San Francisco Conservatory of Music

SFCM's L'elisir d'amore

Sfcm-elisir* Notes *
Last week the San Francisco Conservatory Opera Program held two performances of L'elisir d'amore. The charming production marked the debut of director Jose Maria Condemi, who is incoming Director of Opera at the school. The spacious set (pictured left) features a runway downstage of the orchestra pit, and different levels upstage. The costumes looked to be from the 1940s.

Proceedings were rather lively, the young singers moved vivaciously. There was much physical humor, and Daniel Cameron was particularly amusing as Belcore. Evan Kardon (Adina) was hilarious in "Io son ricco e tu sei bella," rowing in an inappropriate but entertaining style. Sergey Khalikulov's Dulcamara was funny as well.

As for the music, most of the voices were bright and light, perfect for this opera. Mario Rojas (Nemorino) sang "Una furtiva lagrima" with beauty, and the bassoonist played nicely. Sabrina Romero's pretty voice suited Giannetta, and was a contrast to Kardon, whose sound is stronger and more piercing.

Scott Sandmeier conducted a spirited orchestra. The playing was rapid but mostly together, with only a few squeaks here and there.

* Tattling * 
The Saturday performance was sold out. There was a distressing amount of talking from many audience members.

Julie Adams Interview

Adams, JulieSan Francisco Conservatory of Music alumna Julie Adams (pictured left) was one of the winners of Met Council Auditions this year. She sang the role of Blanche DuBois in André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire as a participant of the Merola Opera Program this summer. The program concludes this Saturday with the Grand Finale.

What was the first opera you sang in?
I was in the chorus of Die Fledermaus at L.A. County High School for the Arts. I initially went there for musical theater, but I don't dance, so that didn't work out so well. Stephanie Vlahos, who is in the music faculty there still, introduced me to opera.

Did you go to the recent performance of A Streetcar Named Desire in Los Angeles?
Yes, I managed to go to the last performance. I was on the edge of my seat, since I knew the music and was curious to hear how Renée Fleming tackled the role of Blanche. Her artistry is amazing.

How was it singing Blanche for Merola?
It was really hard but so rewarding. It was difficult to learn and I had to rely on muscle memory to get the starting pitches, as Previn didn't score things so that the orchestra is there to help. I miss the role now as I was living with it for so long. It was very intense. The movie version is obviously iconic, we had to bring something different to the roles and to make them our own.

What are your favorite operas?
I love Puccini. Bohème is one of my favorites and Mimì is a dream role for me. I also love Marriage of Figaro. Magic Flute, I know not everyone likes that one, but I do. Mozart is, of course, a genius. Traviata. Manon. Susannah. I am so excited that San Francisco Opera is doing this one. This is another dream role. I love Carlyle Floyd.

Is there a particular singer to you look up to?
Pat Racette. I admire her with my whole heart. She always gives 110 percent. She always moves me, and I think that is why people go to the opera, to be moved.

What do you think of musical theater as opera?
I think it is great, it gets people into the opera house. Obviously the opera wouldn't take on contemporary Broadway works. For Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kern and Hammerstein, or Gilbert and Sullivan, it completely makes sense. It is great music and is accessible.

What was it like to sing at the Met?
It was a great experience, very glamorous and thrilling. I was so nervous, so it was hard to be in the moment, but my favorite part was the Sitzprobe, when we rehearsed with conductor and orchestra. I sang "L'annee en vain chasse l'annee" from Debussy's L'Enfant Prodigue, which the orchestra wasn't familiar with, obviously, as the opera isn't done that much. The conductor, Marco Armiliato, asked me to bear with them, but the Met Orchestra is incredible. The musicians are such lovely people too.

What are you singing for the Merola Grand Finale?
The "Cherry Duet," "Suzel, buon dì…Tutto tace," from L'amico Fritz with Mr. Casey Candabat. I am also singing Alice in the final piece, "Volgiti e mira…Tutto nel mondo è burla." We are singing on the Susannah set, so we are all in formal wear on a desolate, stark stage.

One of your interests is watching professional hockey games. Do you support a particular team?
The Los Angeles Kings, sorry Sharks fans. Hockey is exciting and I enjoy watching games with my dad and brother.

SFCM's Postcard from Morocco

Postcard-portland* Notes *
San Francisco Conservatory Opera Program is currently presenting Argento's Postcard from Morocco. A co-production with Portland Opera, the set and costumes are entirely professional. The action takes place within a waiting room of a transit station, which has rows of chairs that are easily wheeled about. The concept behind the staging is inventive, though there were certain moments that did not quite make sense with the text. For example, in addition to their attributes, all of the characters have the same suitcases. This was especially confusing for A Man with Old Luggage, as he had both a rucksack meant to signify his old luggage, and the large off-white square piece of baggage exactly like everyone else's. The production matches the opera in being highly surreal, including a possessed slide projector.

Curt Pajer conducted a small orchestra that sounded clear and lively in Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. The musicians occasionally overwhelmed a few of the singers. The playing for the "Souvenirs de Bayreuth" section of the opera was entertaining. The cast on Thursday night's performance was talented. Laura Arthur (A Lady with a Cake Box) and Sergey Khalikulov (A Man with a Cornet Case/A Puppetmaker) made fine contributions to the evening. Molly Wilson (A Lady with a Hand Mirror) and Mason Gates Neipp (A Man with Old Luggage) were particularly good in the operetta duet. Ellen Preseley impressed as A Foreign Singer. Daniel Cameron was a touch quiet as A Man with a Shoe Sample Kit, but his acting was strong. Woojeong Lee sounded bright as A Man with A Paint Box. His accent was obvious at times but his voice is rather pretty.

* Tattling * 
The audience was restless during the instrumental section. A latecomer took a seat in Row L Seat 2, but switched seats at one point, placing herself directly in front of someone in Row J. Not only was the offender's underwear distressingly visible above her jeans, she deigned to talk to her friends in the row of her new seat.

Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions 2014

Met-auditions-2014The 2014 winners of the Metropolitan Opera (pictured left) National Council Auditions are sopranos Julie Adams and Amanda Woodbury; tenor Yi Li; bass-baritone Ao Li; and bass Patrick Guetti. Four of these five are associated with the Merola Opera Program. Adams and Woodbury are Merolini this year. Yi Li was in Merola in 2012 and Ao Li was in Merola in 2010. Ao was, of course, also an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera for three years. Adams recently graduated from San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Official Site

SFCM's Ariodante

Partitura_aria_ariodante* Notes *
San Francisco Conservatory Baroque Ensemble presented two semi-staged performances of Händel's Ariodante last weekend. Corey Jamason conducted the orchestra, and the period instruments sounded full in Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. Staying in tune proved rather challenging at times, at least on Sunday afternoon. The musicians did play with much spirit and zest.

The singing was rather good all around, the students fit their parts. Many of the singers were quite loud, especially bass Christopher Filipowicz. Others had difficulties at the edges of their ranges, whether it be uncontrolled high notes, or low notes that did not sit nicely in the voice. Nonetheless, the performance was delightful. Elena Galván was a bright-voiced, diffident Dalinda. Nikola Printz made for a threatening, sensual Polinesso. Johanna Bronk was impressive in the title role, her "Scherza infida" was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly silent. A hearing aid was rather loud in Act I, but was not heard in Acts II or III. I learned that the person sitting to my right has the exact same birth date as mine. Later that day I learned that I would hear the sister of the person to my left play next week in Switzerland.

Trio Appassionato at SFCM

Frederica-von-stade* Notes *
Last Sunday and Monday San Francisco Conservatory Opera Theatre presented works by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. The performance, entitled Trio Appassionato, was held as a salon in which the biographies of aforementioned musicians were covered. Frederica von Stade (pictured left) hosted, with Darryl Cooper and Curt Pajer accompanying four student singers. The conceit, thought up and directed by Lotfi Mansouri, worked very well for Flicka. She is charming and explaining the songs and how they related to the lives of the Schumanns or Brahms seemed to come naturally to her. Both pianists spoke, made musical commentary, and played solo pieces.

The script, developed by Richard Harrell, and written and researched by Kathryn Cathart, held together fine. One can see how it would work as a presentation in schools. The young singers did not sell it as expertly as Flicka or the pianists, but perhaps this just made them more endearing. The singers on Sunday afternoon were soprano Antonia Tamer, mezzo-soprano Raquel Fatiuk, tenor Daniel Bates, and baritone Ryan Bradford. For the most part their singing was strong though not always nuanced. Flicka joined in for Brahms' "Rede, Mädchen, allzu liebes" and for the encore, Wiegenlied.

* Tattling *
The audience was attentive, though some electronic noises were heard.

SFCM's Così fan tutte

Cosi fan tutte* Notes *
San Francisco Conservatory of Music's spring opera this year is Così fan tutte (Sergio González, Kate Allen, Julie Adams, and Efraín Solís pictured left in Act I, photograph by Betsy Kershner), which opened at Cowell Theater last night. The orchestra was lead by the resident conductor of San Francisco Opera, Giuseppe Finzi, who kept the students together despite the challenges of the space. The tempi were rapid, perhaps even somewhat rushed, but the playing approached a certain crispness not usually heard in Cowell, as the pit is not ideal.

The singers were all quite game, acting and singing with exuberance. Randall Bunnell (Don Alfonso) sounded light and fresh. Sergio González may have sung the role of Ferrando rather gingerly at times, but made it all the way through the piece without a problem. Efraín Solís sang Guglielmo with richness and volume. Julie Adams (Fiordiligi) has lovely high notes, though her low ones lack the same pleasant resonances. Kate Allen (Dorabella) has a strong, pretty voice. Soprano Maya Kherani was a charming, engaging Despina, and really hammed it up as the Doctor and the Notary.

The production, directed by Heather Mathews, is frothy and silly. Perhaps this is most appropriate for students, but it did not leave much room for the characters to develop. The set involves various arches, pillars, and such that could be turned around or pulled here and there to change the scenes. There were a lot of whimsical details, such as apparent trios of winged jelly donuts atop each of the two arches. The choreography was similarly cute. The chorus did have some trouble marching on beat for "Bella vita militar," but otherwise the movements and gestures all read well.

* Tattling *
There was some sort of frilly painted piece of wood at the beginning of Act II, Scene 1 that I was not able to make sense of, at first it seemed like a bed, but then Despina walked behind it. Perhaps it was a bathtub? In any case, I didn't understand why Fiordiligi and Dorabella would be wearing shoes in either a bed or a bathtub.

BluePrint: North and South

NicolePaiementRogerSteenBW* Notes *
The tenth season of the BluePrint project opened yesterday evening at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The concert started with John Harbison's North and South, with mezzo-soprano Julienne Walker. The New Music Ensemble sounded clear and together under the expert direction of Maestra Nicole Paiement (pictured left, photograph by Roger Steen). Walker's voice is steely but flexible. The songs are jazzy and accessible. This was followed by Kurt Rohde's rather charming Concertino for Solo Violin and Small Ensemble (2010). The soloist, Axel Strauss, played nimbly with the ensemble. The piece is humorous, and the movements are all aptly named.

Erwin Schulhoff's Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra, Opus 43 was most impressive, especially the soloist, Keisuke Nakagoshi. The Allegro alla Jazz was played with vibrancy, and it was wonderful to hear how much fun everyone was having. The concert ended with an excerpt from Harbison's The Great Gatsby, arranged for chamber orchestra by Jacques Desjardins. The singers, mezzo-soprano Erin Neff as Myrtle and baritone Bojan Knezevic as Wilson, are both strong performers with beautiful voices. The duet they sang was semi-staged in that Neff fell to the ground, which struck me as slightly strange. Knezevic's accent was noticeable in words like "pretty" and "worrying," but he and Neff were easy to understand without looking at the text provided in the program. There certainly is much to look forward to in Ensemble Parallèle's production of the opera, which is scheduled for February 2012.

* Tattling * 
The audience was rather silent, only a few whispers and rustles were heard. During the ovation for the Rohde piece, I realized we had been seated next to the composer, and could not stop laughing over this. Two loud beeps were heard during the Alla marcia maestoso of the Schulhoff.

SFCM's Dialogue of the Carmelites

Dialogue-of-the-carmelites * Notes *
SFCM Opera Theatre presented Poulenc's Dialogue of the Carmelites, in English translation, last weekend. Michael Morgan held the orchestra together, and for the most part, the orchestra and singers were on beat. There was some raggedness in the brass and woodwinds, and the music certainly did not sound easy. Whatever was used for the scored guillotine noises at the end was not convincing, and were inappropriate to the grave proceedings.

However, the Saturday performance was ambitious, and even moving. Much of the singing was strong, and everyone was clearly working hard. The direction, from Richard Harrell, had nearly every moment filled with some sort of movement. Peter Crompton's sets moved easily to switch out the scenes, and Kate Boyd's lighting also helped out with this. The costumes from Maggie Whitaker fit the narrative.

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering, but the worst offenders left at one of the two intermissions. At the first intermission, a rather loud man started off a conversation with "I am not a racist but" and then went on to say he could not accept person in one of the contralto roles because of her race, it did not make sense to him how she could be cast. He went on to say he could not imagine San Francisco Opera making such a casting "error," but was corrected by his companion, who gently said that casting does have to do with vocal type. One wonders what this person would have thought of Jessye Norman as the New Prioress, which she has sung to no small acclaim.

BluePrint: Riding the Elevator into the Sky

Breckenridge * Notes *
The ninth season of the BluePrint series at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music opened on Saturday night. The performance started with the West Coast premiere of Laura Schwendinger's Chiaroscuro Azzurro, which featured violinist Wei He. The New Music Ensemble sounded tightly together under conductor Nicole Paiement, whose every move seemed carefully noted by the musicians. Schwendinger's music ranged from ghostly to strident to meditative.

After intermission we got a bit of a preview of Ensemble Parallèle's forthcoming Orphée production, first in the form of the selections from the Orphée Suite, arranged for solo piano by Paul Barnes. Keisuke Nakogoshi played movements II, III, IV and VII. The playing was compelling, simply very beautiful. This was followed by the world premiere of David Conte's Sexton Songs, sung by soprano Marnie Breckenridge (pictured above, photograph by Michael Strickland) who is also singing in the aforementioned Orphée. Breckenridge was ill, and there may have been an ugly edge to her voice as a result, but she was arresting in these five poems by Anne Sexton set to music. Again the ensemble sounded clear and coherent.

* Tattling *
Since I sat next to John Marcher and behind SFMike, there is very little to tattle about as far as the audience. The audio system did misbehave and played during the Glass instead of just before the Conte.

Eleazar Rodríguez's Senior Recital

Eleazar-rodriguez * Notes *
Tenor Eleazar Rodríguez's senior recital at San Francisco Conservatory of Music was last night. Accompanied by pianist Alexander Katsman, Rodríguez sang songs from Charles Gounod, Ottorino Respighi, Joaquin Turina, and Robert Schumann. The Gounod sounded very pretty, sweet, and bright. His voice is flexible and does not sound constricted at the top. When he moved on to the Respighi he floated the last notes of "Nevicata," and showed off some beautiful low notes in "Nebbie." Of the Turina pieces, "Nunca Olvida" was particularly splendid.

After the intermission came Dichterliebe, which began with a fluid ease. There was a moment in "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" where pianist and singer were not exactly together. A few of the low notes were lost in "Ich grolle nicht." On the other hand, "Aus alten Märchen winkt es" had a fine liveliness. Compared to Rodríguez's performance last October, he was more focused, and his communication of the emotional content here gained some clarity. The two encores were Tosti's "Chanson de l'adieu" and Donizetti's "Una furtiva lagrima." One hopes he will sing the role of Nemorino in Merola Opera Program's L'elisir d'amore this summer, and if so, this is certainly something to look forward to.

* Tattling *
The audience was filled with all the usual suspects: students, staff, members of the Opera Standees Association, volunteers for San Francisco Opera's coffee service, and Adler Fellows. As a result, everyone was rather quiet and attentive. Some of the singers in rehearsal for SF Opera's Die Walküre had to hurry over to make in time, but managed to do so before the music began.

Conservatory Baroque Ensemble at SFCM

Viola-da-gamba * Notes * 
The Conservatory Baroque Ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music played a recital on Wednesday. The first half of the program featured viola da gamba, both first year and second year students They played Thomas Lupo, William Byrd, Joan Ambrosio Dalza, and a harpsichord joined a bass viol in Bach's Sonata in G Major for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord. The playing was lovely, though not always precisely together.

The second half of the program started with a Vivaldi duet on Baroque cello with Elizabeth Reed, one of the directors of the ensemble. The piece was played with passion. This was followed by Michael Corrette's Concerto: Le Phénix, written for four bassoons and continuo, but played deftly by four contemporary celli instead. The evening ended with three songs from Leonardo Vinci. Soprano Georgia Duan has a pretty voice, and her duet ("Che bella nzalatella") with tenor Michael Jankowsky was cute.

* Tattling * 
The audience, which consisted of the elderly, staff, and students, was very quiet.

Ensemble Parallèle's Wozzeck Presentation

Ensemble Parallèle's Artistic Director and Founder Nicole Paiement is giving a musical presentation about Berg's Wozzeck and a behind the scenes glimpse of the upcoming production. Bojan Knezevic and AJ Glueckert will offer musical examples and director Brian Staufenbiel will be on hand for a question and answer session on staging concepts.

This event occurs on December 10 at 6:30 p.m. at San Francisco Conservatory of Music (50 Oak Street, San Francisco) and is followed by a reception. Seating is limited and responses will be counted on a first come, first served basis. One should contact Lucik Aprahamian at or by phone 831 252-0573.

Charlie Brown at SFCM

Charlie-brown  * Notes *
Last night the Musical Theatre Ensemble of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music gave a student performance of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, which they will repeat tonight with a different cast. The performance certainly was heartfelt and sweet. The vocalists used microphones, as to be heard over the instrumentation, which, at times, involved electric bass, saxophone, and rather heavy percussion. The simple staging was suited to the venue, and the choreography was very good, though not perfectly together. The musical itself is a bit too kitschy in the wrong sort of way, it has all the earnestness of Schultz's Peanuts, but is somehow not as poignant.

* Tattling * 
The audience did talk and text during the performance, but was for the most part fairly well-behaved. At the end of the performance, the stage directors came out and danced with the students, and Michael Mohammed did 555 95472's moves convincingly.

SFCM's Orpheus in the Underworld

* Notes *
SFCM Opera Theatre presented Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld this weekend. Bruno Ferrandis conducted with lightness and cheer, but there were several moments that were not synchronous. This seems to be a common problem at Cowell Theater, perhaps owing to some awkwardness of the pit, which is very narrow. The singing likewise was not always with the orchestra, some of the tempi were overly ambitious. The chorus was especially not together when they were made to sing on either side of the audience in the first half of the performance.

That aside, it was a delightful evening, and some of the singing was quite good. The music is likeable, and the can-can is certainly fun. The opera was set in 1960s San Francisco, which worked perfectly well and was entertaining. It was particularly amusing that Mount Olympus was the War Memorial Opera House, suggested by a projection of the proscenium. The choreography was strong, the students were able to pull it off to hilarious effect. The costumes were of good quality and were convincing.

* Tattling * 
There was a fair amount of talking aloud during the beginning of the evening, but this relented after the intermission. Public Opinion's pink suit looked smart, but could have used one good once over with an iron, at least on the skirt.