Act I Scene 1 of Norma takes place in a Gaulish forest at night. Here the Druids assemble and Norma (Sondra Radvanovsky) prays to the moon goddess for peace.
* 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.
Reviewers are impressed by Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) in the title role of San Francisco Opera's Norma.
* Notes *
The 92nd season of San Francisco Opera opened last night with a musically luminous Norma. Maestro Nicola Luisotti conducted with vigor, and the orchestra never overwhelmed the singers, only briefly getting ahead of them once or twice. The woodwinds were particularly beautiful. The chorus sang well, the chorus members sounded unified and together.
Jacqueline Piccolino was a fine Clotilda and Christian Van Horn sang Oroveso with power. Though lacking perfect control, Marco Berti was always audible and made for a respectable Pollione.
Jamie Barton's debut at San Francisco Opera was nothing less than impressive. Her voice simply glows. Her performance as Adalgisa was radiant, and she seemed at ease vocally. Sondra Radvanovsky did an admirable job with the difficult title role and was dramatically convincing. She had some harsh notes but sparkled as Norma nonetheless.
The co-production with Canadian Opera Company, Gran Teatre del Liceu and Lyric Opera of Chicago is inert and bloodless, despite being attractive enough. The set (pictured as a model above) is not dynamic but in the end it does feature real fire.
* Tattling *
The audience was rather tame. There was only a little bit of noise from a latecomer who wanted to sit in ZZ 1 of the orchestra level.
* Notes *
This week James Conlon conducts San Francisco Symphony in Verdi's Requiem. Fabio Luisi was originally scheduled to take the podium, but took over most of James Levine's fall engagements at the Met. Perhaps it is just as well, Maestro Conlon did a fine job with the work, the phrasing was lucid and taut. The pianissimi were especially beautiful. The chorus sounded robust.
As for soloists, tenor Frank Lopardo sounded a bit strange. He has a plaintive voice, but at times he seemed to hum rather than sing. In contrast, the bass, Ain Anger, sang with much less effort and much more confidence. Mezzo Dolora Zajick also gave a powerful performance, her full voice is never lacking in brilliance. Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured above, photograph by Pavel Antonov) however, was still the star of the evening. She never strained for the notes, her voice has a metallic brightness that does not get lost in the orchestration, but is never harsh.
* Tattling *
There was a magnitude 3.8 earthquake at 8:16 pm, about 10 minutes into the performance on Thursday. A slight murmur was heard from the audience, but the singing and playing simply continued.
* Notes *
The last performance of Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera was Saturday's matinee. Since I have seen seemed David McVicar's production several times in San Francisco, it seemed best to simply listen at a score desk today.
Conductor Marco Armiliato had the orchestra sounding spirited. The racing tempi were infused with energy. The dynamics were not always dramatic, at times pianissimo was not terribly distinct from forte. Stefan Kocán was a dry Ferrando, but with good volume. I had trouble hearing Maria Zichak's musical line as Inez when she sang with Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora) and the orchestra in Part I. The latter interpreted the emotional content of the text with clarity, and could always be heard. Dmitri Hvorostovsky (di Luna) has a lovely timbre but has a tendency to gasp when breathing. While Marcelo Álvarez was plaintive as Manrico, he almost seemed to choke on a note in "Ah, sì ben mio." Perhaps this was intentional, it did give this reviewer a physical sensation of being strangled. Dolora Zajick (pictured above, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) was most impressive as Azucena. The madness of the character came through, with passion and without ugliness.
* Tattling *
Though most of the audience was respectful and silent, someone left his or her mobile phone on and it rang during a rest with a fermata in Part 2. One would think being broadcast live in high definition would be incentive enough to turn off electronic devices.
* Notes *
The opening of Don Carlo at Opéra national de Paris was a bit slapdash. Graham Vick's production had some attractive elements, but lost a lot of tension in the drama because of how slow scene changes were. This was not helped by the two intermissions for four acts. Tobias Hoheisel's costumes were ostentatious in contrast to his rather sedate set, but these were pulled together by the lighting, designed by Matthew Richardson.
The orchestra was not bad under Carlo Rizzi, the cello solo in Act III was great, for instance. The brass was harsh, but only had a few bad notes, especially during the fanfares in Act II. All the singing was solid, however, including the chorus. Luciana D'Intino (Eboli) sang her first aria rather robustly, and she produces a full tone when she is singing all out. Sometimes she was a bit thin, perhaps it has to do with the different parts of her voice. Sondra Radvanovsky sounded both icy and sweet as Elisabetta, her "Non pianger, mia compagna" in Act I, Scene 2 was especially lovely.
Ludovic Tézier did well as Rodrigo, his "Dio, che nell'alma infondere" with Stefano Secco (Don Carlo) was very fine. At other times he was overwhelmed by the orchestra, but really turned it out for "Per me giunto è il di supreme" at the end. Secco had enough volume for the most part, though he was difficult to hear in a few places, notably in the last act, when the staging required that he stand upstage, away from Elisabetta. At first, Giacomo Prestia was lackluster as Felipe II, sounding pitchy. However, his "Ella giammai m'amò" was appropriately woeful, yet imposing.
* Tattling *
The audience was a little restless, and there was a bit of whispering. Someone rustled cellophane and was admonished twice before she ceased her discourteous behavior.
Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured left in costume by Jai Alltizer for the current SF Opera production, photograph from John F. Martin) just had her San Francisco Opera debut singing Leonora in Il Trovatore. She sings two more performances and will be signing her first CD in the SF Opera Gift Shop tomorrow. The Opera Tattler spoke to Radvanovsky today in San Francisco as many costumed participants of LovEvolution made their way to Civic Center. Radvanovsky was perfectly on time, but was sporting a brace on her right ankle.
O no! What happened?
Someone tried to snatch my purse outside of Walgreen's (on Van Ness Avenue) last night, but I got him good. Unfortunately, I did sprain my ankle.
You are definitely the wrong person to mess with, you are obviously really tough. The Trovatore you are in seems very physical.
I do get thrown around quite a bit in the production! But I can take it, as singers, our bodies are our instruments, so I do take care of myself. I have a trainer and go to the gym.
How does it work with having different cast members come in? I know that Malgorzata Walewska and Quinn Kelsey are filling in for Stephanie Blythe and Dmitri Hvorostovsky at various points.
What often happens is that we get a pick-up rehearsal, but in this case, no, I haven't rehearsed with Quinn, so it will be exciting to see what happens! For Malgorzata, she was in the early rehearsals before Stephanie arrived, but that was 3 weeks ago.
You have sung Leonora quite a bit, for instance, you just sang it at the Met, and I heard you sing that role at LA Opera in 2004. Does it ever get dull?
I always find something new within the role, but tomorrow will be my 26th Trovatore since January, and Tuesday will be the 27th!
I bet you are ready to take on Ernani!
Yes, I head to Chicago on Wednesday to rehearse at Lyric Opera. Then I'm off to Paris for Don Carlo. I won't sing Trovatore for a year and a half when I sing Leonora at the Met again.
Your first experience of opera was hearing Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo sing Tosca at age eleven. Did you come from a musical family?
That's right, Placido at Arena di Verona, on television! I told my mother that I wanted to do that, and started voice lessons at that age. There are no musicians in my family. My mother is admittedly tone-deaf, and my brother isn't a musician either, though he likes music. My father, before he died, liked hearing me sing, but also didn't have a background in music. I always liked singing though, when I was a kid my mother bought me a Karen Carpenter record that I like to sing along with. I actually started off as a lyric mezzo, singing things like Cherubino, and then at 19 my voice just changed and suddenly I was a coloratura soprano. [Laughs]
It must have been amazing for you to sing with Domingo.
When I was 35 I sang Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac opposite of Domingo at the Met. It was a lifelong dream of mine and was incredible. Domingo has always been very supportive of me, he has only said positive things to me, even when my voice was "half-baked," as I call it. I used to get frustrated and ask when my voice would "finish baking", and he would tell me it would come, and he was right.
When do you think that happened for you?
It was Bill Friedkin's production of Suor Angelica last year in Los Angeles, that was the turning point when things really picked up for me. I felt comfortable in myself, and it was really the right opera at the right time.
It was an amazing performance you gave of Suor Angelica, and the whole set of operas was excellent. Have you sung that role before and are you singing it again?
Thank you! That was the first time I sang that role and I am doing it again in Spain in a few years, along with singing Giorgetta in Il Tabarro.
Do you think you'll ever sing all three roles in Il Trittico, like what Patricia Racette is doing right now?
No, I don't think so, perhaps if they were ordered differently it would be a possibility. It just seems like it would be very difficult both vocally and dramatically to sing the light part of Lauretta after turning yourself inside out for Angelica.
You have ties to Los Angeles, didn't you go to UCLA?
I went to both UCLA and USC. I started off at SC, and was there for 2 years for voice, but I had problems with my voice teacher there. So I ended up studying privately with Martial Singher in Santa Barbara, but doing a double major at UCLA in theater and voice. I was there for 3 years.
So that's why you move so well!
I learned a lot about how to act, how to hold myself, I even had to take dance. I had 2 left feet and now I have 1 and a half left feet instead! [Laughs] It is becoming increasingly the case that opera singers have to be a complete package.
Do you feel pressure about your looks?
Yes, of course. As singers we are out in the public eye and are scrutinized, it is part of the job.
How do you think a younger audience can be drawn to the opera? I can't help but notice you have a publicist that is a blogger, that you have a Facebook page, and you did a podcast for LA Opera.
Yes, we are going to launch a new web site with all the bells and whistles, and I am just starting out with Facebook too. Technology is part of it, like with the Met in movie theaters, and the SF Opera simulcast of Il Trovatore. Opera is not just for elitists, and it should be brought to as many people as possible, like the Opera in the Park that SF Opera did last month. Opera also needs to be modernized, has to speak to the younger people, and be believable to them. At the same time, new productions have to make sense, there has to be a reason for the choices made besides just being shocking.
Are you going to be in any of the Met simulcasts?.
Yes, I'm going to be in Il Trovatore, and I believe it is being broadcast in April of 2011.
Do you teach at all?
I do give master classes when I perform in the United States. I was in a young artists program at the Met, so often times younger artists have a lot of questions for me about how to get started. Yesterday I gave a class to the Adlers, and they are such a talented bunch. The class was supposed to be 2 hours, but it went on for 3, but it is a passion of mine, to help educate young singers.
You are booked until 2014-2015, that is just crazy, how much in advance you have to schedule. What are you looking forward to?
I will be singing Tosca and Aida at the Met. I'll also be singing a lot of Bel Canto, I've been learning a lot of music lately, and will be singing Norma and Donizetti's "Three Queens."
* Notes *
Malgorzata Walewska took the stage as Azucena in San Francisco Opera's Il Trovatore last night. Walewska certainly came across as crazy, more so than Stephanie Blythe, with whom she is sharing the role. Unfortunately Walewska's voice did not project well over the orchestra, and when she sang with Marco Berti this was especially obvious. Berti's voice soared over the pit, whereas Walewska's simply blended into the sound of the orchestra. Perhaps it is just as well, the way she pushed the top of her voice was not pleasant, though the middle of her voice was very pretty.
The orchestra had a good amount of fire, and Luisotti kept everyone together without being the least bit dull. The chorus sounded gorgeous, and all of the singing was quite fine. Burak Bilgili (Ferrando) was better and sang more fluidly. As the Count, Dmitri Hvorostovsky still was not sounding his best, somewhat gritty and breathy in his last performance of this run. Likewise, Marco Berti and Sondra Radvanovsky were both consistent in their strong performances.
* Tattling *
The Russian speakers in Box W whispered despite being hushed, but at least the noise was not incessant. Someone in Box V or W was photographing Hvorostovsky as he sang, and the camera being used kept beeping though it did not flash. The person in Row B Seat 3 of the orchestra had her mobile device on for most of "D'amor sull'ali rosee."
* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Opera in the Park performance this year was rather charming. Incoming Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducted with great enthusiasm, and to begin he faced the audience for the National Anthem and conducted us. Both the overture to La Forza del Destino and the intermezzo to Manon Lescaut sounded grand and sweeping. He also We heard quite a lot from the current Trovatore at SF Opera: Sondra Radvanovsky sang "Tacea la notte...Di tale amor," Marco Berti sang "Ah, si, ben mio...Di quella pira," Quinn Kelsey sang "Il balen del suo sorriso," and the three of them sang "Deserto sulla terra...Di geloso amor" together.
The Adlers sang several selections starting with Daniela Mack's "Non più mesta." Mack was a bit choppy and did sing "Voi che sapete" with greater fluidity. Leah Crocetto did well with both Donizetti and Puccini. David Lomelí sounded very fine as well, singing "Che gelida manina" and then "O Mimì, tu più non torni" with Quinn Kelsey. The afternoon also saw a lovely performance from Ewa Podleś of "Cruda sorte" from La Italiana in Algeri. Her low notes are richly secure, but those higher up in her tessitura are not exactly in tune. Continuing with Rossini, Andrea Silvestrelli gave an amusing rendition of "La calunnia." Brandon Jovanovich closed the afternoon with a beautiful "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca.
* Tattling *
There was some talking, including a woman on her cell phone as Crocetto sang from Lucia.
The rehearsal earlier in the day was exceedingly entertaining, Luisotti sang in place of the singers for the first half. Podleś did not rehearse, nor did she sing in the encore "O sole mio." The encore was hilarious, and the women held their notes longer than the men. Luisotti danced around the stage during the ovation.
* Notes *
The 2009-2010 season at San Francisco Opera opened with Il Trovatore last night. David McVicar's production is elegant, and Charles Edwards' rotating set made the scene changes straightforward. Maestro Luisotti's debut as music director was effervescent, and the orchestra sounded fine. The chorus was clear and together. Renée Tatum and Andrew Bidlack, the Adlers in the small roles of Inez and Ruiz, both sang well and with warmth.
Burak Bilgili seemed nervous as Ferrando, his notes were a bit choppy and he was slightly off from the orchestra. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was a confident Count di Luna, with lovely phrasing. Hvorostovsky did lack effortlessness at times and his breathing could be rather loud. On the other hand, Stephanie Blythe (Azucena) seemed to have endless lung capacity and a perfect smoothness in her transitions. Her last few notes of the opera were, however, a bit ugly.
The revelation of the evening was undoubtably Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora. Her voice scintillates, her tone is lucid, her control is exquisite. Her Act III aria, "D'amor sull'ali rosee," was beautiful. Marco Berti made a valiant attempt in the title role, his voice being rather loud and not particularly subtle. He was able to match everyone else in volume, and he even managed to convey some pretty, tender moments, along with utter despair, in the last act.
* Tattling *
Some people kept talking during the famous "Vedi le fosche notturne," despite being repeatedly hushed. A siren was heard in Act I, Scene 2. Someone's cellular phone rang several times as Hvorostovsky sang in Act 4. At least it was during his recitative.
* Notes *
There has been much ado about Woody Allen directing his first opera, one third of Puccini's Il Trittico, with William Friedkin, famed director of The Exorcist, directing the other two thirds. One cannot help feeling a bit skeptical of Los Angeles Opera hiring three film directors for the opening performances of the season, as of course, the opera in repertory with Puccini is The Fly directed by David Cronenberg. It was a surprise then that Il Trittico is not only good but actually excellent.
Under James Conlon, the orchestra sounded together throughout the three operas, and more or less with the singers as well. The set designer, Santo Loquasto, did a fine job with the sets, they were traditional without being dull. Although each opera is in a different time and place, the look of each was not haphazard, one having absolutely nothing to do with another. Lighting designer Mark Jonathan also helped in this, light was used dramatically in each opera. I only have a minor quibble on the lighting, the effect of water reflecting on various surfaces in Il Tabarro was a bit overdone. It was almost as if the opera was set underwater. Sam Fleming's costumes for Il Tabarro were pretty, and the colors enhanced the painterly set. His costumes for Suor Angelica were perfectly appropriate. It seems Santo Loquasto had fun with the adorable 40s costumes for Gianni Schicchi.
William Friedkin's direction of Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica was a perfect balance of letting the music speak for itself but also motivating the drama without being gratuitous. All the details were pitch-perfect, one never felt that someone was entering without any reason, or was doing something just because the director had told them to. It was impressive that such an artificial form, that is, opera, was rendered in a highly naturalistic manner. Some of the credit goes to the singers themselves, they were all fine actors, even rather minor characters like the drunken Tinca (Matthew O'Neill) of Il Tabarro or Sister Osmina (Angel Blue) with the roses hidden in her sleeves in Suor Angelica, were wonderful.
The principal singers of Il Tabarro were first-rate. Anja Kampe was a vunerable Giorgetta, her light delicate voice had good volume. Salvatore Licitra's warm, round voice suited Luigi, his resonant tones could be heard very well indeed. Mark Delavan had command over the role of Michele, his wrath was palpable, as was his heartbreak. In the smaller roles, Tichina Vaughn stood out as Frugola and Robert MacNeil as a Song Vendor.
The most impressive performance came from Sondra Radvanovsky in the title-role of Suor Angelica. Her voice is simply beautiful and her control is astounding. She conveyed the various emotions of the part deftly, from calm piety to utter despair. The supporting cast was fine, Jennifer Black (Sister Genovieffa) sang about longing to just see a lamb again with great charm and Larissa Diadkova embodied haughty disdain as the Angelica's aunt, the Princess.
Woody Allen held his own in Gianni Schicchi, beginning his production with some false title-credits, complete with silly Italian puns, as if the opera was a movie. The comedy was a bit over-the-top, Buoso Donati's will is found in a pot of spaghetti and Lauretta wields a knife she keeps tucked in a garter. However, it was funny, and the singers were all very good actors, especially Thomas Allen in the title-role. The singing was not as good as in the previous two operas, for one thing, Allen is a bit quiet. Though Jennifer Black made a fine effort as Lauretta, replacing Laura Tatulescu, and sang "O mio babbino caro" tunefully and prettily, she came up somewhat short. Only Andrea Silvestrelli (Simone) was extraordinary, this was worlds away from his recent Fasolt in Das Rheingold, but still wonderful.
* Tattling *
Los Angeles Opera occasionally will play famous themes from the opera on a vibraphone to signal that it is time to go into the hall. For Il Trittico they used "O mio babbino caro," as it is the most famous aria from the three operas. I overheard the most amusing argument about what it was, one knew it was from one of the three operas, but another insisted it was from a more famous Puccini opera. The first person simply said that Puccini just stole from himself so much that all his arias were alike anyway.
A woman in Balcony Row B Seat 69 talked during the overture of Il Tabarro and was roundly hushed from all sides. Instead of being ashamed, she simply muttered "Shush, shush, shush, why don't you shush yourselves." She was quiet for most of the opera, but unfortunately spoke at the most dramatic moment, right at the end. Thankfully she was silent for Suor Angelica, and even cried. The rest of the audience was fairly quiet, though there was whispering during the music and several watch alarms at each hour.
At the end of Suor Angelica I had been quite moved, and then the Virgin Mary appeared suspended from the ceiling, as a dea ex machina to set everything right. Normally I would find this device effective, but it briefly reminded me of Precious Auntie in The Bonesetter's Daughter, and I nearly had a giggling fit.