Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Scene 4 of Das Rheingold pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) are trickling in.
San Francisco Opera
* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's first Ring cycle this summer came to a glorious end with Götterdämmerung (Act II pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) this evening. The singing was strong and the playing exquisite.
Maestro Donald Runnicles had the glittering orchestra sounding better than ever. The tempi are exciting without being rushed. The brass was vibrant, and the solo horn player deserved being singled out at the final ovation.
In this opera, soprano Iréne Theorin had fewer harsh notes as Brünnhilde. Her quieter singing in Act III could have had more warmth and vulnerability. Tenor Daniel Brenna somehow makes the unlikable character of Siegfried winsome. He pushed his voice somewhat in Act II as he recounts his history, but was otherwise in fine form, light and pleasing.
Baritone Brian Mulligan is a conflicted Gunther, his voice is very pretty and nuanced. The bottomless depths of Andrea Silvestrelli make him a perfect match for the villain Hagen. His scene with bass-baritone Falk Struckmann (Alberich) showed off both their voices. Soprano Melissa Citro minced around hilariously as Gutrune, fluffing pillows in Act I and growing more dignified as the dark events of the opera unfold.
Jamie Barton is an appealing Waltraute, her sound has a lot of colors to it. She began the performance splendidly as Second Norn, singing beautifully with Ronnita Miller (First Norn) and Sarah Cambidge (Third Norn). The Rhinemaidens Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese, and Renée Tatum sang brilliantly.
The set changes were remarkably quiet. The staging holds the attention with physical humor and jumbled projections during the instrumental parts of the music. The little girl planting a sapling at the end of the final scene was unnecessary though.
The house manager clarified that standees save at most two spots at the rail.
There was a lot of audience attrition during the long first third of the opera, there was some talking also. A latecomer forced to wait in orchestra standing room for this part of the opera had a lot of trouble with her purse, it made a lot of metallic sounds.
An alarm rang incessantly during a soft part near the end of the opera.
The orchestra seems more settled than in the previous two performances of the cycle, there were fewer intonation errors in the brass, and the horn solo in Act II was nearly perfect. Donald Runnicles seems to bring out the best in the musicians. I especially loved the harps. The singers were never overwhelmed by the orchestra, and almost always synchronized.
Tenor Daniel Brenna is a confident Siegfried, with a sweet, well-nuanced sound. He projects a youthful aplomb that suits the character. Soprano Iréne Theorin is a powerful Brünnhilde, some of her top notes can be harsh but she has a lot of strength.
Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley's Wanderer is likewise incisive and the contrast between him and the warm brightness of tenor David Cangelosi (Mime), the richer tones of bass-baritone Falk Struckmann (Alberich), and the lush timbre of mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller (Erda) all worked well.
Bass Raymond Aceto is effective of Fafner, his death scene conveyed both a sense of wonder and regret. Soprano Stacey Tappan sounds wonderfully bird-like as the Forest Bird, though I still don't think having her be a studious girl that gestures a lot makes much sense.
Other elements of the staging have the same holes as before too. It isn’t clear what Fafner’s hiding place is exactly, Grane is referred to but isn’t represented, and so forth. The colors of the projections — many are of clouds or fire — look much brighter, I noticed a lot more lime, pink, and purple.
I was scolded for taking all the spaces in orchestra standing room by someone looking for a spot at the rail because I was saving a place for a friend rushing over from work. I could see the woman's point, but on the other hand, I bought two tickets and ran out the door right after nursing my one-year old at 7:30am to secure a good position in line.
There wasn't much talking around us during the performance, and no electronic noise either. I thought I heard a crying infant in the first act at the back of the orchestra level, but it seems the baby was taken out into the lobby fairly quickly. I can only guess this was the child of one of the singers.
I think there were two mishaps onstage. One of Mime's eggs in Act I dropped and bounced off the floor. The Wood Bird tripped near the end of Act II. In both cases, the singers involved handled themselves with admirable calmness.
* Notes *
As with the previous installment of Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera, Die Walküre (Act I pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) has beautiful playing from the orchestra and a powerful cast. Donald Runnicles drove a propulsive performance with very bright and exultant brass. The woodwinds were plaintive, especially the clarinet and bassoon.
The cast for Die Walküre has a lot of new singers compared to Das Rheingold since its last outing in 2011, most notably soprano Iréne Theorin. As Brünnhilde Theorin is able, she is icily strong and has good control of her dynamic range. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley (Wotan) could match Theorin in volume. While he's very good at sounding angry and authoritative, he did lack tenderness (at least in his voice) in the last scene as he says good-bye to Brünnhilde.
Soprano Karita Mattila's distinctive creamy tones are wonderful, but her voice isn't convincing as Sieglinde, a young woman. This was especially odd when she sang with Brandon Jovanovich (Siegmund), as he sounds sweetly youthful. But I still found her "Du bist der Lenz" moving, and her singing in Act III was poignant. Mattila also played well off of bass Raymond Aceto, who is a menacing Hunding.
Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was most impressive as Fricka, sounding bold and secure. As with everyone in the cast, she also moves well, every gesture or turn of the head conveying emotion with clarity.
The Walküren reminded me of a chorus from a Merola production, all the singers are great but very loud, and their voices did not cohere into a blended sound. In fact, most are former Merolini, only Lauren McNeese (Rossweise) is not, if memory serves. I could definitely recognize the voice of Melissa Citro as Helmwige, her piercing soprano is unmistakable, even though they are all costumed as paratroopers.
Mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum stood out as Waltraute. Laura Krumm (Siegrune), Renée Rapier (Grimgerde), Sarah Cambidge (Ortlinde), Julie Adams (Gerhilde), and Nicole Birkland (Schwertleite) all were easy to hear and distinct. Their entrance got the most reaction from the audience as they parachute in for the Walkürenritt.
Director Francesca Zambello definitely has a good sense of humor and it is a welcome part of the production. The singers are all very fine actors and the various sight gags have their charm. The projections did not look noticeably different in content to me, the first scene still reminds me of The Blair Witch Project, but the colors do look brighter and more saturated.
* Tattling *
The audience in standing room on the orchestra level was quiet. I heard some electronic noise during some of the softer parts of Act I.
* Notes *
An exuberant orchestra and strong cast in Das Rheingold opened a revival of Francesca Zambello's Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Scene 4 pictured, photo by Cory Weaver) last night at San Francisco Opera.
It is a joy to hear Maestro Donald Runnicles conduct the orchestra, which sounded driven and robust. The brass, though not perfectly precise, sounded especially bright and effusive. The harpists and percussionists also did a very fine job.
The cast is solid. Since more than half the soloists are the same as in the premiere of this production (at least as a whole cycle) seven years ago, it is fascinating to compare the different singers. For me, the standouts are still tenor Štefan Margita as Loge and mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller as Erda, both of whom had these roles in 2011. Margita’s voice is incisive without being the least bit harsh, he embodies his cunning role as demigod with a graceful ease. Miller is nothing less than a force of nature, the sumptuousness of her sound emerging from the floor of the stage as she rises from below for her entrance is very effective.
Also ably reprising their roles were the lovely Rheinmaidens Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Renee Tatum (Flosshilde), and Stacy Tappan (Woglinde). Their last scene with Margita is haunting and gave me chills.
As for those new to the cast, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is particularly promising, her Fricka is lush-voiced. I also look forward to hearing more of both bass-baritones Falk Struckmann (Alberich) and Greer Grimsley (Wotan). Struckmann has a richer tone than Grimsley, but there were heavily orchestrated moments in which I had difficulty hearing him. Grimsley is a secure presence and a good actor.
Zambello's production is wonderfully human, there's lot of great humorous moments, as when Loge tricks Alberich into becoming a toad in Scene 3 or the gods frolic in the beginning of Scene 2 and as they ascend Valhalla in Scene 4.
Revamped by S. Katy Tucker, the overwrought video projections are still the weakest link. It makes sense that visuals are needed between scenes, but it is gratuitous to add in effects that are perfectly handled by the music, as when Alberich curses the Ring. Also the descent into Nibelheim with scenes of moving through mountains paths and into caves looked especially awkward. Images of water, clouds, and fire looked best.
* Tattling *
I definitely annoyed myself the most during the performance and can hardly complain about anyone else, as I have a slight but lingering cough from asthma that's acting up because of a fire we had in our house a few weeks ago.
A woman had a seat in front of us in orchestra standing room, but she has a back condition at the moment and had to stand rather than sit. She was very apologetic when she explained her situation, saying she was the wife of "the main guy" in the opera. I wondered if she was Alberich or Wotan's wife, but it was very clear right away that it was the former.
Soprano Iréne Theorin (pictured left) replaces Evelyn Herlitzius as Brünnhilde in San Francisco Opera's Der Ring des Nibelungen this summer. Herlitzius has withdrawn for health reasons. This will be Theorin's first complete Ring Cycle in the United States. She was most recently heard on the War Memorial stage as Turandot in 2011.
September 7–30 2018: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci
September 8–27 2018: Roberto Devereux
October 3–30 2018: Tosca
October 16–November 3 2018: Arabella
November 17–December 9 2018: It's a Wonderful Life
June 5-29 2019: Carmen
June 9-27 2019: Orlando
June 16-28 2019: Rusalka
General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the 2018-2019 season for San Francisco Opera today. Highlights include Roberto Devereux with Sondra Radvanosky, Russell Thomas, Jamie Barton; Handel’s Orlando starring Sasha Cooke and David Daniels; and Rusalka with Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the title role opposite Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince.
Plácido Domingo gives a concert at the War Memorial on Sunday, October 21 at 2pm, with Jordi Bernàcer conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Other guests for the event include Ana María Martínez and Arturo Chacón-Cruz.
There are 6 conductor debuts: Marc Albrecht, Daniele Callegari, James Gaffigan, Leo Hussain, Eun Sun Kim, and Christopher Moulds. It will be interesting to see who the new music director will be.
Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Girls of the Golden West (Lorena Feijóo as Lola Montez pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) are not overwhelmingly positive but not without its proponents.
Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | Los Angeles Times | Opera West | San Francisco Classical Voice | Opera Wire | The Rehearsal Studio | The Stage | KQED | Limelight | Opera Warhorses | Financial Times | The Mercury News | Stark Insider | Civic Center | New York Times
* Notes *
Last night's world premiere of John Adams' Girls of the Golden West (Act I Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) at San Francisco Opera had some gorgeous singing and playing. But neither the music nor the artful, elegant stagecraft could save a stilted and tedious libretto.
Tellingly, the best moment of the opera is without words. The music for Lola Montez's Spider Dance held my attention after the monotony of lines and lines of narration from Gold Rush era primary sources. It helps that ballerina Lorena Feijóo looked fantastic in her red, white, and blue ruffles and danced with absolute conviction.
The playing seemed very much together under the direction of Maestro Grant Gershon, and the woodwinds sounded especially lovely. The chorus too had a cohesiveness to be admired. In fact all of the singing and acting was impressive, from the supernumerary miners and dancing girls up to the youthful leads.
Much, if not all, of the opera's text comes from original sources rather than from librettist/director Peter Sellars, and as such, there is a lot more telling than showing. There is little in the way of dialogue and it isn't always easy to understand what exactly is going on since the characters sing at us rather than interact with each other. This is especially prominent for Dame Shirley, whose words are all her own, drawn from her letters. In this leading role is soprano Julia Bullock and her fine voice seems wasted on lines enumerating mining terms she doesn't understand and the like.
The parts of the libretto that work best are based on songs or poetry, as with the miners' songs sung by the chorus or the Cantonese rhymes brought to life by talented soprano Hye Jung Lee as prostitute Ah Sing. Mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges is a dignified Josefa Segovia, a Mexican-American woman who kills her would-be rapist Joe Cannon and is subsequently judged guilty of murder and hanged. Her words come from poems by Alfonsina Storni.
I really wanted to like this opera as it features John Adams, my home state, and a brilliant cast that includes many people of color. But sadly I found myself rather bored, especially during the first act (the one bright spot being Davóne Tines' aria as Ned Peters at the end). It felt more like a discombobulating lecture in a dream than an opera, though I'll give the piece another chance next week, as it is in my subscription.
* Tattling *
The orchestra level and boxes looked very full, and standing room had a respectable crowd at the rail. A standee did collapse during Act I, but was apparently fine and did not need to be taken out of the hall.
The audience was very polite, and tried to clap after some of the main arias, but was most enthused by the Spider Dance. The opera did get a standing ovation, though I might have heard someone mutter that Peter Sellars deserved a pie in the face.
Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Turandot (Martina Serafin in the title role pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) have not make me reconsider my decision to skip the opening, but the reviews of the second cast are promising.
Reviews for San Francisco Opera's Manon (Act II, Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) are trickling in.
Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | The Rehearsal Studio | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | Civic Center | Iron Tongue of Midnight | Opera Wire | Berkeley Daily Planet
The opera hasn't been seen on the War Memorial stage since 1998, and Vincent Boussard's direction is a welcome departure from the very traditional stagings of the past.
The set (Act III, Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) seems to use the same shiny floor as seen in I Capuleti e i Montecchi five years ago, and has a similar wall in the background, but this one is curved with an uneven, slanted top. The direction produces some gorgeous images, the lighting is atmospheric and the play of shadows works very nicely. However, the acting, especially for our two leads, can feel stilted and bloodless. There was even a cringe-worthy moment at the end of Act III, Scene 2 when Des Grieux tears open his cassock and shirt out of passion for Manon, which garnered both gasps and giggles.
The much of the other acting and singing was charming. Monica Dewey (Poussette), Laura Krumm (Javotte), and Renée Rapier (Rosette) were adorable together, very minxish and almost sounded like Rheinmaidens. It is no surprise that mezzos Krumm and Rapier will both be in San Francisco Opera's Ring next summer. Tenor Robert Brubaker was perfect as lascivious Guillot de Morfontaine. His eager skips across the stage in pursuit of the ladies had a cuteness, and his anger at being snubbed by Manon is believable. Baritone David Pershall also had an attractive roguish quality as Lescaut, and a pleasant enough voice.
Vocally, our lovebirds sparkled. Soprano Ellie Dehn has a beautiful voice that has a lightness but is also seems deeply rooted and resonant. Her Manon glittered, from beginning to end. Michael Fabiano sang Des Grieux with a lot of power, and his voice is also very lovely from top to bottom.
Maestro Patrick Fournillier had the orchestra in hand, the music sounded clear without being square. The chorus shone, sounding very strong and cohesive.
* Tattling *
Though I only arrived at 7pm, I got standing room ticket 18. It was easy to find a place at the rail downstairs. This may have been the first opening performance I've attended at San Francisco Opera this year, and I saw many familiar faces in the audience.
There were some noisy latecomers during Act I, but for the most part the audience was pretty quiet, though there was some electronic noise from devices from time to time.
This is Maestro Luisotti's last series of performances as music director, and the orchestra sounded spirited during the Sunday matinée last weekend. I felt like I could hear every individual instrument from the back of the balcony. Though not always with the singers, the effect was still strong.
The production, from John Copley (lovingly known by many as "Uncle John"), is traditional, though has been livened up by Shawna Lucey and includes quite a spanking by Flora of the Marquis d’Obigny in Act II Scene 2 that I don't remember from before.
The singing had much to recommend it, and certainly was not dull. The Adlers all did well, from Amina Edris' sympathetic Annina to Anthony Reed's despairing Doctor Grenvil. Amitai Pati was particularly tantalizing as Gastone, one would love to hear him in a major role, his voice is just so beautiful.
It was fascinating to hear each of the three major principals, all of whom are new to the War Memorial stage. Artur Ruciński may have lacked a certain gravity for Giorgio Germont, he really seemed no older than his son, but his reedy, plaintive sound was lovely. Atalla Ayan (Alfredo Germont) had a wonderful rich warmth, though there were times when his voice did seem to disappear into the orchestra, as at the end of Act II, Scene 1.
Aurelia Florian has a bright, though bordering on shrill voice, but her Violetta is convincing, and she has an appealing, delicate quality that works nicely for a consumptive. She does express a lot of emotion through her sound, and could channel a wounded animal or a sweet angel depending on what was required.
* Tattling *
One definitely missed the seriousness of the Elektra audience during this performance. Many people were late as it was Fleet Week and the last day of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and traffic getting into San Francisco must have been bad.
Then again, standing room upstairs was nearly empty and I could place myself away from those who needed to chatter during the music.
The theme is electronic dance music (EDM) and opera, and will feature Adler Fellows and Loves Company. I asked co-hosts and Adler Fellows Anthony Reed and Aria Umezawa a few questions about curating this event.
Umezawa is a director who recently had a successful run of Hamlet at West Edge Opera. She is also the co-founder and artistic director of Toronto-based independent opera company Opera 5 and has an online web-series called "Opera Cheats."
How are EDM and opera similar?
Anthony Reed: That is something we have been trying to figure out during this process, and it's been a fun task. I think both forms have the power to seep into people's skin. Opera helps people escape into the lives of the characters on stage. Seeing the characters on stage can reflect and mirror one's own personal experiences and add new insight into whatever it is going on in your life at the moment. EDM helps people escape into sheer sonority. With sweeping pads, incessant rhythms, and undulating melodies it's easy to ride the highs and lows and sometimes even enter into a meditative state.
Aria Umezawa: Opera and EDM are not subtle art forms - they are both about big emotions and big moments, and how the music builds up to them. With both genres it can feel as if you are on a rollercoaster climbing a huge hill, just waiting for the drop on the other side. In many ways, they're a perfect fit!
What are the challenges of blending these genres?
Anthony: Opera by nature is an entirely acoustic art form. The glory of opera is that a single human voice can project over an entire orchestra without the assistance of amplification. There are no electronics required to send the sound into a space and directly touch the listener. EDM is the polar opposite, in most cases doing away with acoustic instruments all together. The hardest part about this event is marrying the acoustic to the electronic.
Aria: Finding repertoire that would work was a bit complicated. Anthony and I both have diverse tastes when it comes to music, and when faced with a dance party themed show, we really had to resist the urge to do more crossover pieces like "Bohemian Rhapsody." We focused on choosing works that have a great beat or that match the emotional arc people look for in electronic music.
What are we to expect from this event? What exactly will the mashups be like?
Anthony: I think people can expect to have a great time experiencing a genre blend they may never get a chance to be a part of again. Some of the singers will get a chance to affect their voices electronically and the DJs will sample some opera singing into their set lists. Ultimately we are striving for something cohesive, but the fact that these two seemingly disparate genres are existing in the same space, simultaneously, is exciting on its own!
Aria: I think you can expect to dance, to party, to hear great singing, and to hear great spinning. The mashups we have planned are going to play with both what technology can do with the operatic voice and seeing what classical music can bring to electronic music.
You have worked together before on a recital that blended art song and romantic comedy. Was that helpful in putting together this event?
Anthony: Doing my Rom-Com recital [The Woods: A Rom-Com Recital, April 9, 2017] was an exercise in thinking outside of the box. One of my biggest fears as an entertainer is to bore people. Meeting expectations is an easy way to manifest that fear. So, in everything I do, I try to approach things from a new angle that gives old forms fresh perspective. The nature of this event is that there is no box, so the challenge is trying to create one to fill.
Aria: Working together on The Woods gave us a chance to get to know each other, which I think was very helpful. I am, frankly, in awe of how creative Anthony is and how thoughtful he is as an artist. I think he's exactly the type of person that you want to partner with on a project like this, because he brings so much to the table while being collaborative.
Sounds like the reviews are mixed for San Francisco Opera's La Traviata (Act II, Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver). Interesting, since it's the only offering this October at the War Memorial.