Opera San José

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.


Opera San José's Faust

Pk0418faustmargueritea* Notes *
Faust (
Act II with Michael Dailey and Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, photograph by P. Kirk) opened at Opera San José last night. The ambitious performance had some lovely points, but was, on the whole, rather scattershot. The orchestra, lead by David Rohrbaugh, sounded slightly lax. The overture was drawn out so that we could hear all the tunes we would be hearing later in the evening. The tempi were not too slow as much as simply lacking tension. The woodwinds did sound clear and sweet. The organ was also excellent.

The chorus was a little patchy, perhaps the music simply demands a few more people. Evan Brummel sang Valentin well, his voice is dry but pleasant. Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste (Marguerite) has a rich, powerful sound. Her big aria, the Jewel Song, could have been more smoothly sung, and her top is a bit on the raw side. Silas Elash looked like a pirate version of Méphistophéles. His voice is strong, a little gravelly, with a great openness his higher notes. Michael Dailey's Faust was distinctive. His nasal, somewhat petulant tone did not make the character sympathetic, but was perhaps appropriate for the role.

The production, directed by Brad Dalton, evoked the Flemish Primitives. The backdrops recreated various paintings by Bosch, Bruegel, and the like. There was no strong sense of interior or exterior parts of the set. The cast seemed drawn to standing on whatever was highest: chairs, tables, or rickety staircases. Dalton referred to Marguerite's dead sister throughout the opera, and used a young supernumerary to this end. The effect was eerie, but not exactly in line with the music. Four dancers were also employed as minions of Méphistophéles, pushing the action along.

* Tattling * 
The couple in Row M Seats 108 and 109 talked the entire evening. Otherwise the audience was supportive and engaged.


Opera San José's La voix humaine & Pagliacci

Voix-coffand-opera-san-jose* Notes *
Last night a double bill of La voix humaine (pictured left, photograph by P. Kirk) and Pagliacci opened at Opera San José. It is something of an odd juxtaposition, one imagines it is based on the duration of these two operas and the fact that it would be difficult to present the Poulenc on its own.

La voix humaine is an unsettling piece, a one-act opera featuring one rather unhinged, needy woman on a telephone with a bad connection. The music is spare and the singing is speech-like. Mezzo-soprano Betany Coffland gave a nuanced, controlled vocal performance. The orchestra, conducted by Bryan Nies, supported her well. Coffland was only slightly overwhelmed at a few points when she did not face out to the audience because of her blocking. Her acting is strong, she looked completely distraught and devastated. J.B. Wilson's set is descriptive without being entirely literal. The silver nightgown designed by Alyssa Oania is elegant, but satin can be unforgiving.

Pagliacci was performed with an appealing immediacy. The playing was not always together but clean. The singing was straightforward, the acting again here was formidable. Evan Brummel (Tonio) has a hearty, warm voice. Jasmina Halimic made for an attractive Nedda, she has a fine command of her facial expressions. Her voice was not particularly pretty in this role, it has some grit to it at the bottom, but she was convincing regardless. Alexander Boyer (Canio) was slightly tentative, and could have sung his big aria with more anguish. Boyer has a lovely sound, his performance seemed neat and correct. The set for this opera, also by J.B. Wilson, is simple. The Commedia dell'arte costumes looked like perfect historical replicas as seen in paintings.

* Tattling * 
The person in Row G Seat 106 helpfully pointed out that the intermezzo of Pagliacci was "very dark."


Opera San José's Idomeneo

Idomeneocoro * Notes *
Last weekend the 28th season of Opera San José opened with Idomeneo. The production (Act I pictured left, photo by P. Kirk) directed by Brad Dalton, is gorgeous. Steven C. Kemp's set looks meticulously researched, and Johann Stegmeir's costumes were quite pretty. The choreography, from Dennis Nahat, did not always go with the text, but worked well on the singers. The dancing was rather festive, but not executed perfectly.

The orchestra sounded smooth and energetic under Maestro George Cleve. At times the musicians in the pit were slightly ahead of the principal singers. The chorus kept together for the most part, and were not overly loud. Overall the singing of "Cast 1" that performed on Sunday was nice, if not occasionally timid. Mozart leaves the voice exposed, and small errors are noticeable.

Sandra Bengochea was a flirtatious Ilia, had good volume, but her enunciation of the Italian was not always clear. Jasmina Halimic was very funny as Elettra, without sounding harsh. She does have a bit of a gasp at the bottom of her voice. Her last aria was outstanding, however. Betany Coffland (Idamante) is convincingly tall and slim enough to play a young man, her metallic voice is sounds strong and high, and perhaps a bit tinny at the top. In the title role, Alexander Boyer made valiant attempt. His voice has a pleasant warmth. Boyer did seem afraid of the coloratura, and his "Torna la pace al core," while pretty, was not completely decisive. Nonetheless, his performance was part of an enjoyable and satisfying afternoon.

* Tattling * 
The audience seemed utterly delighted to be at this matinée, and clapped with enthusiasm for singing and sets alike. There was hardly any whispering or electronic noise.