San Francisco Opera

SF Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber Reviews

_F2A9844Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviewers of San Francisco Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber (Pictured left with Pureum Jo as Dai Yu, photograph by Cory Weaver) agree that the singing is great.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | Los Angeles Times | Wall Street Journal | Financial Times | San José Mercury News | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | Culture Vulture | Classical Voice North America | bachtrack | Civic Center


SF Opera Tenor Cast Changes Fall 2016

WORKMAN_CharlesCharles Workman (pictured left) replaces Scott Quinn as Albert Gregor in San Francisco Opera's The Makropulos Case, which opens October 14, 2016. Tenor Vincenzo Costanzo will make his United States opera debut as Lt. B. F. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly replacing Maxim Aksenov. Butterfly opens November 6, 2016. Both Quinn and Aksenov are withdrawing for personal reasons.

The Makropulos Case | Madama Butterfly | San Francisco Opera Press Release


SF Opera's Chénier Reviews

_B5A4768Production Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Andrea Chénier (Act II pictured left with Yonghoon Lee in the title role, photograph by Cory Weaver) are mixed so far.

Performance Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle | San José Mercury News | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | Not For Fun Only | The Bay Area Reporter | The Huffington Post | Berkeley Daily Planet


SF Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber

_B5A5145* Notes * 
Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang's Dream of the Red Chamber had a world premiere at San Francisco Opera on Saturday night. The music was upstaged by the breathtaking stagecraft (pictured in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver), and marred by an ungainly libretto.

Based on the Qing Dynasty epic by Cao Xueqin, frame story concerns a stone and a flower asking to be reincarnated as humans, the stone becomes Bao Yu, male heir of the Jia family, and the flower becomes Dai Yu, his cousin. The opera must condense the 2,000 page novel into less than three hours, and thus the plot is stripped down to essentials, a love triangle between Bao Yu, delicate and artistic Dai Yu, and worldly beauty Bao Chai with the backdrop of court intrigue and aristocratic life.

This is a perfect scenario for opera, and the art direction from Tim Yip is spot on. His sets are light and dreamy, easily changing scenes with the use of platforms, screens, projections, and layers and layers of ornate fabric. Director Stan Lai uses all these elements to stunning effect and the theater of the piece comes out very clearly in the visual aspect, especially in Dai Yu's last scene, which includes the very simple use of blue cloth to represent water, but is both incredibly beautiful and moving.

Sheng's music isn't bad, there's some interesting chromaticism, bending of notes, and percussion, some soaring lyricism that eschews blatant sentimentality. The only additions to a pretty standard orchestra are in the percussion (if you are going to use a gong, this is the right place) and the qin, a seven stringed plucked instrument that is similar to a very quiet guitar. The qin, played by Zhao Yi, had to be amplified, which was done tastefully and well. The orchestra, conducted by George Manahan, sounded clear and together.

The weak link, as with many contemporary operas, is the libretto, co-written by the composer and famed playwright Hwang. Performed in English to make the story more immediate to the San Francisco audience, the words could be painfully awkward, as in Act I, Scene 4, after a gorgeous ballet dream sequence. There was too much telling rather than showing, we don't need to hear Bao Yu sing that "aroused" by his erotic dream, it should be apparent in the music. There were definitely moments when I tried to focus on the action and the singing rather than the words. On the other hand, the framing of the story with a narrator, in this case a monk played by actor Randall Nakano, was poignant.

On the other hand, the singing was fantastic. Soprano Pureum Jo has an ideal voice for Dai Yu, and sounded utterly ethereal. Tenor Yijie Shi was plaintive and bright as Bao Yu. Mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts (Bao Chai) radiated sophistication and touching vulnerability, while mezzo Hyona Kim (Lady Wang) sang with rich power and clarity.

The cast has many high principal voices, so it was nice to hear the fine chorus, which is prominent in the piece.

* Tattling * 
While there were only six people in the standing room line by 10am, there were quite a few more people when we lined up to get in at 6:20pm, as there were no tickets for seats left.

Many audience members wore Chinese-themed clothing to the performance, and red silk brocade seemed most popular.


SF Opera's Andrea Chénier

_B5A4679* Notes * 
The 94th season of San Francisco Opera opened last night with Andrea Chénier, Umberto Giordano's concise verismo piece about the poet killed in the French Revolution. The opera has a number of gorgeous arias, and the cast assembled (pictured in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver) was certainly up to the task.

Especially impressive were the titular character and his beloved, both debuts at San Francisco Opera. Tenor Yonghoon Lee is a dapper Chenier and has an expansive, bright sound. His "Un dì all'azzurro spazio" in Act I was showed much promise, and he really did soar with his Act IV aria " Come un bel dì di maggio." Vocally, soprano Anna Pirozzi (Maddalena) matched Lee, her voice is clear and flexible. Her high notes do not have the slightest hint of strain. Pirozzi's "La mamma morta" in Act III was a show stopper, incredibly wrenching and lovely.

Top to bottom, the cast was strong. Other notable debuts on the War Memorial stage included baritone George Gagnidze as Carlo Gérard, a former servant and revolutionary leader, who of course loves Maddalena, and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges as Bersi, Maddalena's mulatto servant girl. Gagnidze gave a nuanced turn as the conflicted Gérard while Bridges sang with much power.

The lucid orchestra, conducted by Maestro Nicola Luisotti, was supportive of the singing, and only rarely got ahead. The volume of the musicians never overwhelmed the singers. The chorus was together and sturdy.

David McVicar's production is straightforward. The sets, from Robert Jones, are attractive but sadly take quite a long time to change. Jenny Tiramani's costumes are very pretty.

* Tattling * 
There was no one in the standing room line besides myself until after 9am.

We heard from San Francisco Opera's new General Director for his first opening night in the role. The Chairman of Board of Directors seemed to have momentarily forgotten the Music Director's name. Again, the audience was restrained this year, and cheered Nancy Pelosi when she was acknowledged.


Dream of the Red Chamber Preview

Dream-red-chamber-preview-2016* Notes *
My preview of San Francisco Opera's Dream of the Red Chamber up on KQED Arts. The opera, by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang, premieres on Saturday.

* Tattling *
Co-chairwoman of the committee for the world premiere Doreen Woo Ho (pictured left at a press event with designer Tim Yip, General Director of SF Opera Matthew Shilvock, composer Bright Sheng, and director Stan Lai) hopes the opera will be as big as Hamilton. Sheng joked that he has a long way to go before he is Verdi, given that this is only his second full-length 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.