Ars Minerva's La Circe Preview

Circe_Offering_the_Cup_to_OdysseusFor the first time in more than a decade, I am going to skip to San Francisco Opera's opening weekend, as Ars Minerva presents the modern premiere of La Circe, an obscure Baroque opera this Friday and Saturday. I, of course, have a soft spot for Baroque operas and am not particularly interested in Turandot (though of course I will hear both casts, I'm sure).

This will be the third time Ars Minerva will bring an unknown Italian Baroque opera to the stage. This one is by Pietro-Andrea Ziani and hasn't been heard since the 1665 premiere in Vienna.

The semi-staged production looks to be an intimate affair, with eight singers, six musicians, and an acrobat performing at the ODC Theater in the Mission.

The cast boasts a host of local talent including mezzo-soprano and Ars Minerva director Céline Ricci, tenor Kyle Stegall, mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich, and baritone Igor Vieira.

There are only two performances, this Friday and Saturday, so competes directly with San Francisco Opera opening night and the premiere of Elektra. Tickets for La Circe are available here.


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.


SF Opera's Don Giovanni 2017 Cast Change

Erwin Schrott_pic1_ThommyMardo (2)Bass-baritone Erwin Schrott (pictured left) and bass Erik Anstine will share the role of Leporello in Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera this summer. Both artists are making their debuts with the company and are stepping in for previously scheduled bass Marco Vinco, who has withdrawn for health reasons. Schrott is scheduled to sing the first six performances from June 4 to 21 and Anstine the last two on June 24 and 30.

Don Giovanni | San Francisco Opera Press Release


Steve Jobs Opera in SF and Seattle

MasonBates by Todd Rosenberg 53San Francisco Opera and Seattle Opera will both present Mason Bates' opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. The piece has a world premiere this July at Santa Fe Opera.

The piece is part of the 2019-20 season at San Francisco Opera and the 2018-19 season at Seattle Opera.

SF Opera Press Release | Seattle Opera Press Release


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.


Temple of Glory Preview

001 Original (2)* Notes *
My preview of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's The Temple of Glory up on KQED Arts. The opera, with music by Rameau and libretto by Voltaire, has a modern premiere of original 1745 version this Friday.

* Tattling *
I got to interview Maestro Nic McGegan for this piece, which was both exciting, because I love PBO, and embarrassing, because I'm particularly awkward on the phone. McGegan talked for nearly an hour and was as charming and jaunty as he seems on stage. It was adorable when he cheekily explained that The Temple of Glory is "A wonderful opera, but not in the sense of sopranos dying in garrets."


Cal Performances' 2017-2018 Season

Cal-performances-alvin-ailey-american-dance-theater-2-andrew-ecclesAugust 5 2017: Asian Youth Orchestra with Sarah Chang, violin
September 21 2017: Gustavo Dudamel and the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
September 23-24 2017: Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group; Moses(es)
September 30 2017: Lila Downs
October 7 2017: Matt Groening and Lynda Barry
October 11 2017: ODC/Dance; boulders and bones
October 13-15 2017: Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti
October 21-22 2017: Théâtre de la Ville, Paris; State of SiegeOctober 22 2017: Olli Mustonen, piano
October 23 2017: Garrison Keillor
October 27 2017: Dorrance Dance
October 28 2017: Korean National Gugak Center Traditional Orchestra
October 29 2017: Anssi Karttunen, cello; Nicolas Hodges, piano
November 4-5 2017: Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev
November 9 2017: Les Arts Florisssants and William Christie
November 10 2017: Ian Bostridge, tenor and Wenwen Du, piano
November 11 2017: Tango Buenos Aires; The Spirit of Argentina
November 12 2017 Tetzlaff Quartet
November 12 2017: Festival of South African Dance
November 17-19 2017: The Joffrey Ballet
November 24-26 2017: Imago Theatre; La Belle
December 2 2017: Claire Chase, flute
December 2-3 2017: Ragamala Dance Company; Written in Water
December 2-3 2017: Simon O'Neill, tenor
December 8-10 2017: Camille A. Brown & Dancers; BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play
December 10 2017: Takács Quartet; Garrick Ohlsson, piano
December 15-24 2017: The Hard Nut; Mark Morris Dance Group
January 27-28 2018: Peking Acrobats
January 28 2018: Musicians from Marlboro
February 3-4 2018: Circa; Il Ritorno
February 9-11 2018: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Joshua Weilerstein with Jonathan Biss, violin
February 16 2018: Dorothea Röschmann, soprano and Malcolm Martineau, piano
February 18 2018: St. Lawerence String Quartet
February 21 2018: Tony Kushner and Sarah Vowell
February 24-25 2018: Company Wang Ramirez; Borderline
February 25 2018: Sérgio & Odair Assad and Avi Avital
February 28 2018: Emanuel Ax, piano; Leonidas Kavakos, violin, Yo-Yo Ma, cello
March 4 2018: Kronos Quartet; Rinde Eckert; Vân-Ánh Võ; My Lai
March 7 2018: Eva Yerbabuena Company; ¡Ay!
March 11 2018: Wu Man and the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band
March 16-18 2018: Manuel Cinema; Ada/Ava
March 18 2018: David Finckel, cello and Wu Han, piano
March 22 2018: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Chick Corea
March 25 2018: Julia Bullock, soprano and John Arida, piano
April 6-7 2018: Spectrum Dance Theater; A Rap on Race
April 7-8 2018: Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot
April 10-15 2018: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
April 14 2018: Armenian State Chamber Choir
April 20 2018: Apollo's Fire; Monteverdi's L'Orfeo
April 21 2018: Gala at the Greek III
April 22 2018: Richard Goode, piano
May 4-5 2018: Ex Machina; 887
April 4 2018: Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
May 6 2018: TAO; Drum Heart

Cal Performances announced the 2017-2018 season on today. Lots of Baroque opera in the season including Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Charpentier's Actéon from Les Arts Florissants; Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria from the circus arts group Circa; and a semi-staged L'Orfeo by Monteverdi played by Apollo's Fire. The Koret Recital Series includes Ian Bostridge, Simon O'Neill, and Dorothea Röschmann.

Press Release | Official Site


The Woods Schwabacher Debut Recital

Woods-schwabacher-2017* Notes *
The Schwabacher Debut Recital Series continued yesterday with an unusual twist: Adler Fellow Aria Umezawa directed a narrative for mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier and bass Anthony Reed entitled The Woods: A Rom-Com Recital. Set in a bar called "The Woods," the plot (put together by Reed) involves an encounter between a lovelorn barkeeper and an unhappily married patron, pieced together with about twenty American songs including contemporary composers such as Ned Rorem, Thomas Pastatieri, and Stephen Sondheim and older favorites from Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

The staging was simple, a projection of a neon bar sign, a bar, a karaoke stage, a couple of tables and chairs, and of course the piano upstage played by John Churchwell. Clocking in at an hour, with no intermission, it was a quick and engaging evening. The pieces went together nicely and the young singers gamely played their roles.

It was especially nice to see Reed in a role that he's not ridiculously young for, as many of his bass parts on the War Memorial stage he plays are of characters seem at least three times his age. His voice is fresh and youthful despite how deep it is. Rapier too has a flexible, balanced sound that is attractive in this rep. The two sang the duets Gershwin's "I've got a crush on you" and Sondheim's "Move On" particularly well.

The next Schwabacher at the end of the month goes back to the normal recital format with pianist Warren Jones and three current Adler Fellows, but it was fun to get a taste of something different and perhaps more operatic. I had wondered how San Francisco Opera would handle having a director as an Adler Fellow, and it seems that Ms. Umezawa is bringing a lot of creativity to the fore, having recently also put together an SF Opera Lab pop-up in Oakland involved audience participation in a manner that was actually fun and not annoying.

* Tattling *
I sandwiched myself in the front row between two avid opera fans, both of whom were very quiet.


Filter Theatre's Twelfth Night at Cal Performances

12th-night-filter-theatre-2017* Notes *
Filter Theatre brought a manic 90-minute multi-media version of Twelfth Night to Cal Performances last night as part of a tour of the state. Directed by Sean Holmes, Shakespeare's comedy — already chock full of love triangles, cross-dressing, and mistaken identity — involves a lot of music and takes audience participation to a new level.

The stage has no real scenery and is littered with instruments, microphones, and various props. Alan Pagan sat at a drum kit stage left, while Ross Hughes, who shares music and sound responsibilities with Tom Haines, played ukulele and attended to other effects.

The evening was carefully controlled chaos and very engaging. From the very beginning, the unconventional nature of the production was obvious. Jonathan Broadbent, as Orsino, starts us off by wandering around the audience with a cup of mint tea, then comes to the stage with the first words of the play "If music be the food of love, play on" but in an agonizingly slow way, as if he is composing the poetry on the spot. Our Viola, Amy Marchant, wearing a damp rain poncho, asks for a man's hat and jacket, and rejected someone's rain coat in favor of something "smarter, like a blazer."

The high point of the piece is certainly the riotous Act II Scene 3, it was basically a party set to the song "What is love? 'Tis not hereafter." Jonathan Broadbent plays a very silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek here, wearing a velcro-covered cap that he catches balls on, and a ridiculous amount of balls were thrown out to the crowd so we could all try. A dozen audience members were taken on stage to dance about. A pizza from La Val's was passed around.

The most comic scenes work best. Ferdy Roberts was completely ridiculous and absurd as Malvolio when he gets the fake letter from Olivia, and his two pairs of yellow stockings with tiny yellow short shorts provoked a ton of laughs.

While I definitely appreciate how captivating the performance was, the cuts to the text are extensive. Antonio does not appear at all, and Viola's brother Sebastian only shows up at the very end. The Clown and Fabian are condensed into Feste, played charmingly by Gemma Saunders, who also is Maria. I wondered the whole time what was going to happen when Sebastian and Viola appear on stage together, since they both are played by Marchant, who simply said the lines of both parts from the stage. I don't know if this works for people that don't know the play well, but seems like it could be confusing.

* Tattling *
The audience loved this performance and it was hard to imagine anyone there was bored in the slightest.


Hamilton in SF

Hamilton-joshua-henry* Notes *
The first U.S. tour of Hamilton started in San Francisco on March 10 and already looks like a huge success. There are only two more previews before the show official opens this Thursday but it very much seems like most of the kinks have been worked out, Sunday's evening performance was tight and synchronized.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical is sharp, he brings these distant historical figures to life with hip-hop, humor, and an excellent multi-ethnic cast. It is incredible how many words he got into the 2 hours and 30 minutes of music. There's only one set which includes a revolving section in the middle, some movable staircases, and a small balcony above. The staging involves all the fancy dance numbers you would associate with any musical, with the ensemble members all singing as well.

Michael Luwoye's Hamilton is charismatic, especially in Act I. Solea Pfeiffer has a bright sound and is a lovely, sympathetic Eliza Hamilton. Joshua Henry (pictured left, photograph by Joan Marcus) does a fine job with the role of Aaron Burr, and is much more than a one-dimensional villain of the story.

It always impresses me that musicals have such tiny orchestras, in this case two keyboards (one played by conductor Julian Reeve), drums, percussion, bass, guitar, and a string quartet.

Tattling * 
It was such fun seeing how excited all the audience members were to be there. One young fan in Row M clutched the Hamilton: The Revolution book, which she seemed to have brought to the show. The woman next to me in Row N Seat 10 knew every song and often sang along. A woman behind me clapped her hands with such vigor she made contact with my head twice, her companion loved the piece so much she wanted to see it again. As I walked back to our car with my date, a couple behind us talked about putting the musical soundtrack on as they drove home.

Personally my take ways were the following: I don't think I like musicals (which is so weird, since I love opera so much) and I remember an alarming amount from U.S. history class in high school even though I haven't really thought about the American Revolution since I was about 15.


SF Opera at the Uptown

SFOperaLabPopUp2016_2_by Kristen LokenSan Francisco Opera is having its first pop-up (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera) in the East Bay at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland. Entitled "Hands-on Opera," there will be lots of audience interaction at this event on Thursday March 23, 2017 at 7:30pm.

Curated by Adler stage director Aria Umezawa, the evening will feature sopranos Sarah Cambidge and Amina Edris; tenors Amitai Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven; baritone Andrew G. Manea; bass-baritone Brad Walker; bass Anthony Reed; and pianists Jennifer Szeto and Ronny Michael Greenberg. Tickets are 25 dollars, available at Event Brite or at the door.

Official Site | Uptown Nightclub | Tickets