San Francisco Opera

SF Opera's La Traviata Review

_B5A8025* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's recent La Traviata is very pretty both in the orchestra pit and on stage.

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.


SF Opera Lab's Operatronica

2.11.16_SFOLab-1658SF Opera Lab is back with another pop-up (previous event pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) next Thursday at the dance club Mezzanine in San Francisco.

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.

Reed is a singer that has a whimsically funny vlog, My BASSic Life, about being an operatic bass and is half of the EDM group Rœhn.

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.


SF Opera's La Traviata Reviews

_37A0080Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

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.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Examiner| San Francisco Classical Voice| The Rehearsal Studio | The Bay Area Reporter | Berkeley Daily Planet


SF Opera's Elektra Review

_37A6151* Notes * 
Despite glowing reviews, I was apprehensive about hearing San Francisco Opera latest Elektra yesterday afternoon because I have never much liked the music of Richard Strauss. My doubts were dispelled almost at once, this stylish production has an excellent cast and conductor, and works both theatrically and musically.

Originally directed by Keith Warner in Prague last year, Anja Kühnhold has taken the reins here to fine effect. The opera is set in a museum, and looks very convincing. People wander around the exhibits before the music begins and even the announcement asking patrons to turn off devices has been switched to one for a museum rather than a performance. I really enjoyed the artfulness in the direction, the eye is drawn around the stage and there are surprises as far as the space and the entrances of singers.

The look of the set matches the singing and playing, everything is clean and crisp. Maestro Henrik Nánási had a promising San Francisco Opera debut, though the orchestra included 100 musicians, the music did not blare or overwhelm. The brass played neatly and the woodwinds sounded absolutely lovely.

The cast is top notch. Though I was disappointed that Stephanie Blythe was replaced by Michaela Martens as Klytemnestra in these performances, Martens was commanding in the role. Tenor Robert Brubaker simpered perfectly as Aegisth, while bass-baritone Alfred Walker (Orest) sang with power. The recognition scene of Orest and Elektra was incredibly creepy, and Walker definitely can act and sing.

In the title role, soprano Christine Goerke likewise is a respectable singing actor, though there isn't really a dance for her at the end, and this works perfectly well. Goerke has some beautiful deep rich low notes and a ton of endurance. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka's sound as Chrysothemis is a very pretty counterpoint to Goerke, her high notes are so shimmery.

* Tattling * 
I loved how quiet the balcony level audience was for this performance.

The end of the Elektra program (and I'm going to guess it is in the Turandot one also) has a "Postlude" from General Director Matthew Shivlock that addresses "Inclusion, Equity, and Opera." I liked that it recognized orientalism in opera and addressed building dialogue with new audiences, but remain vaguely skeptical as always. It will be interesting to observe what happens.


SF Opera's Don Giovanni 2017 Cast Change

Erwin Schrott_pic1_ThommyMardo (2)Bass-baritone Erwin Schrott (pictured left) and bass Erik Anstine will share the role of Leporello in Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera this summer. Both artists are making their debuts with the company and are stepping in for previously scheduled bass Marco Vinco, who has withdrawn for health reasons. Schrott is scheduled to sing the first six performances from June 4 to 21 and Anstine the last two on June 24 and 30.

Don Giovanni | San Francisco Opera Press Release


The Woods Schwabacher Debut Recital

Woods-schwabacher-2017* Notes *
The Schwabacher Debut Recital Series continued yesterday with an unusual twist: Adler Fellow Aria Umezawa directed a narrative for mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier and bass Anthony Reed entitled The Woods: A Rom-Com Recital. Set in a bar called "The Woods," the plot (put together by Reed) involves an encounter between a lovelorn barkeeper and an unhappily married patron, pieced together with about twenty American songs including contemporary composers such as Ned Rorem, Thomas Pastatieri, and Stephen Sondheim and older favorites from Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

The staging was simple, a projection of a neon bar sign, a bar, a karaoke stage, a couple of tables and chairs, and of course the piano upstage played by John Churchwell. Clocking in at an hour, with no intermission, it was a quick and engaging evening. The pieces went together nicely and the young singers gamely played their roles.

It was especially nice to see Reed in a role that he's not ridiculously young for, as many of his bass parts on the War Memorial stage he plays are of characters seem at least three times his age. His voice is fresh and youthful despite how deep it is. Rapier too has a flexible, balanced sound that is attractive in this rep. The two sang the duets Gershwin's "I've got a crush on you" and Sondheim's "Move On" particularly well.

The next Schwabacher at the end of the month goes back to the normal recital format with pianist Warren Jones and three current Adler Fellows, but it was fun to get a taste of something different and perhaps more operatic. I had wondered how San Francisco Opera would handle having a director as an Adler Fellow, and it seems that Ms. Umezawa is bringing a lot of creativity to the fore, having recently also put together an SF Opera Lab pop-up in Oakland involved audience participation in a manner that was actually fun and not annoying.

* Tattling *
I sandwiched myself in the front row between two avid opera fans, both of whom were very quiet.


SF Opera at the Uptown

SFOperaLabPopUp2016_2_by Kristen LokenSan Francisco Opera is having its first pop-up (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera) in the East Bay at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland. Entitled "Hands-on Opera," there will be lots of audience interaction at this event on Thursday March 23, 2017 at 7:30pm.

Curated by Adler stage director Aria Umezawa, the evening will feature sopranos Sarah Cambidge and Amina Edris; tenors Amitai Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven; baritone Andrew G. Manea; bass-baritone Brad Walker; bass Anthony Reed; and pianists Jennifer Szeto and Ronny Michael Greenberg. Tickets are 25 dollars, available at Event Brite or at the door.

Official Site | Uptown Nightclub | Tickets


Anna Caterina Antonacci at SF Opera Lab

37A0329* Notes *
Last night the arresting soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera) gave the first of three performances of songs by Berlioz, Debussy, and Poulenc paired with a piano version La Voix Humane at SF Opera Lab. Antonacci gave a compelling renditions of the various French songs, all the more impressive since it was only her voice and the spare accompaniment of Donald Sulzen's piano.

Part of her appeal is certainly her voice, which is far from your garden variety clean, pure soprano, and in fact Antonacci started her career singing mezzo roles, especially Rossini, which doesn't seem particularly well suited to her sensual sound. She did great with Berlioz's "La mort d'Ophélie", very emotionally on point and haunting. Likewise her "Le tombeau des Naïades" from Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis was particularly strong.

37A0382Poulenc's 1958 La Voix humane is essentially a monologue of a suicidal woman on the telephone with her former lover. Its success as a piece of drama rests heavily on the the one singer, and Antonacci delivered, she is an incredible actress and it was hard to look away.

Simple and concise, the 40 minutes flew by, and we experience everything from the petty annoyances of being on a party line to the utter depths of despair of being abandoned and unloved.

The plain, stripped down staging of a simple rain drop covered window with a view of Paris with only a table, chair, and a few pillows was perfect and matched the simplicity of the opera itself.

Antonacci's costume was a bit odd, it looked like a 70s floral house dress, with panels that opened in the front and a cut-out in the back. I was also confused by (though also enjoyed) her gown for the songs, which looked to be a long grey leotard-inspired tunic whose sleeves covered her hands and had the saddest tulle tutu-like skirt.

Tattling *
Many audience members were mostly quiet, though a few people had to exit during the music.


Ted Hearne's The Source at SF Opera Lab

Thesource_stefancohen016* Notes *
Yesterday SF Opera Lab opened a second season with Ted Hearne's disturbing oratorio The Source. The 2012 piece concerns Chelsea Manning's disclosure to WikiLeaks of classified material about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unconventionally staged with the four singers dispersed in the audience (Isaiah Robinson pictured left, photograph by Stefan Cohen) and with enormous video projections on each side, the experience was completely immersive.

Mark Doten's libretto uses primary source texts, tweets from Manning and Adrian Lamo (the former hacker that ultimately turned Manning in), chat logs from Manning and Lamo, interview questions posed to Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, and random cultural artifacts from the time period ranging from an interview of Steven Hawking to Big Boi's "Shutterbugg." The collection is unsettling, and all the more so because the repetitive vocals are highly processed by Philip White in real time.

The music is often loud and cacophonous, and the ensemble hidden above, behind one of the video screens, consisted of what amounts to a string trio plus keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. The playing and singing seemed to come off tightly together, most impressive given the lack of conductor. It wasn't at all clear to me how this was accomplished.

Most of the videos used were of people's faces as they watched the leaks, gleaned from footage of nearly 100 people taken by director Daniel Fish and production designer Jim Findlay. It is all very unsettling. When we finally see the gunsight footage of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, known as "Collateral Murder," we understand all too well what these people have been reacting to and experience it for ourselves. The dead silence at the end lasted an uncomfortable and imposing amount of time.

Tattling *
Many audience members (I saw at least five at one time) fell asleep despite the volume of the music and fact that they may have been next to one of the vocalists. This was all the more obvious because the two halves of the audience faced one another.


Merola's 2017 Season

2016GalaJune 11 2017: Merola Opera Program 60th Anniversary Gala & Concert
July 6-9 2017: Schwabacher Summer Concert
July 20-22 2017: La Serva Padrona/ Savitri/ The Bear
August 3-5 2017: La Cenerentola
August 19 2017: Merola Grand Finale

The Merola Opera Opera program announced its 60th anniversary season this afternoon at the John M. Bryan Education Studio in San Francisco.

Merola is commissioning its first work, If I Were You, by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. The opera, based on the novel by Julien Green, is slated for the 2019 season.

Official Site


SF Opera's 2017-2018 Season

WMOH9_JoelPuliattiSeptember 8- December 9 2017: Turandot
September 9-27 2017: Elektra
September 23- October 17 2017: La Traviata
November 4-22 2017: Manon
November 21- December 10 2017: Girls of the Golden West
June 12-26 2018: Das Rheingold
June 13-27 2018: Die Walküre
June 15-29 2018: Siegfried
June 17-July 1 2018: Götterdämmerung

General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the 2017-2018 season at San Francisco Opera today. Highlights include John Adams' new opera about the Gold Rush, Girls of the Golden West, to premiere this November and a revival of the Ring cycle next summer directed by Francesca Zambello.

The two new productions are Elektra, previously seen in Prague and Manon, which has the same team that did the recent I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Both operas boast stellar casts: the powerhouse trio of Christine Goerke, Stephanie Blythe, and Adrianne Pieczonka lead the Strauss opera while Nadine Sierra and Michael Fabiano star in the Massenet.

Michael Fabiano
Michael Fabiano

Press Release | Official Site


Adler Concert

12.2.16_SFO-1885* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows had an especially impressive annual concert at Herbst Theater last Friday. Supported by the talents of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Maestro Jordi Bernacer, the new resident conductor, the singers gave one electrifying performance after another.

San Francisco Opera has been keeping the Adlers busy this fall, and it was great to hear the likes of tenor Pene Pati and baritone Edward Nelson take center stage for a change. Pati is arresting every time I hear him, and as Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, he sang "Che sei tu che ardisci aggirarti furtivo?" with utter conviction, making Nian Wang (Romeo) seem a bit weak in comparison. Pati was charming in a duet with his wife Amina Idris (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken), they sang "Quoi, vous m'aimez? ... De cet aveu si tendre" and were very cute. Pati also did very well with "Quango le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller.

Edward Nelson was another standout, his acting was perfect for the duet he sang with soprano Toni Marie Palmertree from Pagliacci. He was completely engaging in "Look, through the port comes the moonlight astray" and one hopes to hear him cast as Billy Budd sometime in the future.

Julie Adams had my favorite aria of the evening with "Glück das mir verblieb" from Die tote Stadt, a reminder both of her incredible voice, put to use only in smaller roles like Kate Pinkerton and Kristina lately, and of the amazing run we had of this opera back in 2008. Adams also gave a riveting performance of "The trees on the mountain" from Susannah.

I was most taken aback by hearing bass Anthony Reed in Song of the Viking Guest from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko, he sounded really nice. Oftentimes I find it hard to appreciate the Adlers with lower voices, as they tend to be less far along in their development, and it's hard to extrapolate how their voices will be in decades to come. Reed often sounds a little underpowered to me, and his youth is always at odds with the old man roles he plays on the War Memorial stage.

 

* Tattling *
It has been so long since I've been to one of these concerts that I didn't realize it is held in Herbst rather than the War Memorial. I had to scurry over and thank goodness traffic hadn't been worse, or I would not have made it in time.

I sat next to a critic who asked me if Toni Marie Palmertree had to step in as Butterfly for a performance, which I confirmed, she sang the role on November 18. On the other side of me was an enthusiastic man who forgot to turn off his phone, which rang before the singing started for the first aria, but kept making sounds as he tried to disable it.