Opera San José

Opera San José's Entführung aus dem Serail

Abduction_opera-san-jose1* Notes *
A winsome cast (Matthew Grills as Belmonte and Rebecca Davis as Konstanze pictured, photograph by Pat Kirk) opened the Opera San José 2018-2019 season with the delightful music of Die Entführung aus dem Serail yesterday night. Mozart's jaunty Singspiel is a joy to experience with the young soloists, the sprightly orchestra, and gorgeous set, despite the muddled staging.

The quality of Opera San José's soloists always is solid and this was no exception, the singers are appealing and can both sing and act. The music of Entführung is challenging to pull off, and I was especially impressed by soprano Rebecca Davis as Konstanze, her incisive sound is strong and beautiful. I am astounded every time Konstanze has to sing the back to back arias in Act II, and Davis did not disappoint. Tenor Matthew Grills (Belmonte) also gave a pleasing, lovely performance, making only a few errors. He swallowed a note in his first aria and may have been under pitch for one or two notes in "Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke," but did great in "Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen" of Act II and in all the ensembles.

Abduction_opera-san-jose3Tenor Michael Dailey is endearing as Belmonte's valet Pedrillo and soprano Katrina Galka is perfectly sassy as maid Blonde. Both (pictured left, photograph by Pat Kirk) were very distinct from the other tenor and soprano, Dailey's voice has texture to it and Galka's has a hard edge. Both are excellent actors and are ridiculously attractive, especially for opera singers.

Bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam is an amusing as the grumpy Osmin. His clowning had to compete with a lot of silliness from nearly everyone on stage, of course from Pedrillo but there was much buffoonery from Belmonte and even Bassa Selim, the speaking role portrayed here by bass Nathan Stark.

My least favorite element of the performance was the English dialogue coupled with the singing in German, I wish they simply sang in English as much as I like hearing the sung German text. Dramatically it doesn't make sense, and an opera is artificial enough already without having to overcome this too. I appreciated the many details of Michael Shell's direction and the wonderful physical humor, but some gravity was missing for Bassa Selim, I don't see how he goes from his crass antics to becoming the enlightened person who lets his enemy's son go in the end.

This was saved by a splendid set from Steven C. Kemp, which looks better than both productions at San Francisco Opera right now and provides a fine spectacle. It did not surprise me at all that the audience clapped for the last act's set design as it was revealed, it simply looks like a seraglio.

In the end though, Mozart's music shines. I love this opera and I loved hearing it here. Though there were inconsistencies in intonation from the strings, Maestro George Manahan kept the orchestra together and the sound was buoyant. The chorus was powerful and bright as well.

Tattling *
"Your" replaced "you" in a supertitle announcement about silencing electronic devices at second intermission. A cellular phone did ring in Row D, around Seat 5 and 7. More distracting were the loud comments from the man in Row F Seat 1, who talked regardless if the orchestra was playing alone or people were singing.


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.


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.


Opera San José's Silent Night

Silent-night-2017* Notes *
The Pulitzer Prize winning Silent Night by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell is a fine choice for Opera San José, which gave the West Coast premiere last night. It was a worthy challenge for the company, which has a many youthful repertory members, all of whom seemed to rise to the occasion.

Campbell's libretto is based on the screenplay for the 2005 film Joyeux Noël, which in turn is based on a World War I Christmas truce of December 1914 between Scottish, German, and French soldiers. It's a good story, the horrors of war is a serious topic, but has some great humor as well.

The tender portrayals of the various characters, and there are a lot, no less than 14 principals, were convincing. I could hardly even recognize some of the resident company members, even from the fourth row, so much did the singers embody their roles.

The quality of the singing was certainly up there. Soprano Julie Adams played opera singer Anna Sørensen to a tee, her Act II Scene 2 aria was beautiful. Likewise tenor Kirk Dougherty seemed natural in the role of opera singer/German soldier Nikolaus Sprink.

Puts' music sounds very cinematic and sweeping, it definitely is not challenging or dissonant, aside from perhaps the bagpipe featured in Act I Scene 5. Ricardo Rivera (Lt. Audebert) and Brian James Myer (Ponchel) had some of the most lovely music in the middle of Act I. It was not clear to me how well the orchestra played under Maestro Joseph Marcheso, sometimes it sounded a bit off-kilter, the strings sounded out of tune in Act I Scene 4, but this could have been written this way. The brass wasn't always perfectly clean. The woodwinds did have some gorgeous exposed moments.

The production, directed by Michael Shell and designed by Steven Kemp makes excellent use of the space. There are ten scenes and Kemp employs three moveable rectangular wooden frames as each of the camps to keep the action going and this is very effective.

* Tattling * 
The audience absolutely loved this opera. There was hardly a seat open in the whole orchestra section, and the whole run is close to being completely full. Given that Minnesota Opera sold-out the world premiere in 2012, Opera San José looks to do just as well.


Opera San José's Lucia

Lucia6* Notes *
Opera San José's latest season started with a solid production of Lucia di Lammermoor last weekend. The cast, especially Lucia (Sylvia Lee as Lucia pictured left; photograph by Pat Kirk), was very strong and the orchestra sounded fine.

Ms. Lee has just started in Opera San José's resident company, and based on her performance Sunday afternoon, she is a welcome addition. Her voice isn't huge, but is bright enough to cut through the orchestra, and is consistent throughout her range. Her mad scene was completely convincing and it was remarkable how frightening she was, even though she is a tiny woman.

Resident tenor Kirk Dougherty sounded perfectly nice as Edgardo, though it does always look like he is putting in a lot of effort. His final aria was good, and it really was terrible that someone's cellular phone rang during a quiet part of the piece. Baritone Matthew Hanscom likewise performed well, and is suited to the big brother role of Enrico, it seemed more natural to him than some of the others he's had in recent memory.

In the smaller parts, tenor Michael Mendelsohn (Arturo) stood out as a scene stealer in Act II Scene 2. He was very funny, which isn't the usual way the character is handled but it worked anyway. Bass Colin Ramsey was a reedy Raimondo, while Anna Yelizarova (Alisa) and Yungbae Yang (Normanno) rounded out the cast with sympathetic ease.

Ming Luke kept the orchestra together, his tempi were appropriate and the woodwinds sounded especially pretty. The chorus also was fairly synchronized and cohesive.

There was very little surprising about Benjamin Spierman's production besides the comic Arturo and the fact that it was difficult to keep sharp objects away from Lucia. She kept grabbing knives and swords, menacing men much larger than herself.

Tattling *
There was a hearing aid that was quite noisy during the whole performance.


Opera San José's Streetcar

Streetcar10* Notes *
Opera San José's 2015-2016 season ends with a musically impressive but dramatically wanting A Streetcar Named Desire (pictured left with Matthew Hanscom, Ariana Strahl, and Stacey Tappan; photograph by Pat Kirk), which opened last weekend. The orchestra has never sounded better and there is much fine singing, but the minimalist production is not completely successful.

André Previn's opera, based on the famous play by Tennessee Williams, first premiered in the Bay Area nearly twenty years ago at San Francisco Opera. The production at San José, designed and directed by Brad Dalton, features a rather bare stage in front of the orchestra. The two rooms are represented by furniture -- a bed, two tables, and eighteen chairs -- that are moved around by seven rough-looking male supernumeraries.

There isn't a good sense of what is inside and what is outside, it isn't clear what the supernumeraries are doing on stage besides changing the set (often unnecessarily, since much of the action simply happens in the same two rooms) and echoing the look of Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in stage and film versions of the play.

The scenes that reference the upstairs of the building are especially problematic. The upstairs neighbor Eunice stands on a chair to represent her calling from above at one point, and at the end of Act I Stanley interacts with Eunice, Blanche, and Stella all upstage, but with him downstage facing the audience.

Dalton also makes use of ghosts, having the young collector played by Xavier Prado stand in for Blanche's ill-fated husband and Teressa Foss (who also is cast as the nurse) wander through as one of Blanche's dead relatives. Perhaps this is to re-enforce how crazy Blanche is, but it was more of a confusing distraction than anything else.

All this said, I do very much appreciate Dalton's creativity, and that he did not simply recreate the well-known set of the play or film. Having the orchestra behind the singers also worked very much in the piece's favor, the playing never overwhelmed the voices.

Maestro Ming Luke had the orchestra sounding cohesive and perfectly in tune. Despite the fact that the conductor was behind the singers, there was hardly any synchronization issues. The screens above the ground floor of the audience used to cue the characters apparently worked very well. The jazzy parts of Previn's music swung and sounded idiomatic.

The singing was excellent. Tenor Kirk Dougherty had the perfect amount of awkwardness for Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, and his scenes with Strahl were convincing. On the other hand, baritone Matthew Hanscom lacked a certain sexual dangerousness for the role of Stanley Kowalski. Though Hanscom's voice is strong, his performance comes off as cartoonish.

Soprano Stacey Tappan (Stella Kowalkski) had a strong Opera San Jose debut, her voice is sweet and her post-coital hum at the end of Act I came off beautifully. Soprano Ariana Strahl also had a fine debut with the role of Blanche DuBois, and sang with a devastating brilliance and incredible ease. Her clarion tones were a wonderful contrast to Tappan's, you could never mistake one for another. In the end the drama does come through in the music, Stahl portrays Blanche's harrowing experiences with conviction, and the performance was satisfying despite the flawed staging.

Tattling *
There was the usual light chatter when the orchestra played but no one was singing.

A watch alarm was heard in the last act.


Opera San José's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-sj-opera-2014* Notes *
Don Giovanni opened with two different casts at Opera San José over the weekend. The piece seemed a bit beyond the abilities of all those involved. Though Mozart sounds wonderfully effortless, the Sunday afternoon performance on Easter was both sincere and labored. It was probably a wise decision to cut "Dalla sua pace," for example. Anthony Quartuccio conducted an orchestra that sounded angular and moderate. The unsubtle singing was promising but not quite together, the singers often lagged behind the orchestra.

Mozart does not leave a lot of margin for error, and the mistakes were painfully exposed. All of the singing was rather loud, and we never had a problem hearing the singing over the rest of the music. Jennifer Forni was a slightly shrill Donna Anna. Lisa Chavez made for a sultry and vehement Donna Elvira. Krassen Karagiozov was an amusing and bright Leporello. In the title-role Evan Brummel lacked charisma. His voice is nice enough, but the most memorable moment of his performance was when he accidentally threw the mandolin into the door frame after "Deh vieni alla finestra."

For the most part, the fairly standard production kept to the text. The ending did not involve a supernatural descent but was resolved by having Masetto punish the rake instead.

* Tattling * 
There was much noisy candy-eating in Rows D and F on the right side of the orchestra level.


Opera San José's Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi

James-callon-birkland-cast-rinuccio-zita-cast-2a* Notes *
A double-bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi (pictured left, photograph by P. Kirk) closes the 2012-2013 season at Opera San José. Charlie Smith's cunning set is used for both operas, but somehow the space seems completely transformed for each. The costumes, from Elizabeth Poindexter, look completely appropriate. Lorna Haywood's production is straightforward and of the period for each pieces. It says a lot that this was a little jarring for this reviewer.

Maestro Joseph Marcheso kept the orchestra together, but was slightly ahead of the singers at times. The young cast seemed eager and were all rather loud. Cecilia Violetta López embodied Suor Angelica, her emotions seemed intensely genuine. As Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, her "O mio babbino caro" was quite nice. Nicole Birkland has a deep, rich voice, she sang La Zia Principessa with much care, and seemed somewhat more comfortable as Zita in Gianni Schicchi.

Jo Vincent Parks seemed to have fun with Betto di Signa. James Callon sang Rinuccio with sweetness. Evan Brummel gave a spirited performance as Gianni Schicchi, but perhaps could have been a bit more searing or sly at certain points.

* Tattling * 
There was much whispering from the audience, but also much enthusiasm.


Opera San José's Les pêcheurs de perles

Opera-san-jose-pearl-fishers-callon-altman* Notes *
The Pearl Fishers (Act I with James Callon and Zachary Altman, photograph by P. Kirk) opened the 2012-2013 season at Opera San José over the weekend. Sunday's performance gave a compelling case for this opera, which is so much less popular than Bizet's Carmen. Maestro Anthony Quartuccio had the orchestra going at a neat, steady pace. The oboe solo in Act II was especially beautiful.

The chorus sounded spirited and robust, and were rather threatening in Acts II and III. Silas Elash is convincing as Nourabad. Melody King's Leïla has vigor, though not all her notes were perfectly in tune. James Callon (Nadir) also may have drifted slightly in his intonation, but sang well both with King and with Zachary Altman as Zurga. The duet between Callon and Altman, "Au fond du temple saint," was certainly a highlight of the afternoon.

The exotic-looking set, designed by Charlie Smith, seemed solid. Richard Harrell's direction involved much dancing from seven young people, who were quite amusing to watch.

* Tattling * 
The audience clapped after nearly all the arias and were generally pleased to be back at the California Theatre for a new season.