also the leader of Ars Minerva and stage director of this opera, sang a focused and really quite frightening Circe. Her incisive, precise delivery is such a contrast with fellow mezzo Kindra Scharich's smooth, rich tones as Andromaca, not to mention Jasmine Johnson's vivid near baritone as Aegle (who pretends to be the male gardener Floreno for most of the show). The lone soprano was Aurélie Veruni as the hapless Scylla, so carefree and coquettish, wrongfully hated by Circe, who turns her into a sea monster.

Countertenor Ryan Belongie sang Pyrrhus with sweetness, while tenor Kyle Stegall was a charmingly rakish Glauco. Tenor Jonathan Smucker got many laughs as the clownish Gligoro. Rounding out the cast was baritone Igor Vieira, who sang three small roles (Custode del Porto, Tissandro, and Creonte) with ease.

The small orchestra included a harpsichord, two violins, a viola, and a theorbo. The playing was neat and astringent. My miswired brain tasted unripe persimmon after Glauco sees his love Scylla transformed, and oddly my teeth ached for the rest of the opera.

 The staging featured the dancer Katherine Hutchinson. Her work with aerial silks was a wonderful spectacle. Her strength in her first dance and her skin-matching unitard got an audible gasp from the audience.

* Tattling * 
I was mildly surprised about how many of my friends were in the audience, skipping the San Francisco Opera opening for this obscure gem. The audience was attentive and quiet, those that received flower crowns from Scylla in Act I wore them with pride.

The end of this opera was very abrupt.


West Edge Opera's L'arbore di Diana

Arbore-di-diana-2017* Notes * 
West Edge Opera has found a new home at Pacific Pipe, an abandoned warehouse in Oakland this year, after the City of Oakland denied permits public events at the 16th Street Station, where the company performed the previous two seasons. Since I had a baby a scant 12 weeks ago, I decided to attend only one of the three productions, choosing Vicente Martín y Soler's L'arbore di Diana. It turned out very well for me, the music is delightful, the production amusing, the conducting crisp, and the singers fantastic.

Martín, a contemporary of Mozart, is best known today for the quote of "O quanto in sì bel giubilo" from Una cosa rara at the second act of Don Giovanni. Interestingly, both these works and L'arbore di Diana are by the same librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. The music of L'arbore di Diana is jaunty and attractive, and the small orchestra played nicely under the direction of Maestro Robert Mollicone, who is on the music staff of San Francisco Opera and was an Adler Fellow. The fortepiano, played by Mollicone, was amplified, and this was disorienting (especially at first) because the sound came from a different direction than the instrument. There were times when the singers and orchestra were slightly off from each other, but for the most part, the playing was pretty clean.

Director Mark Streshinsky is at his best with this sort of divinely silly opera. The tree of the title is made of ladders and pink tulle, complete with fruit to pelt unchaste nymphs. The fruit are the dancers of the Sarah Berges Dance Company, and their costumes, emerald lame leotards each emblazoned with a single golden breast, pink areola, and multicolored flashing light as a nipple, are hilarious. The dancers mutely comment on the action, their expressions and gestures are priceless.

The singing was likewise excellent. The trio of nymphs (pictured above with dancers) included soprano Maya Kherani (Britomarte), mezzo-soprano Molly Mahoney (Clizia), and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Moss (Chloe), who all have beautiful voices and sang wonderfully together. Tenor Kyle Stegall's voice rang out clearly, even though the venue doesn't have ideal acoustics at all, hardly having walls. His Endimione, love interest of Diana, is convincing, as Stegall is tall and handsome.

The dueling sopranos Christine Brandes (Cupid) and Nikki Einfeld (Diana) were no less appealing. While I'm not a fan of Brandes' incisive sound, it works in this space, and was a good foil for Einfeld, whose flexible voice is nothing short of gorgeous. Einfeld can also pull off wearing a floor length blue sequined gown with fluffy blonde wig and still look slim and perfectly self-possessed. I was impressed by her coloratura and happy to hear her in something so different from Opera Parallèle's Flight earlier in the year.

 

* Tattling * 
I bought an expensive ticket for this opera so that I could have an assigned seat rather than being in the general admission section. It was worth the price for me, as I was not next to anyone in Row B Seat 24 and did not have to get to the venue early to stake out a good seat.


Merola's La Cenerentola

Merola_cenerentola_2017_loken_2400x1800* Notes * 
The second set of opera performances from the Merola Opera Program this year was Rossini's La Cenerentola at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on August 3 and 5. The sugary sweet staging from Chuck Hudson showcased a plethora of fine young singers (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) supported by conductor Mark Morash and a mostly competent orchestra.

The production featured three wardrobes moved around the stage by the male chorus, meant to look like the doors of various edifices. The costumes were slightly baffling, the male chorus members wore moto jeans splattered with paint and none of the women's clothing seemed to have sleeves. The choreography involved a lot of voguing.

But as usual for Merola, the voices were preeminent, and even the smallest roles are filled by very strong talents. Soprano Natalie Image, Clorinda, one of the step-sisters, has an especially gorgeous voice, and one would love to hear her sing more. The trio of bass-baritones were all strong. Szymon Wach sounded lovely as Alidoro, Christian Pursell made for a dashing, pretty voiced Dandini, and Andrew Hiers was a perfectly silly Don Magnifico.

Anthony Ciaramitaro has a sweet-toned tenor suited for Prince Ramiro, contrasting well with mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey's dusky sound. Hankey has a fabulous physicality that Ciaramitaro obviously lacks, she moves in an elastic and adorable way that made the cloying title role much more sympathetic.

* Tattling *
I was so sad to learn that long-time opera supporter John Lindstrom died a few weeks before the performances, which were dedicated to his memory.