San Francisco Opera

SF Opera's Jenůfa

Jenufa-2016* Notes *
My review of San Francisco Opera's Jenůfa up on KQED Arts.

* Tattling *
A very enthusiastic couple were in Row L Seats 13 and 15 of the orchestra level. At least one of them was crying during the performance and they were among the first to stand during the ovation. They screamed "bravo," "brava," and "bravi" at every opportune moment. Normally I hate hearing the audience during a performance, but something about their love of opera made it not bother me.


John Adams' World Premiere at SF Opera

Atomic_072_terrence mccarthyGirls of the Golden West, a new opera set during the 1850s California Gold Rush by composer John Adams and librettist Peter Sellars (pictured left, photograph by Terrence McCarthy), will have a world premiere at San Francisco Opera in November of 2017. More details will be released next January as part of the Company's 2017–18 repertory season announcement.

Press Release | SF Opera's Official Site | John Adams' Official Site


SF Opera's Don Carlo

_B5A5263* Notes *
The latest Don Carlo (Valentina Simi as Countess of Aremberg, Ana María Martínez as Elisabetta, Nadia Krasteva as Princess Eboli, René Pape as King Philip II, and Mariusz Kwiecień as Rodrigo in Act II Scene 2; photograph by Cory Weaver) that opened at San Francisco Opera this afternoon is impeccably cast from top to bottom. Michael Fabiano is a brilliant Don Carlo, with powerful high notes. Ana María Martínez sings Elisabetta with icy purity and strength. Her formidable vibrato is controlled.

René Pape is completely believable as King Philip II, his rich tones sounded mature if not slightly weathered. Mariusz Kwiecień made for a warm, sympathetic Rodrigo, his famous duet with Fabiano in Act II Scene 1 ("Dio, che nell'alma infondere") was beautiful, as was his death scene aria "Io morrò, ma lieto in core." Nadia Krasteva (Princess Eboli) has a darkness and a hard edge that works well for the role. Her "O don fatale" in Act IV Scene 1 was surprisingly lovely.

Even the smallest roles had fine singing, including Andrea Silvestrelli as the Grand Inquistor, Pene Pati as Count Lerma, and Toni Marie Palmertree as a Heavenly Voice.

The orchestra members also acquitted themselves well under the direction of Maestro Nicola Luisotti. There were moments that were fuzzy, but for the most part the music flowed nicely and was phrased skillfully.

The sets are spare and costumes lavish. Everything was very pretty to look at but a bit dull. The scene changes require a lot of pauses and this dampens the dramatic import of the proceedings.

* Tattling *
I arrived 30 minutes late as I did not realize the curtain time was 1pm rather than the normal 2pm because of the length of this opera, so I missed the first scene. Terrible!

Sadly there was much misbehavior other than my own in balcony standing room. Lots of talking and fidgeting, and at least one cellular phone. Someone exclaimed very loudly to himself during Act IV when the Grand Inquisitor tells the King that God sacrificed His own son for mankind, so he can surely kill Don Carlo without a bad conscience.


SF Opera's Carmen (Ginger Costa-Jackson)

_F2A5818 * Notes *
The second cast of San Francisco Opera's current Carmen (Adam Diegel as Don José and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Carmen in Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) production was performed a day after the first. The production is consistent, and it was impressive to me seeing it this time from Row J of the orchestra level, how much of the staging read clearly from the very back of the house as I saw it the first night.

Ginger Costa-Jackson is a sexy Carmen, her acting is on point. Her ability to emote was completely clear: she was sultry, defiant, and terrified as her role warranted. Her voice doesn't have the most volume, her high notes can be shrill but her low ones are pleasant.

Adam Diegel could always be heard as Don José, his reedy, plaintive sound cut through the orchestra. There were moments of slight strain, but again, Diegel's acting was convincing and carried him through to the end, which was very moving.

Erika Grimaldi (Micaëla) was stunningly vital and had a promising SF Opera debut with this performance. I also loved Michael Sumuel as Escamillo, his robust, beautiful sound and fine acting served him well.

* Tattling * 
It was fairly quiet, there was some light talking.

From the orchestra level I was able to recognize Jamielyn Duggan (Manuelita) as someone I took dance classes with many years ago.


SF Opera's Carmen (Irene Roberts)

_B5A0984* Notes *
Calixto Bieito's new production of Carmen (The chorus in Act IV pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) San Francisco Opera marked his US debut last night. Directed here by Joan Anton Rechi, the show was not nearly as shocking as some of Bieito's work. In fact, the staging was quite deft, and there was very little of anything that could be seen as gratuitous.

The spare set looks great from the balcony, and the space was filled skillfully, whether with people or props. The chorus didn't arbitrarily clump but got on and off stage what seemed to be a natural manner. The graceful spirals looked especially nice from above. The scene changes were particularly good, especially the heart-stopping one between Acts III and IV.

Irene Roberts (Carmen) has an interesting voice, her breaths are very noticeable and there is a strident quality to it. Yet she also has a resonance and heft that is a contrast to her tiny, doll-like frame. She looked so vulnerable next to the hulking Brian Jadge as Don José.

Jadge is very bright and strong. It's a good thing too, since he is scheduled for ten of the eleven performances right now, instead of the six he was supposed to sing when the 2015-16 season was announced. He was to share the role with Riccardo Massi, who withdrew and was replaced by Maxim Aksenov last November, who in turn also withdrew, leaving Jadge to replace him except for tonight, when Adam Diegel sings the role.

Ellie Dehn, also a replacement for previously announced Nadine Sierra as Micaëla, was likewise powerful. It isn't a role I like, but Dehn was appealing and never shrill. Zachary Nelson was perfectly fine as Escamillo, those low notes are just so hard, and he could always be heard.

The many current and former Adlers in the cast acquitted themselves well, they move nicely and it is important in a show that has so much raw physicality. They also all have such robust voices. Edward Nelson was especially good as Moralès, as were Renée Rapier (Mercédès) and Amina Edris (Frasquita). It was impressive to me that I knew who they were from the back of the house, and that their acting could read so clearly from so far away.

The weak link in the performance was the orchestra, which played at breakneck speed under Carlo Montanaro. There are many beautiful parts in the score for the woodwinds and the strings, but the musicians were going so fast it was hard to pick out even one particularly lovely solo. The rapid pace made for poor synchronization.

* Tattling * 
There was a fair amount of talking in the balcony, but since it wasn't totally packed, I was able to shift myself away from  in standing room.

A phone rang on the right side of the balcony during a quiet moment in the final act.


SF Opera's Les Triplettes de Belleville

Triplettes-de-belleville-2016* Notes *
SF Opera Lab hosted a cine-concert version of Les Triplettes de Belleville in mid-April. The 2003 animated film was projected on the south wall of the Atrium Theater as composer-conductor Benoît Charest not only lead seven instrumentalists and the chanteuse Doriane Faberg, but also played guitar.

The last evening of the run, on April 23, was completely immersive and charming. The piece has little dialogue and it is easy to take in the performers and the film at the same time without losing the thread of the narrative.

While the piece has many traditional instruments such as bass, saxophone, and such, it also requires playing a bicycle and newspaper.

Tattling *
Even the smallest children at the concert were utterly silent during the movie. This was a much different experience than seeing films with SF Symphony playing, perhaps because of the intimacy of the venue.


SF Opera's Svadba-Wedding

Svadbawedding_stefancohen044* Notes *
SF Opera Lab had its first new production premiere last night with Svadba-Wedding last night. The a cappella opera for six female voices by Serbian Canadian composer Ana Sokolović is the perfect scale for the Atrium Theater and director Michael Cavanagh's made use of the whole space.

Sokolović's opera is pretty without being cloying, the Balkan rhythms employed hold much interest. This is much closer to being avant-garde than most of the world premieres we've heard at the War Memorial in the last decade. There were moments when the music reminded me of Kitka, but Sokolović has a very charming and peculiar point of view. Often there is much humor in the onomatopoeic sounds the singers produce. The piece is short, a mere 60 minutes, but has a timelessness to it, and not at all in a bad way.

There are many instruments used by the singers including metal drinking cups with chains and spoons; tom-tom drum; gong; rainsticks, and ocarinas (ancient wind instruments). The voices have a haunting quality, there seemed to be three sopranos and three mezzo-sopranos. The singing was clear and had an immediacy in the small room.

Cavanagh's staging uses a central round platform and five other littler platforms all around the room. The audience is seated at round tables, much like a wedding reception.

Tattling *
It was hard for the audience members to talk much, given how immersive the performance was, and how the singers basically surrounded us at different moments.

After the performance was an actual reception, complete with croquembouche, champagne, and a DJ.


SF Opera Lab Preview

Sfopera-lab-2016My preview of San Francisco Opera's series at the Taube Atrium Theater and new audience initiatives for classical music organizations such as SoundBox, PIVOT, and Berkeley RADICAL is up on KQED Arts.

I heard no less than three performances at the Wilsey Center for Opera: the first iteration of ChamberWORKS that I already described, an Adler recital for donors, and the second Schwabacher recital in the space, which featured bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch and pianist John Churchwell. Definitely curious about the William Kentridge production of Winterreise this weekend to be held as the first official event of SF Opera Lab.


Atrium Theater's Inaugural Event

Sfoperalab-qa* Notes *
SF Opera Lab held the first event at the new Taube Atrium Theater last night. The evening was open to certain San Francisco Opera donors but involved having to call the box office to reserve tickets, as the space only has 299 seats.

The theater is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which consolidates SF Opera's operations on the fourth floor and basement of the Veterans Building. The space, which originally housed SFMOMA, includes an education studio that can also be used as a rehearsal venue, a costume studio, the San Francisco Opera Archive, exhibition galleries, and administrative offices. The opera moved in two weeks ago, though not everything is quite done, there has been painting and such in the interim.

The performance ended up being a salon curated by members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, part of SF Opera Lab's ChamberWORKS series. The intimate setting had a casual feel, performers addressed the audience and introduced many of the pieces. There was no printed program, instead titles were projected over digital wallpapers from the Cooper Hewitt.

The performance started with cellist Thalia Moore playing Vivaldi's Sonata No. 6 in B flat major, RV 46 accompanied by Adler Fellow Ronny Michael Greenberg on harpsichord who were joined by flutist Stephanie McNab, percussionist Rick Kvistad, and mezzo-soprano Adler Zanda Švēde, who sang a setting of ten Shakespeare sonnets to music by Pauls Miervaldis Dambis. Dambis seems to have a penchant for the Renaissance, hence the harpsichord rather than the piano.

Greenberg did shift to playing piano, and one of the highlights of the evening was certainly Robert Muczynski's Sonata for Flute and Piano Op. 14. Played with verve by Stephanie McNab, Greenberg's playing was crisp and supportive. We also got to hear a piece of Kvistad's called "Blues for Wilsey," in which the percussionist plays a drum set along with the other musicians playing their respective instruments. Greenberg played piano in this and McNab played both flute and piccolo.

The performance was capped by the Habanera and Seguidilla from Bizet's Carmen, accompaniment arranged for vibes, cello, flute, and piano by Peter Grunberg. Švēde is brilliant, getting the emotional import of all the words through her voice. She made her entrance through the audience, and it was a testament to how great the Meyer Sound system is, because it sounded nicely balanced -- not too loud or dry.

* Tattling *
The audience was extremely focused and quiet. It was fun hearing the musicians speak, especially Kvistad, who joked the more he studied music, the less notes he was allowed to play, especially at the opera, where he must be the highest paid musician per note.

The theater can get rather warm, and the controls to the AC system have apparently not been handed over to the opera yet, as we learned from the Q&A with the performers and Elkhanah Pulitzer, Director of Programming for the SF Opera Lab (pictured above). Also, one of the lenses of the projection system needs replacement, most of the images were pretty blurry.


SF Opera's 2016-2017 Season

Open-house-david-wakelySeptember 9-30 2016: Andrea Chénier
September 10-29 2016: Dream of the Red Chamber
September 28- October 15 2016: Don Pasquale
October 14-29 2016: The Makropulos Case
November 5- December 6 2016: Aida
November 6- December 4 2016: Madama Butterfly
May 31- July 1 2017: Rigoletto
June 4-30 2017: Don Giovanni
June 10-July 2 2017: La Bohème

David Gockley announced the next season at San Francisco Opera today. Lawrence Brownlee has an SF Opera debut in Don Pasquale. Nadja Michael stars in Makropulos. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo sings the title role of Don Giovanni next year and Marc Minkowski conducts.

Ted Hearne's The Source and Poulenc's La Voix Humane will be performed at the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater next year in February and March.

Press Release | Official Site


SF Opera's Fall of the House of Usher Double Bill

Debussy-2015* Notes *
My review of San Francisco Opera's Usher House and La Chute de la maison Usher is up on KQED Arts.

* Tattling *
There was a fair amount of inappropriate laughter at the Gordon Getty piece, but this was more about staging than music. Also the use of "Eddie" to refer to Poe struck some as amusing. Many people around me seemed clearly bored, the man next to me in Row J Seat 7 nearly fell asleep.


SF Opera Summer 2016 Cast Changes

Ellie_Dehn_HeadshotEllie Dehn (pictured left) replaces Nadine Sierra as Micaëla in the first cast of San Francisco Opera's Carmen, which opens May 27, 2016. Tenor Maxim Aksenov makes his War Memorial Opera House debut in the alternate cast as Don José replacing Riccardo Massi. Both Sierra and Massi are withdrawing for personal reasons. Jordi Bernàcer will replace conductor Carlo Montanaro for the final performance on July 3.

Soprano Ana María Martínez sings the role of Elisabetta di Valois in SF Opera's Don Carlo, replacing Krassimira Stoyanova who has cancelled because of "ongoing health concerns that prevent her from traveling long distances." Bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto will sing the role of King Philip II in the final performance of Don Carlo on June 29, in lieu of René Pape who has a scheduling conflict. As planned, Mr. Pape will sing the first five performances on June 12, 15, 18, 21 and 24.

Carmen | Don Carlo | San Francisco Opera Press Release


SF Opera's Il barbiere di Siviglia

_B5A2612* Notes * 
A revival of Emilio Sagi's busy production of Il barbiere di Siviglia (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) returned to San Francisco Opera after only two years. The proceedings last night did not come into focus until the finale of Act I, but the result was a definitive success, unlike much of what has gone on this season.

The director this time around is Roy Rallo, but the production was fairly close to Sagi's original work. One such subtle change was the guitar in the serenade was given to someone in the orchestra pit rather than being played by Almaviva. Llorenc Corbella's set is great for changing the scenes but it is hard to tell what is inside and what is outside, it is a platform with a few walls on the left side of the stage. Objects and people can enter and exit from under the platform, but this often felt a bit random, as during Don Basilio's La Calunnia aria, when a white curtain noisily appears under the platform and is blown across the right side of the stage. The main part of the set is also quite white, as are many of the costumes, so the end, which has lots of bright shawls, mylar balloons, cotton candy, confetti, and firework projections, is a happy contrast.

Maestro Giuseppe Finzi had the lively orchestra going at a fast clip and there were times were rather loud, especially during Act I. It was difficult to hear "Largo al factotum," even though Lucas Meachem (Figaro) ordinarily has a strapping sound. Meachem occasionally sounded out of breath, but he is a fine actor and is funny. Daniela Mack is a cheeky, charming Rosina. Her voice is not to my taste for some reason, something about her vibrato and the resonances of her sound, but she is competent and again, acts well. René Barbera is a wonderful Almaviva, his bright voice has a beautiful consistency from top to bottom. His coloratura is gorgeous.

Everyone sang nicely together, and the ensembles were a joy. The supporting cast is solid. Alessandro Corbelli is always impressive as Doctor Bartolo, his patter is excellent. Catherine Cook is a delight as Berta, as is Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio.

* Tattling * 
The balcony was full for the night before Thanksgiving performance. There was some talking from old and young alike, but the audience seemed engaged and interested.