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 Parallèle's Flight

Flight2616_captioned* Notes *
Opera Parallèle has opened another near impeccable production with Jonathan Dove's Flight, which has a three performance run this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Featuring an ensemble of 10 vocalists, the cast, mostly alumni of the Merola Opera Program, is incredibly strong. The small orchestra of 29 musicians also played with precision and verve.

The piece, though based on the true story of Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri and his extended stay in the Charles de Gaulle airport, is both comedic and tragic. British playwright April de Angelis' narrative is taut and the most of characters are compellingly human, having very understandable emotions that come through the music. The Older Woman, played by San Francisco Conservatory of Music faculty member and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, is both very funny as she recounts her romance with a young man, yet beautifully vulnerable. As the heavily pregnant Minskwoman who refuses to board her airplane, mezzo Renée Rapier sings a gorgeous confessional aria about how much has changed and how she would like to be free again.

Dove's vocal writing is lyric and he deftly handles the ensembles, the overlapping conversations seem natural and flow together nicely. Duets between the bickering couple of Bill and Tina were especially great, as were the contrasting passionate Steward and Stewardess. Tenor Chaz'men Williams-Ali (Bill) had a wonderful warmth and soprano Amina Edris (Tina) got to show off some fiery and hilarious coloratura when she became angry with him.

More otherworldly are the top billed characters of the Controller, sung here by soprano Nikki Einfeld, and the Refugee, countertenor Tai Oney. Einfeld spends most of her time up in a room by herself observing and commenting on the action from above. Her voice is clear and biting. Oney's vocal type lends itself to a certain mysticism, as the most defenseless person of the opera, he tries to charm others into helping him, telling them what they want to hear. Oney had a few hooty notes at the beginning, but really sounded lovely for the rest of the evening.

Maestra Nicole Paiement is nothing if not consistent, and again proved herself to be truly one of the best opera conductors in the Bay Area. The orchestra played Dove's music, which is clearly influenced by minimalism, with ease. The orchestra never seemed head of the singers, but also never sounded slack.

Director Brian Staufenbiel employs a wall of 15 square screens at the back of what looks like a typical airport lounge. The video projections develop the story in a literal way by showing airplanes or rain and also try to heighten certain more mysterious passages with abstraction, such as swirling purple smoke. There is much movement both with those on stage and in the projections, driving in the fact that we are in a space for transit, except for the hapless Refugee.

* Tattling * 
The announcement to turn off cellular telephones and locate emergency exits before the performance sounded like something out of one would hear at an airport.


Merola's 2017 Season

2016GalaJune 11 2017: Merola Opera Program 60th Anniversary Gala & Concert
July 6-9 2017: Schwabacher Summer Concert
July 20-22 2017: La Serva Padrona/ Savitri/ The Bear
August 3-5 2017: La Cenerentola
August 19 2017: Merola Grand Finale

The Merola Opera Opera program announced its 60th anniversary season this afternoon at the John M. Bryan Education Studio in San Francisco.

Merola is commissioning its first work, If I Were You, by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. The opera, based on the novel by Julien Green, is slated for the 2019 season.

Official Site


Lyric Opera Chicago's 2017-18 Season

Civicheader-lyricSeptember 23- October 15 2017: Orphee et Eurydice
October 7- November 3 2017: Rigoletto
November 1-30 2017: Die Walküre
November 19- December 10 2017: The Pearl Fishers
December 5 2017- January 27 2018: Turandot
February 4-28 2018: I Puritani
February 17- March 16 2018: Così fan tutte
March 3-21 2018: Faust
April 27- May 20 2018Jesus Christ Superstar

Nov. 1-30

The 2017-2018 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago today. Highlights include Orphee et Eurydice with the Joffrey Ballet, which goes to Los Angeles Opera next year and the continuation of the latest Ring with Die Walküre.

The other new productions are Faust and Jesus Christ Superstar.

2017-2018 Season | Official Site


Dallas Opera's 2017-2018 Season

Dallas-operaOctober 20- November 5 2017: Samson and Dalila
October 27-November 12 2017: La traviata
February 9-17 2018: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Ring of Polykrates
March 9-17 2018: Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden
April 13-29 2018: Don Giovanni

The Dallas Opera announced a 2017-2018 season which includes the American premieres of the Korngold rarity The Ring of Polykrates and Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden.

Official Site


LA Opera's 2017-2018 Season

Chandler_balconiesSeptember 9-23 2017: Carmen
October 7-28 2017: The Pearl Fishers
October 14-November 19 2017: Nabucco
October 28-31 2017: La Belle et la Bete
November 9-12 2017: Keeril Makan's Persona
January 27- February 18 2018 Bernstein's Candide
March 10-25 2018: Orpheus and Eurydice
May 12- 31 2018: Rigoletto
May 26 2018: Matthew Aucoin's Crossing
June 22-24 2018: Gordon Getty's Usher House and Canterville Ghost

Los Angeles Opera announced its next season on Facebook Live this evening at 6:30pm. Domingo sings the title role of Nabucco, Morris Robinson sings Zaccaria. Robinson returns as Sparafucile in Rigoletto. Maxim Mironov and Lisette Oropesa star in Orpheus and Eurydice with the dancers of the Joffrey Ballet. Oropesa also sings Gilda in one of the Rigoletto casts, sharing the role with Irina Lungu. Of local interest, Sara Jobin conducts the Gordon Getty operas and Brian Staufenbiel of Opera Parallèle directs.

Official Site


SF Opera's 2017-2018 Season

WMOH9_JoelPuliattiSeptember 8- December 9 2017: Turandot
September 9-27 2017: Elektra
September 23- October 17 2017: La Traviata
November 4-22 2017: Manon
November 21- December 10 2017: Girls of the Golden West
June 12-26 2018: Das Rheingold
June 13-27 2018: Die Walküre
June 15-29 2018: Siegfried
June 17-July 1 2018: Götterdämmerung

General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the 2017-2018 season at San Francisco Opera today. Highlights include John Adams' new opera about the Gold Rush, Girls of the Golden West, to premiere this November and a revival of the Ring cycle next summer directed by Francesca Zambello.

The two new productions are Elektra, previously seen in Prague and Manon, which has the same team that did the recent I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Both operas boast stellar casts: the powerhouse trio of Christine Goerke, Stephanie Blythe, and Adrianne Pieczonka lead the Strauss opera while Nadine Sierra and Michael Fabiano star in the Massenet.

Michael Fabiano
Michael Fabiano

Press Release | Official Site


Das Klagende Lied at SFS

Harvey Cooke* Notes *
Last weekend Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony presented Das Klagende Lied with some wonderful vocal soloists (Joélle Harvey and Sasha Cooke pictured left with dancers, photograph by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony) and a somewhat incoherent but pretty staging. The early Mahler cantata is narrated by four singers and a chorus, since the characters aren't played by the vocalists, having a staging confuses the plot.

The biggest problem with the performance was not James Darrah's direction, which involved four dancers, two children, and lots of tree video art from Adam Larsen. It was the piece itself, which dates from 1880, and is one of the earliest works of Mahler's that still exists. It sounded a lot like substandard Wagner, and while interesting, it did not make for compelling drama.

The singers were great, baritone Brian Mulligan is rich toned, tenor Michael König is robust, and soprano Joélle Harvey is as clear as ever. Best of all is mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, whose ethereal voice has brilliant high and low notes. She also sounded lovely in the Songs of a Wayfarer that was performed before the intermission.

The orchestra sounded shimmery throughout the Sunday afternoon performance and the brass was clear and bright in the beginning Blumine. MTT kept a stately pace.

Tattling *
The audience was patient and silent, giving a standing ovation at the end.


Adler Concert

12.2.16_SFO-1885* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows had an especially impressive annual concert at Herbst Theater last Friday. Supported by the talents of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Maestro Jordi Bernacer, the new resident conductor, the singers gave one electrifying performance after another.

San Francisco Opera has been keeping the Adlers busy this fall, and it was great to hear the likes of tenor Pene Pati and baritone Edward Nelson take center stage for a change. Pati is arresting every time I hear him, and as Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, he sang "Che sei tu che ardisci aggirarti furtivo?" with utter conviction, making Nian Wang (Romeo) seem a bit weak in comparison. Pati was charming in a duet with his wife Amina Idris (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken), they sang "Quoi, vous m'aimez? ... De cet aveu si tendre" and were very cute. Pati also did very well with "Quango le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller.

Edward Nelson was another standout, his acting was perfect for the duet he sang with soprano Toni Marie Palmertree from Pagliacci. He was completely engaging in "Look, through the port comes the moonlight astray" and one hopes to hear him cast as Billy Budd sometime in the future.

Julie Adams had my favorite aria of the evening with "Glück das mir verblieb" from Die tote Stadt, a reminder both of her incredible voice, put to use only in smaller roles like Kate Pinkerton and Kristina lately, and of the amazing run we had of this opera back in 2008. Adams also gave a riveting performance of "The trees on the mountain" from Susannah.

I was most taken aback by hearing bass Anthony Reed in Song of the Viking Guest from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko, he sounded really nice. Oftentimes I find it hard to appreciate the Adlers with lower voices, as they tend to be less far along in their development, and it's hard to extrapolate how their voices will be in decades to come. Reed often sounds a little underpowered to me, and his youth is always at odds with the old man roles he plays on the War Memorial stage.

 

* Tattling *
It has been so long since I've been to one of these concerts that I didn't realize it is held in Herbst rather than the War Memorial. I had to scurry over and thank goodness traffic hadn't been worse, or I would not have made it in time.

I sat next to a critic who asked me if Toni Marie Palmertree had to step in as Butterfly for a performance, which I confirmed, she sang the role on November 18. On the other side of me was an enthusiastic man who forgot to turn off his phone, which rang before the singing started for the first aria, but kept making sounds as he tried to disable it.


LA Opera's Akhnaten

Akhnaten* Notes *
Los Angeles Opera's recent Akhnaten, which closed last Sunday with a matinee performance, was nothing short of spectacular. With Philip Glass' hypnotic score, an excellent cast, and a grand production featuring acrobats and a flexible, multi-level set, it was hard to look away from the stage for even a second.

This is the third of three biographical operas by Glass, the first two being Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha, which focus on Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi. This opera deals with the life of pharaoh Akhenaten, who abandoned polytheism in favor of worshipping Aten, a sun deity. The text of the opera is in Ancient Egyptian, Biblical Hebrew, and Akkadian.

The music features many arpeggios and no violins, it is not as surreal as Einstein and not as austere as Satyagraha. The music does seem difficult to perform, and though not perfectly precise, the LA Opera orchestra did admirably under the direction of Matthew Aucoin. The chorus members looked like they were all concentrating very hard as well, especially when they had to throw balls as they sang.

The main character is sung by a countertenor, in this case by the very talented Anthony Roth Constanzo, who is a regular at the Met and also had a star turn in San Francisco Opera's Partenope a few years ago. Constanzo has a beautiful, pure tone. He did sound somewhat shrill in Act II Scene 2, his duet with Nefertiti, but he was incredible in the rest of the piece. The epilogue was especially gorgeous, and certainly soprano Stacey Tappan (Queen Tye) and mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges (Nefertiti) made strong contributions here as well. Tappan has a clear, sweet sound and Bridges is powerful without dominating the other voices.

The smaller roles were all beautifully cast. Baritone Kihun Yoon (Horemhab), bass-baritone Patrick Blackwell (Aye), and tenor Frederick Ballentine (High Priest of Amon) sang with an unparalleled cohesion. The six daughters of Akhnaten sounded elegant and lovely, particularly sopranos So Young Park and Summer Hassan. Even the non-singing role of the scribe, who narrates the scenes in lieu of supertitles, was expertly performed by bass Zachary James, a imposing presence with an attractive voice, even if he didn't sing here.

The striking co-production with English National Opera opened at that opera house last March. The set, which looks to be made of metal and is designed by Tom Pye, features three levels and sliding doors, it is contemporary and easily moved but still formidable, especially when populated by the chorus and the supers. Kevin Pollard's costumes make nods at Ancient Egypt but also reference other eras. The look is a bit Steampunk and also a bit H.R. Giger. Akhnaten's robes have baby doll heads on them, for instance.

Director Phelim McDermott makes use of ten jugglers, an acknowledgement of the earliest known depiction of juggling being found in Egypt and of Philip Glass' music, which requires similar adroit, well-timed skill. The jugglers, dressed for the most part as cracked statues, add to both the spectacle and otherworldly quality of the piece. McDermott never lacks for ideas, there was a huge hamster wheel in Act I and Contanzo is completely naked for much of this act as he is slowly maneuvered into his pharaoh clothing. Act II Scene 4 has a giant balloon aloft mid-stage, prettily lit different colors until it clearly represents the sun. The six daughters have blue dreadlocks that all tie together, and the scene in which they are drawn into the crowd is very effective and disturbing. The production has a coherence that never detracts from the music.

* Tattling *
This final performance looked completely full, and I made a point of trying to sit near the stage, as I had heard the visual aspect of the production was very compelling. Also, one would think being so close to the performers would make one embarrassed to talk. This was not completely true, the women in Row C Seats 9 and 10, the second row, made a lot of comments, but at least they were about the action, however uninsightful ("Pretty" or "Like Cirque du Soleil") they sometimes were.


Simon Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker

Simonrattle* Notes *
The day before Thanksgiving last week I went to hear Maestro Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic play a second performance at Davies Hall on their current tour. The concerts mark Rattle's farewell as principal conductor as he will not extend his contract when it ends in 2018. The orchestra sounded clean without feeling uptight or frightened, and played with a lot of joy.

The performance began with Rattle speaking about the first pieces about to be played, which were an answer to the previous night's program which featured Mahler's 7th. This evening included Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra, and Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra, which was played as a "14 movement suite or Mahler's fictional 11th Symphony" according to the conductor.

The pieces all had a lot of percussion and the four musicians in charge of this had a lot to do. The Schoenberg was sinuous and graceful, while the Webern was much more spare. It was clear when we got to the Berg because everything became much more lush. The large hammer "with non-metallic tone" used in this piece is comically huge and was very amusing to watch and hear.

The Brahms, Symphony No. 2 in D major, was wonderful to hear. Played with absolute jubilation, it was one of the only times I have heard this composer without thinking of pastures and cows and was instead engaged with the cheer and vibrancy of the musicians. The horn was especially great, warm and secure without sounding overly loud or sterile.

Tattling *
The audience well-behaved, everyone clearly wanted to be there aside from one or two who left at appropriate times and without making a fuss.

It was a fitting send-off for House Usher of Davies, Horacio Rodriguez, who retired after this performance.


Jake Heggie's Next West Coast Premiere

Jake_heggie_piano[1]It's A Wonderful Life, a new opera by composer Jake Heggie (pictured left, photograph by Art & Clarity) and librettist Gene Scheer is based on Frank Capra's 1946 film and will have a West Coast premiere at San Francisco Opera in the 2018-19 season. The work has a world premiere at Houston Grand Opera this Friday.

Press Release | SF Opera's Official Site | Jake Heggie's Official Site