Opera Review

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.


Merola's Triple Bill

Merola-the-bear-2017* Notes * 
The Merola Opera Program presented a triple bill of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, Holst's Sāvitri, and Walton's The Bear at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on July 20 and 22. It came off as a deadly boring tragedy sandwiched by cutesy frills, perhaps because of Peter Kazaras' staging. But as always, the singers were almost all great.

La Serva Padrona ("The Servant Turned Mistress") is a light, bubbly piece, only 45 minutes long. Full of sight gags, the production did get a lot of laughs, from the popcorn eating of mute Vespone (played by David Wiegel) at the start to the fake parrot on his shoulder when he pretends to be a very pirate-like Tempesta near the end. Jana McIntyre's Serpina was sassy and stylish, her sound is bright. As Uberto, Daniel Noyola was perfectly hapless, and his voice has a pleasant weight to it.

Sāvitri was staged in a stark, static manner, it dragged a bit for being so short, a mere 40 minutes or so. The title role sounded challenging for Kelsea Webb, though she has a big voice. The men, David Wiegel as Death and Addison Marlor as Satyavān, fared better. Wiegel's sound is deep and grave, and such a stark contrast to his role in the previous opera.

Of the three pieces, The Bear (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) was most successful, though also staged in a silly and quaint way. Daniel Noyola was hardly recognizable as servant Luka. Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum has an impressive stage presence, and delighted as Smirnov, while mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon was a convincing Popova.

* Tattling *
The audience was fairly quiet, though the person on my right elbowed me many times during the first opera as he took notes (he was left-handed), and I had nowhere to shift away, until the next opera, when the lady next to me was notably absent.


Temple of Glory at Cal Performances

PBOTempleGloire3711_4x6_FrankWing* Notes *
It is a shame that Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire at Cal Performances (Prologue pictured left with Aaron Sheehan as Apollo and his muses from New York Baroque Dance Company, photograph by Frank Wing) only has three performances this weekend. The music is delightful, and I could have happily gone again today after hearing the first two on Friday and Saturday nights.

The pretty production is historically informed, lead by Artistic Director of the New York Baroque Dance Company, Catherine Turocy. It is a nice contrast between the usual contemporary versions of Baroque operas I've seen from Mark Morris or Pina Bausch, but it becomes very clear very quickly why traditional stagings aren't the norm. It is a lot of ballet music, and Turocy's dancers are tame compared to the acrobatics and antics we've grown accustomed to.

The movements are understated, lots of swaying and swishing, and what I'm guessing is the precursor to petit battement. For myself, I liked that the dancing didn't compete with the playing, I would rather listen to PBO play Rameau's beautiful music without any elaborate distractions.

Nonetheless, there was a lot to look at, the costumes are eye-poppingly bright and feature lots of feathers. A dancer dressed as an ostrich in Act III was a hit. The set uses tasteful projections of painted scenes within a painted proscenium. I enjoyed very much that the UC Berkeley mascot, Ursus arctos californicus, was painted on the shield at the top.

Nicholas McGegan conducted with his characteristic bouncy cheer, the orchestra sounded clean but lively. Even the horns were mostly in tune. The flutes had some gorgeous, exposed moments. The chorus was off to the side, stage left, but sounded robust. There were a few brief moment of asynchrony, but mostly on the first night rather than the second.

The soloists, mostly from the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, have lovely voices, very light and flexible. Of the two haute-contres, I preferred Aaron Sheehan (Apollon, Trajan) to Artavazd Sargsyan (Un Berger, Bacchus, Premier Roi) though both were nice, the latter did sound more fragile. The standout was definitely soprano Chantal Santon Jeffery who sang Lydie, Une Bacchante, and La Glorie herself. Her sound is absolutely clarion.

* Tattling * 
On Friday night, my date had me sit on the aisle of Row S so that I didn't have to hear the two chatty Germans in Row T Seats 104 and 105. He did giggle a lot at the dancing though. Also, someone near us wore a watch that was 10 minutes fast and chimed on the hour.

For the second performance, the first half was fine but during the second, a woman in Row J Seat 4 could not stop fidgeting (she also briefly talked to her companion on the aisle). She tapped her fingers to parts that did not have percussion and repeatedly rustled the paper in her Altoid box. Many pointed glances were shot her way but she seemed mostly oblivious to this. At least she did keep quiet for the last five minutes of the show. I felt badly for the man directly in front of her, he was obviously bothered and trying hard to focus on the performance instead.

Either she or her neighbor pressed and kicked my seat more than once as well, but it was easy to ignore since I'm being pressed and kicked internally by a 37 week old fetus. I expected the woman behind me to be infirm or elderly, but she was simply a slim middle-aged person with a blond bob and fringe.


Anna Caterina Antonacci at SF Opera Lab

37A0329* Notes *
Last night the arresting soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera) gave the first of three performances of songs by Berlioz, Debussy, and Poulenc paired with a piano version La Voix Humane at SF Opera Lab. Antonacci gave a compelling renditions of the various French songs, all the more impressive since it was only her voice and the spare accompaniment of Donald Sulzen's piano.

Part of her appeal is certainly her voice, which is far from your garden variety clean, pure soprano, and in fact Antonacci started her career singing mezzo roles, especially Rossini, which doesn't seem particularly well suited to her sensual sound. She did great with Berlioz's "La mort d'Ophélie", very emotionally on point and haunting. Likewise her "Le tombeau des Naïades" from Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis was particularly strong.

37A0382Poulenc's 1958 La Voix humane is essentially a monologue of a suicidal woman on the telephone with her former lover. Its success as a piece of drama rests heavily on the the one singer, and Antonacci delivered, she is an incredible actress and it was hard to look away.

Simple and concise, the 40 minutes flew by, and we experience everything from the petty annoyances of being on a party line to the utter depths of despair of being abandoned and unloved.

The plain, stripped down staging of a simple rain drop covered window with a view of Paris with only a table, chair, and a few pillows was perfect and matched the simplicity of the opera itself.

Antonacci's costume was a bit odd, it looked like a 70s floral house dress, with panels that opened in the front and a cut-out in the back. I was also confused by (though also enjoyed) her gown for the songs, which looked to be a long grey leotard-inspired tunic whose sleeves covered her hands and had the saddest tulle tutu-like skirt.

Tattling *
Many audience members were mostly quiet, though a few people had to exit during the music.


Ted Hearne's The Source at SF Opera Lab

Thesource_stefancohen016* Notes *
Yesterday SF Opera Lab opened a second season with Ted Hearne's disturbing oratorio The Source. The 2012 piece concerns Chelsea Manning's disclosure to WikiLeaks of classified material about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unconventionally staged with the four singers dispersed in the audience (Isaiah Robinson pictured left, photograph by Stefan Cohen) and with enormous video projections on each side, the experience was completely immersive.

Mark Doten's libretto uses primary source texts, tweets from Manning and Adrian Lamo (the former hacker that ultimately turned Manning in), chat logs from Manning and Lamo, interview questions posed to Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, and random cultural artifacts from the time period ranging from an interview of Steven Hawking to Big Boi's "Shutterbugg." The collection is unsettling, and all the more so because the repetitive vocals are highly processed by Philip White in real time.

The music is often loud and cacophonous, and the ensemble hidden above, behind one of the video screens, consisted of what amounts to a string trio plus keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. The playing and singing seemed to come off tightly together, most impressive given the lack of conductor. It wasn't at all clear to me how this was accomplished.

Most of the videos used were of people's faces as they watched the leaks, gleaned from footage of nearly 100 people taken by director Daniel Fish and production designer Jim Findlay. It is all very unsettling. When we finally see the gunsight footage of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, known as "Collateral Murder," we understand all too well what these people have been reacting to and experience it for ourselves. The dead silence at the end lasted an uncomfortable and imposing amount of time.

Tattling *
Many audience members (I saw at least five at one time) fell asleep despite the volume of the music and fact that they may have been next to one of the vocalists. This was all the more obvious because the two halves of the audience faced one another.