San Francisco Lyric Opera

The Little Match Girl Passion at SF Lyric Opera

Little-match-girl-passion-sf-lyric-opera* Notes *
San Francisco Lyric Opera returned after a hiatus of more than two years with a performance of David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion at ODC Theater last night. The new incarnation of this ensemble is sleek and fresh. Lang's piece is scored for four voices and half a dozen percussive instruments, but it is the singers that are meant to play the drums or bells. A conductor is necessary in this case, and Barnaby Palmer kept the music mostly together. The singers were lightly amplified and sounded ethereal. They did well with the simple percussion, but it did not seem like second nature to them to be playing and singing.

It is always a pleasure to hear Eugene Brancoveanu, though his part was not extensive in this piece. Tenor Eric Maggay Tuan's voice was pretty and clear. Celeste Winant (alto) had the most prominent vocal role, and sang with beauty. Soprano Ann Moss sang gracefully and blended nicely with Winant.

The production, designed by Frédéric Boulay (of Ensemble Parallèle) and directed by E.E. "Chip" Grant IV (of Urban Opera), is unflinching and effective. It was striking how unlike this was from SF Lyric Opera's cute, slightly musty fare in years past. The black and white video projections interspersed with purple lighting were tasteful. Anastazia Louise's choreography was eerie, enhanced by her white painted face and limbs, and her white, ragged costume. Her complete commitment to every movement was evident.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet, only a few whispers were heard near the beginning of the piece. Despite being threatened to be "hunted down like a bird dog" if one's cellular phone rang, one electronic tone was heard as the singers sang "God have mercy."

The Turn of the Screw at SF Lyric

Cowell * Notes *
San Francisco Lyric Opera's production of The Turn of the Screw opened last night at Cowell Theatre. The singing was very good all across the board. Interestingly, half of the singers were also in the Oakland Opera Theater production from last October. Brooks Fisher (Miles) has grown quite a bit in the intervening months, he is now taller than Madelaine Matej (Flora). His angelic voice is somewhat louder now, but there were a few brief moments when he was difficult to hear because of the orchestra. It may have been better if he was not so far upstage when singing with all of the instruments. Madelaine Matej sounded slightly flat during the end of Act I, but was otherwise fine, her volume was always good, and her acting was strong. Soprano Lara Bruckmann did not make much impression on me as Miss Jessel, but perhaps this was because tenor Trey Costerisan was so splendid as Peter Quint. Costerisan's voice is exceedingly pretty, both warm and brilliant. Kathleen Moss, who just sang Judith with Berkeley Opera, was occasionally overwhelming as Mrs. Grose, as her voice was the most powerful in the cast. Moss was able to rein it in for the most part, and her acting was convincing. Anja Strauss was impressive in the principal role, her Governess is certainly on the frightening, hysterical side. Her tones were lucid and crystalline. The orchestra played well under the direction of Barnaby Palmer, the musicians were perfectly synchronized with each other and with the singers. The only disappointment was keyboard used instead of a real piano. The keyboard was noticeable, it sounded strange.

The production was not as creepy as the one at Oakland Opera Theater, perhaps because of the choreography and stage direction. The ending was a bit weird in this regard, it would be hard to understand exactly what was happening if one had not read Henry James' novella. As far as the scenery was concerned, the projections used were great when static, but whenever they were used to portray the spectral or mad, they veered into unintentional tackiness. At one point in Act II, a heretofore static window projection multiplied and warped, and the effect was just silly and not scary at all. Thankfully, the background was easy to ignore, as it was not in constant motion, and the otherworldliness came out best in the music. Also, Meghan Muser's costumes were a fine distraction, every one of the outfits was absolutely gorgeous.

* Tattling *
One person booed stage director Heather Carolo, presumably because he did not like the ending. Also, t
he charming person who sang along to La Bohème was there again, right next to me, as we both have subscriptions. I was able to shift one seat away from her, as the theater was half empty. She is, apparently, not terribly familiar with the work of Benjamin Britten, and was unable to accompany the singers. She did have fun during the intermission listing which operas of Britten she could remember, naming five out of fourteen, I could hardly do better. She also declared it a shame that so few people had turned out and mentioned that Joshua Kosman would be reviewing this Sunday's performance. However, the music is disquieting and is meant to make one feel uncomfortable, which is certainly not for everyone.

La Bohème at SF Lyric

La-boheme-poster* Notes *
A charming production of La Bohème opened at San Francisco Lyric Opera at Cowell Theater last night. The orchestra was not quite together, and at times the singers were not with the orchestra either. For the first act I was unable to stop listening to the orchestra, as it was on the same level as the audience and I was only in the second row. By chance I was right by the violas, which brought me back to the days of being in my high school's orchestra. Kim A. Tolman's set was artful and perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the opera. The changes of scene went smoothly and the background projections were not distracting. Most of the costumes were good, though the blue gown Mimi wore in Act IV looked like it was borrowed from Romeo and Juliet. All the singers were fine, especially Shawnette Sulker as Musetta. Sulker was quite the actress as well. Tenor Vincent Chambers (Rodolfo) and baritone Nathaniel Hackmann (Marcello) both showed promise.

* Tattling *
The person next to me in Row E Seat 104 must have been under the impression that this was a sing-along opera, for she sang with nearly every famous aria. She was rather flat, but certainly she knew many of the words. Notably she did not sing Colline's aria in Act IV, nor did she announce the title beforehand, but thankfully she conducted, swaying her right hand back and forth.