SF Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber Reviews

_F2A9844Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviewers of San Francisco Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber (Pictured left with Pureum Jo as Dai Yu, photograph by Cory Weaver) agree that the singing is great.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | Los Angeles Times | Wall Street Journal | Financial Times | San José Mercury News | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | Culture Vulture | Classical Voice North America | bachtrack | The Rehearsal Studio | Civic Center | Berkeley Daily Planet | ChinaFile


SF Opera's Ring Cast 2018

_MG_5462San Francisco Opera has announced the cast for its next Ring cycle (Die Walküre pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), which runs from June 12 to July 1, 2018.

June 12–July 1, 2018

Evelyn Herlitzius is Brünnhilde, Greer Grimsley is Wotan, Daniel Brenna is Siegfried, and Karita Mattila is Sieglinde. Maestro Donald Runnicles returns to conduct this revival of Francesca Zambello's production, first seen here in 2011.

Production Web Site | Press Release


SF Opera's Chénier Reviews

_B5A4768Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Andrea Chénier (Act II pictured left with Yonghoon Lee in the title role, photograph by Cory Weaver) are mixed so far.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | San José Mercury News | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | Not For Fun Only | The Bay Area Reporter | The Huffington Post | Berkeley Daily Planet | The Rehearsal Studio


SF Opera Tenor Cast Changes Fall 2016

WORKMAN_CharlesCharles Workman (pictured left) replaces Scott Quinn as Albert Gregor in San Francisco Opera's The Makropulos Case, which opens October 14, 2016. Tenor Vincenzo Costanzo will make his United States opera debut as Lt. B. F. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly replacing Maxim Aksenov. Butterfly opens November 6, 2016. Both Quinn and Aksenov are withdrawing for personal reasons.

The Makropulos Case | Madama Butterfly | San Francisco Opera Press Release


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.


SF Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber

_B5A5145* Notes * 
Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang's Dream of the Red Chamber had a world premiere at San Francisco Opera on Saturday night. The music was upstaged by the breathtaking stagecraft (pictured in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver), and marred by an ungainly libretto.

Based on the Qing Dynasty epic by Cao Xueqin, frame story concerns a stone and a flower asking to be reincarnated as humans, the stone becomes Bao Yu, male heir of the Jia family, and the flower becomes Dai Yu, his cousin. The opera must condense the 2,000 page novel into less than three hours, and thus the plot is stripped down to essentials, a love triangle between Bao Yu, delicate and artistic Dai Yu, and worldly beauty Bao Chai with the backdrop of court intrigue and aristocratic life.

This is a perfect scenario for opera, and the art direction from Tim Yip is spot on. His sets are light and dreamy, easily changing scenes with the use of platforms, screens, projections, and layers and layers of ornate fabric. Director Stan Lai uses all these elements to stunning effect and the theater of the piece comes out very clearly in the visual aspect, especially in Dai Yu's last scene, which includes the very simple use of blue cloth to represent water, but is both incredibly beautiful and moving.

Sheng's music isn't bad, there's some interesting chromaticism, bending of notes, and percussion, some soaring lyricism that eschews blatant sentimentality. The only additions to a pretty standard orchestra are in the percussion (if you are going to use a gong, this is the right place) and the qin, a seven stringed plucked instrument that is similar to a very quiet guitar. The qin, played by Zhao Yi, had to be amplified, which was done tastefully and well. The orchestra, conducted by George Manahan, sounded clear and together.

The weak link, as with many contemporary operas, is the libretto, co-written by the composer and famed playwright Hwang. Performed in English to make the story more immediate to the San Francisco audience, the words could be painfully awkward, as in Act I, Scene 4, after a gorgeous ballet dream sequence. There was too much telling rather than showing, we don't need to hear Bao Yu sing that "aroused" by his erotic dream, it should be apparent in the music. There were definitely moments when I tried to focus on the action and the singing rather than the words. On the other hand, the framing of the story with a narrator, in this case a monk played by actor Randall Nakano, was poignant.

On the other hand, the singing was fantastic. Soprano Pureum Jo has an ideal voice for Dai Yu, and sounded utterly ethereal. Tenor Yijie Shi was plaintive and bright as Bao Yu. Mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts (Bao Chai) radiated sophistication and touching vulnerability, while mezzo Hyona Kim (Lady Wang) sang with rich power and clarity.

The cast has many high principal voices, so it was nice to hear the fine chorus, which is prominent in the piece.

* Tattling * 
While there were only six people in the standing room line by 10am, there were quite a few more people when we lined up to get in at 6:20pm, as there were no tickets for seats left.

Many audience members wore Chinese-themed clothing to the performance, and red silk brocade seemed most popular.


SF Opera's Andrea Chénier

_B5A4679* Notes * 
The 94th season of San Francisco Opera opened last night with Andrea Chénier, Umberto Giordano's concise verismo piece about the poet killed in the French Revolution. The opera has a number of gorgeous arias, and the cast assembled (pictured in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver) was certainly up to the task.

Especially impressive were the titular character and his beloved, both debuts at San Francisco Opera. Tenor Yonghoon Lee is a dapper Chenier and has an expansive, bright sound. His "Un dì all'azzurro spazio" in Act I was showed much promise, and he really did soar with his Act IV aria " Come un bel dì di maggio." Vocally, soprano Anna Pirozzi (Maddalena) matched Lee, her voice is clear and flexible. Her high notes do not have the slightest hint of strain. Pirozzi's "La mamma morta" in Act III was a show stopper, incredibly wrenching and lovely.

Top to bottom, the cast was strong. Other notable debuts on the War Memorial stage included baritone George Gagnidze as Carlo Gérard, a former servant and revolutionary leader, who of course loves Maddalena, and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges as Bersi, Maddalena's mulatto servant girl. Gagnidze gave a nuanced turn as the conflicted Gérard while Bridges sang with much power.

The lucid orchestra, conducted by Maestro Nicola Luisotti, was supportive of the singing, and only rarely got ahead. The volume of the musicians never overwhelmed the singers. The chorus was together and sturdy.

David McVicar's production is straightforward. The sets, from Robert Jones, are attractive but sadly take quite a long time to change. Jenny Tiramani's costumes are very pretty.

* Tattling * 
There was no one in the standing room line besides myself until after 9am.

We heard from San Francisco Opera's new General Director for his first opening night in the role. The Chairman of Board of Directors seemed to have momentarily forgotten the Music Director's name. Again, the audience was restrained this year, and cheered Nancy Pelosi when she was acknowledged.


Fall Children's Performing Arts Preview 2016

Tf-fafner-2016* Notes *
My Fall guide of performing arts for children in the Bay Area is up on KQED Arts.

* Tattling *
My son (pictured with San Francisco Opera's Magic Flute shirt and Fafner stuffed animal, photograph by Scott Grieder) really won't stop listening to Cecilia Bartoli's Mozart Arias CD from 1991. It might be an improvement to his obsession with the second act of Philip Glass' Satyagraha. He really did hear seven Wagner operas in nine days at Bayreuth in utero. Plus Einstein on the Beach at Los Angeles Opera. Poor thing!


Dream of the Red Chamber Preview

Dream-red-chamber-preview-2016* Notes *
My preview of San Francisco Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber up on KQED Arts. The opera, by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang, premieres on Saturday.

* Tattling *
Co-chairwoman of the committee for the world premiere Doreen Woo Ho (pictured left at a press event with designer Tim Yip, General Director of SF Opera Matthew Shilvock, composer Bright Sheng, and director Stan Lai) hopes the opera will be as big as Hamilton. Sheng joked that he has a long way to go before he is Verdi, given that this is only his second full-length opera.


SF Choral's Verdi Requiem

Sfcs-verdi-requiem-2016* Notes *
My review of San Francisco Choral Society's Requiem by Verdi is up on San Francisco Classical Voice.

* Tattling *
The adolescent girl (who was there with her little brother and their mother) in front of me in Row H of the Orchestra level, had a seat for her purse that was full of cellular phones and a big bouquet. She took many selfies as we waited for the performance to begin.

The children behind me ate candy doled out in plastic bags during the entire performance. This was evidently to bribe them to stay occupied and silent as their mother sang. It was effective except that the bags rustled at times but I must be getting more tolerant or nicer or something, because it didn't really bother me that much, if at all.


West Edge Opera's Cunning Little Vixen

Weo-vixen-bows-2016* Notes * 
West Edge Opera opened its 2016 festival with The Cunning Little Vixen last night at the abandoned 16th Street train station last night in Oakland. While the orchestra could have been crisper under Maestro Jonathan Khuner, the beauty of Janacek's score comes through. Pat Diamond's production has a ton of charm and the singers did well.

In a time when there's so much awful news, it's easy to want to find an escape, whether it is the latest iteration of a blockbuster movie franchise or Pokémon GO. But what West Edge Opera has achieved here with Janacek's lightest opera represents more than mere distraction from the headlines, a refuge of sorts. The piece is a beautiful meditation on the cyclical nature of life, and though certainly sad, is also celebratory.

The reduced score by Jonathan Dove was played by a tiny orchestra of only 16 that made an impressively huge sound, sometimes overpowering the singers. There were intonation issues, but lots of spirit. Volti Chorus and Piedmont Children's Chorus looked and sounded great as well. The children are ridiculously cute.

The storybook set (pictured above) is also teeny-tiny, with an attractive forest motive that could be projected on with images of ferns, bark, brick, and even a deer head. The lighting, especially the shadows, looked quite evocative of a forest near an urban space with the gorgeous decaying train station walls. The staging is lively, and no one seemed constricted by the lack of space. The costumes are cute and not slavishly descriptive, the chickens wear yellow tutus, nary a feather in sight, but it is completely clear who and what they are.

The one misstep was perhaps the Dragonfly, a dancer in ribboned dress who flitted around between songs. Though her choreography was fine, and she managed to navigate the small space without running into anything or anyone, the dancing did not add much to the performance and seemed gratuitous.

Baritone Philip Skinner sang the Forester with warmth and humanity. Amy Foote is a piquant Vixen, her icy voice is nice and light but pierces through the orchestration. She has a lovely control of her instrument. Nikola Printz (Fox) sang with power and also has a slight strident quality that works for the role.

Joseph Meyers (The Schoolmaster), Nikolas Nackley (The Parson), and Carl King (Harasta) contributed fine performances, rounding out a strong cast.

* Tattling * 
The couple behind me talked at full volume for the beginning of the first and third acts.


West Edge Opera's Powder Her Face

Weo-powder-bows-2016* Notes * 
West Edge Opera's 2016 festival continued at the Oakland 16th Street train station Sunday afternoon with Powder Her Face. Maestra Mary Chun conducted Thomas Adès' chamber opera with precision. The production from Elkhanah Pulitzer is characteristically racy but somehow does show a little compassion for these very unlikable characters as well.

The music by Adès is a study in extremes, lots of highs and lows in the vocal lines. It seems very punishing and complicated. At times I found it pretty harsh, but the four singers were massively impressive, and all sounded and looked great. No one was drowned out by the orchestration, even though the musicians were loud, perhaps because we were on the same level as the orchestra and the acoustic of the station is not particularly suited to opera.

Before the performance it was announced that baritone Hadleigh Adams had a tickle in his throat, but it was hard to tell, his singing was strong. He had lots and lots of very low notes and rather high ones, and somehow reached them all with seeming ease. Soprano Emma McNairy also sang with power and nonchalance, hitting all sorts of notes in her upper register without simply sounding like a squeak toy.

Soprano Laura Bohn was a fine Duchess, terribly heartless in the beginning and startlingly vulnerable in the end. I was not expecting to feel sorry for her, but somehow the music and production came together nicely here.

Pulitzer's staging involves nudity, pink lighting, and wigs changed on stage, all elements we saw in her Lulu last year. She even wore Emma McNairy's platinum bob during the curtain call. But it all fit, and it is even clear that the composer himself was influenced by Berg, so it did make a certain sense. The set is simply a hotel room (Number 69, no less) with a sandbank on one side of the floor next to the bed. At one point sand falls onto the stage, the sands of time, doubtless, and the Duchess grasps at it helplessly, certainly the most striking image in the production.

* Tattling * 
I was surrounded by opera lovers that were all fairly quiet, though the man to my left might have fallen asleep for a few minutes during the middle of the first act.