* Notes *
Christopher Alden's delightfully humorous production of Partenope opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The stylish set (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), designed by Andrew Lieberman, was enhanced by Adam Silverman's lighting. Costume designer Jon Morrell did a wonderful job evoking 1920s Paris and Man Ray. The staging matches the absurdity of the plot rather well, embracing silliness with use of bananas, dancing, and hand shadow puppetry. It was refreshing to see something a little less sedate than the other offerings of the 2014-2015 season so far.
The reduced orchestra of only 39 musicians sounded fresh and vital under Maestro Julian Wachner. The horns had a rough start but in the end managed to sound sublime. The continuo was played beautifully by the conductor and Peter Grunberg on harpsichord, cellist David Kadarauch, and theorbist Michael Leopold.
The most of the singers employed much physicality in their performances. Philippe Sly danced foppishly and sang with warm effortlessness. His outrageous costume in Act III involved a puffy pink flowered gown, red evening gloves, and a Pickelhaube festooned with bananas. Anthony Roth Costanzo was an endearing Armindo who managed to sing his first aria ("Voglio dire al mio tesoro") while falling down or hanging on to stairs. He also tap danced during "Ma quai note di mesti lamenti" in Act III. The clarity of his voice came through despite all these antics. Alek Shrader's tenor sounded robust, and as Emilio he put on a hand puppet show that was amusing and engaging.
David Daniels (Arsace) gave a nuanced performance. He seemed slightly behind the orchestra in "Furibondo spira il vento," but sang has a lovely and tender "Ch'io parta?" in Act III. Daniela Mack seemed to perfectly embody the role of Rosmira and sounded pretty too. She spends most of her time on stage pretending to be a man, and the contrast between Mack and the titular leading lady was marked. As Partenope, Danielle de Niese sparkled and was vivacious. Her voice seemed heftier and throatier than I remembered. Her dancing was particularly sharp. Everyone sounded fully present in the moment and the finale of the piece was especially rousing.
* Tattling *
Our neighbors in Box I introduced themselves and shared a chocolate strawberry with us. There was a confrontation between a man at the back of Box H with a woman who showed up in the middle of Act II. He suggested that she did not have a ticket for Seat 4 and mentioned she had not been there for the first third of the performance.
* Notes *
A fourth performance of San Francisco Opera's A Masked Ball this season was held yesterday. The orchestra and singers were more synchronized, but there were times when the former was slightly ahead of the latter. At times this was excitingly chaotic. There were lovely soli from the cello, English horn, and clarinet. The harp was particularly beautiful throughout Act III as well.
The principal singers were consistent. Heidi Stober sang Oscar with an effortless grace. Dolora Zajick has a rich sound as Madame Arvidson. Ramón Vargas sounded sweet as Gustavus III. His high notes were somewhat tepid in the duet with Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia) in Act II Scene 1. Di Giacomo was triumphant again in her role and garnered much applause and cheering.
Thomas Hampson (pictured above with Julianna Di Giacomo in Act III Scene 1, photograph by Cory Weaver) makes for a grave, measured Anckarström. His "Alla vita che t'arride" was more reserved than Brian Mulligan's and his Act III "Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima" was more threatening.
* Tattling *
Standing room was again not crowded, perhaps because San Francisco Opera hardly ever has Monday night performances. A mobile phone rang in Act I at the back of the north side of the balcony, and a woman chose to take the call but at least she hurried out of the hall to do so.
* Notes *
Last night San Francisco Opera performed A Masked Ball a second time this season. The traditional production is the same as the one seen here in 2006, Jose Maria Condemi's direction is similarly straightforward, if not slightly bland. The ball scene (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), however, is quite festive. This performance had Brian Mulligan singing Count Anckarström instead of Thomas Hampson, and Mulligan sings again on October 22nd. Nicola Luisotti conducted a rich and lush sounding orchestra. The volume was not overwhelming to the voices, at least from the back of the balcony. The orchestra was often ahead of the singers, this was particularly noticeable in Act II, when Anckarström appears to warn Gustavus.
Dolora Zajick is utterly convincing as Madame Arvidson, her deep, full sound is well-suited to the role. Brian Mulligan sounded strong as Count Anckarström, and his first aria, "Alla vita che t'arride," was gorgeous. Ramón Vargas (Gustavus III) has a pretty, reed-like voice, but was perhaps the weakest of the principals. Heidi Stober made for a dazzling and boyish Oscar. Julianna Di Giacomo (Amelia) sounded clear and sonorous. Her debut on the War Memorial stage certainly seems a success.
* Tattling *
Axel Feldheim kindly saved me a spot at the railing, though it was not crowded in standing room, perhaps because the San Francisco Giants were playing the Washington Nationals in game four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park. The opera displayed the scores before the opera and during intermissions. The audience cheered when the results were favorable.
Julianna Di Giacomo (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) made an impressive debut at San Francisco Opera in Un Ballo in Maschera as Amelia.
San Francisco Opera's General Director, David Gockley (pictured left, photograph by Terrence McCarthy), has announced his retirement in July 2016. He concludes a ten-year, seven-month tenure with the Company and a career spanning 44 years. Gockley, who will be 73 at the end of the 2015–2016 season, became the Company's sixth general director when he joined San Francisco Opera in January 2006. The announcement was made at a War Memorial Opera House press conference today.
The incoming 2015 Adler Fellows are mezzo-soprano Nian Wang, tenor Chong Wang, baritone Edward Nelson, bass-baritone Matthew Stump, bass Anthony Reed, and coach and accompanist Ronny Michael Greenberg. They join current Adlers Julie Adams, Maria Valdes, Zanda Švēde, Efraín Solís, and Noah Lindquist. Soprano Julie Adams joined the 2014 class of Adler Fellows in Fall 2014 and will continue as a first-year Adler Fellow in 2015. The outgoing 2014 Adler Fellows are Erin Johnson, Jacqueline Piccolino, A.J. Glueckert, Chuanyue Wang, Hadleigh Adams, and Philippe Sly.
* Notes *
The fifth performance of San Francisco Opera's new production of Norma was held yesterday. This was the third go with tenor Russell Thomas replacing Marco Berti. I also heard that as of the Friday, September 19th performance, Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured as Norma with the chorus in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver) and Jamie Barton (Adalgisa) were singing in the original, higher key. Again, the orchestra sounded wonderful under the direction of Maestro Nicola Luisotti. The woodwinds played well, and the horns were particularly good at the end of Act II, Scene 9. The chorus also was lovely and sounded unified.
As Pollione, Russell Thomas has a bright, pretty sound. He certainly is a better vocal match for the talented female leads and sings with much more ease than his predecessor. His voice contrasts well with tenor A.J. Glueckert's brassy Flavio. Thomas sounds more reed-like, Glueckert more metallic.
Jamie Barton sang a potent Adalgisa, the higher notes did not seem to be an issue for her at all. Sondra Radvanovsky sounded brilliant in the title role, her approach is nuanced and simply gorgeous. Her "Casta Diva" was lustrous and the Act I finale was sublime.
* Tattling *
The railings in standing room on the balcony level were all taken. A family of four was late, and one of the daughters spoke at full-volume, garnishing her a hushing from a standee.
Note that I was reading the score for this performance, so only heard the music. Looking forward to seeing it again, as there are two more shows.
American tenor Russell Thomas (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) will sing the role of Pollione for the remaining five performances of San Francisco Opera's Norma on September 14, 19, 23, 27 and 30, 2014. Thomas replaces Italian tenor Marco Berti, who has withdrawn from the production for personal reasons. Additionally, Jamie Barton will sing the role of Adalgisa on September 19 and 23. She was previously scheduled to sing five of the seven performances.
Yesterday the San Francisco Opera Association and members of the American Federation of Musicians Local 6 announced they have negotiated a new four-year agreement for the San Francisco Opera Orchestra effective August 1, 2014. Following almost four months of bargaining, the new agreement creates a stable working framework now through July 31, 2018.
Music critics loved Patricia Racette in the title role of San Francisco Opera's Susannah (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver).