Baritone Gerald Finley, who was to perform the title role of Sweeney Todd (pictured left, photograph courtesy of Marie-Noëlle Robert/Théâtre du Châtelet) at San Francisco Opera, has withdrawn from the production in order to be at home in Great Britain with his wife for the expected birth of their child in mid-September. Brian Mulligan replaces him.
San Francisco Opera was clearly less well-rehearsed for Le Nozze di Figaro (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) than for Troyens and Ciociara, but turned out a sparkling performance nonetheless.
* Tattling *
Since this performance was in the afternoon, there were even more watch alarms at each hour than usual. An excited older couple sat next to me in Row T Seats 5 and 7. They loved the piece and there was extended commentary after nearly every aria.
Most of the reviews are decidedly negative for San Francisco Opera's La Ciociara (Act II, Scene 3 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver).
* Notes *
San Francisco Opera gave the world premiere of Two Women (La Ciociara) last night. The narrative is compelling. Marco Tutino's sweeping music has a cinematic feel and is pretty. The orchestra sounded engaged under the direction of Maestro Nicola Luisotti. The percussion was particularly gripping.
All of the singing was strong. The chorus impressed. The two leads — mother and daughter — are the most nuanced of the cast and the contrast of the two sopranos in these roles is effective. Anna Caterina Antonacci is an intense Cesira, her anguish was palpable. Sarah Shafer's Rosetta is sweet and haunting. Yet her dissoluteness in Act II, Scene 3 is convincing.
The other characters are less subtly drawn, the good are angelic, the bad are monsters. Tenor Dimitri Pittas is an idealistic, gentle Michele. He had some strain in his voice when he sang with the chorus in Act I, Scene 2, but otherwise he sang plaintively. Baritone Mark Delavan delighted in playing the evil Giovanni. Though his sound can be light, he is a persuasive villain.
In the smaller parts, the Adlers did well. Mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde was moving as Lena. Baritone Edward Nelson is completely plausible as John Buckley, the U.S. Air Force lieutenant saved by Michele.
Francesca Zambello's production (Act II, Scene 2 pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) is attractive. The projections could be busy and garish, but more often helped further the story without being intrusive.
* Tattling *
There was light whispering on the orchestra level at the start of most scenes. The audience was clearly moved by the piece and the standing ovation at the end was nearly immediate.
* Notes *
Yesterday mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens (pictured left in Act II, photograph by Cory Weaver) sang Cassandra in San Francisco Opera's Les Troyens. She sings again on June 20, 2015. Martens has a lovely resonant voice with powerful low notes and searing high ones. Compared to soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, with whom she shares the role, Martens is less raw and does not convey the same complete devastation. It is worth the effort to hear both singers, both are gratifying in different ways.
It was a delight to hear Maestro Donald Runnicles conduct the orchestra again. The woodwinds had a gorgeous, velvety sound, the strings shimmered, and the brass was bright and fluid. The chorus was powerful and the rest of the singing was consistently impressive.
* Tattling *
A woman in Box B whispered a lot during Act II. This might not have been noticed but her voice is high and squeaky, so I had to angle my chair in a way so I could focus on the orchestra.
So far reviewers were impressed by Donald Runnicles and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in Les Troyens (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver).
* Notes *
A new production of Les Troyens (Act IV pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened this afternoon at San Francisco Opera. The orchestra sounded absolutely gorgeous under the direction of Maestro Donald Runnicles. The playing was fluent and cohesive. The strings sounded lovely and the woodwinds were wonderful.
The cast is magnificent. Soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci sounded utterly deranged as Cassandra and giving an effective, disturbing performance. Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham had great appeal as Dido, her creamy voice is not as fresh as before, but it seems appropriate for the role. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (Anna) is vital. Her voice shows no hint of strain or effort.
Tenor Bryan Hymel made for a powerful Aeneas. His voice is bright and cuts through the orchestration. Baritone Brian Mulligan (Chorebus) sounded rich and warm. Tenor René Barbera (Iopas) sounded wonderful in his Act IV aria, as did tenor Chong Wang (Helenus, Hylas) in his Act V aria. The chorus was strong.
David McVicar's production is not particularly coherent but does not interfere with the music. The set is enormous yet moves quietly. Acts I, II, and V could have been set at Burning Man. Acts III and IV look more like an Orientalist painting. The juxtaposition of these two aesthetics is odd, as were the different styles of dance used for each of the ballets.
* Tattling *
The audience in the balcony was focused and quiet with the exception of a demonstrative, chatty couple sitting on one of the aisles in the the last row, house right. Thankfully it was easy enough to get away from them and they left after Act IV.
Michaela Martens (pictured left) will sing Cassandra in the second and fourth performances of San Francisco Opera's Les Troyens, which runs from June 7 to July 1, 2015. She replaces Daveda Karanas, who has withdrawn from the role due to pregnancy. Anna Caterina Antonacci, who was previously announced to sing three performances of Cassandra, has agreed to add a fourth on July 1, 2015.
* Notes *
A number of San Francisco Opera Center's Adler Fellows (pictured left) performed with conductor Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra last night at the SFJazz Center. The evening was a delight from beginning to end. The first half of the program featured four instrumental pieces interspersed with four vocal pieces, all by Mozart. The Overture in D major, K. 106 was played with grace, while Contredanse No. 1 in D major, K. 106 sounded rather cheery. I enjoyed the emphatic playing of the repeated notes in Contredanse No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 106.
Soprano Julie Adams sang "Nehmt meinen Dank" with clarity. Her voice has much strength and not a trace of strain. Baritone Edward Nelson was terribly charming in "Con un vezzo all'italiana" from La finta giardiniera. The quartet "Dite almeno, in che mancai" with Adams, Nelson, tenor Brian Thorsett, and bass Anthony Reed was brilliant as well.
The second half of the show was devoted to Rossini's first produced opera, La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract). The piece is concise and quite amusing. The orchestra played with verve and McGegan looked pleased throughout as he conducted. Some of the Baroque instruments seemed less well-suited to Rossini than others, but the enthusiasm of all those involved never waned.
The singing was wonderful. Mezzo-soprano Nian Wang sang Clarina's aria ("An'chio son giovine") with conviction. Bass Matthew Stump makes for a wonderful, blustering Tobia Mill. Baritone Efraín Solís is hilarious as Slook. Tenor Brian Thorsett sings Edoardo Milfort with effortlessness. Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino is a dulcet-toned Fannì. Her sings with a certain subtlety that is appealing for this role.
* Tattling *
The first five rows were removed to provide the orchestra with a pit.