William Burden

The Tempest at the Met

Tempest-met-2012* Notes * 
The Metropolitan Opera, dark for two nights because of Hurricane Sandy, reopened on Halloween with a third performance of The Tempest by Thomas Adès. The production, from Robert Lepage, is enchanting. The piece is set in a version of La Scala, which starts almost as a paper theater, but ends up being rather detailed and substantial. Act I is from the stage, Act II from the audience, and Act III has a scene from backstage, followed by one in cross section (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera). Projections are used to conjure the tempest and the sea. Entrances and exits are made using the prompter's box, curtains, and even the chandelier. The acrobatics involved make for fine spectacle.

The orchestra was lead by an enthusiastic Adès, the playing was clear and the music rather eerie. Adès eschews sentimentality, but can be somewhat harsh, and some of the singers did sound pushed to their limits. The chorus sounded sturdy and together.

Kevin Burdette (Stefano) and Iestyn Davies (Trinculo) excelled as the comic relief of the evening, moving gracefully. Audrey Luna is an otherworldly Ariel, her notes so high she seemed to be squeaking in a cetacean language. Isabel Leonard was a little acidic, but she is a pretty Miranda, and was plaintive in Act III. Alek Shrader sang Ferdinand with sweetness, and with a characteristic metallic sheen in the high notes.

Caliban is a rather sympathetic creature in this opera, and Alan Oke sang with a certain gentleness when necessary. William Burden gave a nuanced performance as the King of Naples, his voice sounded bright and strong. Toby Spence was a believable Antonio, and his sound is distinct from the aforementioned tenors. Though Simon Keenlyside's voice is not particularly robust, his Prospero has much fire and beauty.

* Tattling *
There were a number of talkative audience members in Family Circle, both in seats and in standing room. Given the lack of public transportation, it was not surprising that the hall was not entirely full. There was also noticeable attrition at the intermission. The ovation was, however, ebullient.

Król Roger at Santa Fe Opera

Krol-roger-santa-fe-opera* Notes *
Szymanowski's Król Roger (Act I pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) opened last weekend at Santa Fe Opera. The second performance on Wednesday sounded strong, the orchestra held together under Maestro Evan Rogister. At times the volume obscured the singer's voices, but not often.

The production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and with sets from Thomas Lynch, is clear and elegant. Shifts in the background and with the light (designed by Duane Schuler) are enough to change the scenes. The silence before the music started was engaging, as the characters quietly found their places on stage. Peggy Hickey's choreography looked comfortable on both the singers and dancers. The costumes, from Ann Hould-Ward, looked suitably grand.

The cast is even. Raymond Aceto is perfectly appropriate for the Archbishop, as is Dennis Petersen as Edrisi. Erin Morley (Roxana) has a cold, brilliant sound. William Burden impressed as the Shepard, his appealing tenor well-suited to the role. Mariusz Kwiecien was robust in the title role.

* Tattling * 
Only one person in the middle of the balcony talked during the performance, and was audible from Row D Seat 113 at least twice.

Orphée et Eurydice at Seattle Opera


* Notes * 
Orphée et Eurydice (William Burden as Orphée with the Furies pictured left, photograph by Elise Bakketun) opened at Seattle Opera on last night. Jose Maria Condemi's production provided a series of entertaining moments that did not quite cohere, but did not get in the way of the music. Phillip Lienau's set is clean, and the scene changes were smooth and quiet, enhanced by Connie Yun's lighting. The costumes, from Heidi Zamora, had a loose, relaxed look. Yannis Adoniou's choreography was dull, for example, the first ballet consisted of three dancers falling to the floor in unison and the third one was a pantomime foreshadowing the plot. The second ballet was silliest, the 7 dancers were Furies who drew their shirts over their heads. It seemed an untoward combination of Martha Graham's Lamentation (1930) and Merce Cunningham's Antic Meet (1958).

Conductor Gary Thor Wedow kept the orchestra moving, occasionally a bit a head of the singers. There were 2 or 3 minor intonation errors, but for the most part the orchestra had a nice, clear sound. The chorus sang well.

The principals were uniformly strong. Julianne Gearhart looked like she was on her way to Black Rock City as an Amore outfitted with pink ruffles, fairy wings, tall shiny boots, and a glittering cruiser. Her voice has a breathless, girlish quality to it. Davinia Rodríguez's voice is more piercing, and her Eurydice was convincing. Rodríguez pushed a little hard on some of the high notes at the beginning of Act II, Scene 2, but otherwise sounded fine. William Burden made for an incredible Orphée. His voice is sweet and bright, and his singing was quite moving. His "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice" was exquisite.

* Tattling * 
Someone unwrapped something in cellophane during the overture. There was some whispering, particularly when no one was singing. No electronic noise was noted. I laughed a great deal during the second ballet, and tried to keep this as silent as possible.

Heart of a Soldier World Premiere

Heart-of-a-soldier-act-ii * Notes * 
The world premiere of Heart of a Soldier (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) given by San Francisco Opera last night. The opera is about the life of Rick Rescorla, the director of security of Morgan Stanley who lost his life as the in the September 11th attacks after evacuating 2,700 people from the World Trade Center. The first half of this ambitious work covers 28 years of Rescorla's story, with five different scene changes spanning four continents. The act is only an hour long, so it is great deal of narrative jammed into a tiny space. Basically, this means a lot of recitative and the need for quick scene changes. Librettist Donna Di Novelli's words seem to take precedence over composer Christopher Theofanidis' music. The second half deals with Rescorla's last three years in New Jersey and New York. Here the ensembles, duets, and arias are less burdened by having to tell the story. The ending was particularly strong.

Director Francesca Zambello's style suits this opera, as the characters are of course very human, being based on real events of recent memory. The set, designed by Peter J. Davison, has some movement, but is transformed by Mark McCullough's lighting and S. Katy Tucker's projections. The result was mostly a success, though sometimes the layering seemed overwrought. Also, having the towers so far upstage was a challenge for some of the singers. The choreography seemed natural, everyone moved nicely and with ease.

Maestro Patrick Summers had the orchestra sounding clear and flowing. The chorus sounded together and robust. The rest of the cast boasted many fine singers. Michael Sumuel (Ted, Tom) sang with warmth and nuance. Nadine Sierra was plaintive as Juliet. Melody Moore was convincing as Susan Rescorla, her voice clear-toned and arresting. William Burden too was persuasive as Rescorla's best friend, his duets with Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla) were quite beautiful. Hampson sang enthusiastically, and his charismatic presence is commanding.

* Tattling * 
The evening began with "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a fluttering American flag was projected on the scrim. The audience was impressively quiet, there was no late seating on the orchestra level, and almost no whispering.

Amelia at Seattle Opera

Kate Lindsey (Amelia) and William Burden (Dodge). © Rozarii Lynch photo * Notes *
The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia had a promising opening at Seattle Opera last night. The production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and designed by Thomas Lynch, is both smart and tasteful. Some of the scene changes were rather noisy, and this was particularly unfortunate as it interrupted the music.

Wadsworth's story came together in the libretto, written by poet Gardner McFall. The text did not display the awkwardness that marks many contemporary operas. The words fit the music, and the deft overlapping of narratives condensed the plot without being confusing or tedious. Layering of the Icarus myth and the life of Amelia Earhart with the main story line worked surprisingly well. There were a few moments that were ungainly, and it might have been better to be shown rather than to be told, given that this was an opera.

The orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, sounded lively. The brass sounded clear in Act I, but perhaps had more trouble with the second half. The cello sounded brilliant, especially at the beginning of Act I Scene 2. Hagen's orchestration could be overgrown, and at times it was somewhat difficult to hear certain arias. However, the use of silence was effective and compelling. There was quite a lot of singing as an ensemble, and the voices were handled astutely. The a cappella section at the end was striking.

The singing was all quite lovely. Museop Kim, David Won, and Karen Vuong were convincing in their duel roles as North Vietnamese villagers and American hospital staff. The voices of Nicholas Coppolo (Icarus/Young Boy) and Jordan Bisch (Daedalus/Young Boy's Father) were evocative and blended nicely together. As the young Amelia, Ashley Emerson was eerily child-like. Her voice was very pretty, flexible, and youthful.

Jane Eaglen fit the role of Amelia's Aunt Helen perfectly, and produced a full sound without overwhelming the others. Jennifer Zetlan cut a cunning figure as the Flier, the way she sat on the hospital bed with utter aplomb as Amelia is whisked off was strangely delightful. Zetlan's voice was piercing, a good foil for Eaglen. Nathan Gunn was fine as Paul, the husband of Amelia, as was Luretta Bybee as Amanda, her mother. William Burden (Dodge) sounded warm and sweet, and could be heart-rending. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey impressed in the title role with her clear, bright voice.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking during the music. A cellular phone rang during Act II as William Burden sang.

This was the first time in many years that I was not in standing room for Seattle Opera, and my press contact for Amelia made sure I was sent to the box office for a seat upgrade. I was right in front of the composer himself on the orchestra level.

LA Opera's 2010-2011 Season

September 23- October 16 2010: Il Postino
September 26- October 17 2010: Le Nozze di Figaro
November 27- December 18 2010: Lohengrin
February 19- March 13 2011: Il Turco in Italia
March 12-27 2011: The Turn of the Screw

LA Opera's new season opens with a world premiere, with Plácido Domingo singing the part of Pablo Neruda. Domingo conducts Le Nozze, with Bo Skovhus singing Almaviva in his LA Opera debut. Ben Heppner sings the title role of Lohengrin, Soile Isokoski is Elsa, and Ortrud Dolora Zajick. Paolo Gavanelli sings Don Geronio in Il Turco. Patricia Racette and William Burden star in The Turn of the Screw.

Press Release | Official Site

Seattle Opera's 2010-2011 Season

July 31- August 21 2010: Tristan und Isolde
October 16-30 2010: Lucia di Lammermoor
January 15-21 2011: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
February 26- March 12 2011: Don Quichotte

May 7-21 2011: Die Zauberflöte

There are five operas scheduled for next season at Seattle Opera, none of which are particularly adventurous. Many familiar conductors return: Asher Fisch conducts Wagner, Dean Williamson conducts Rossini, and Gary Thor Wedow conducts Mozart. Bruno Cinquegrani and Carlo Montanaro have debuts on the Seattle podium, in Lucia and Quichotte respectively. As for singers, Greer Grimsley is Kurwenal, William Burden Edgardo, John Relyea Quichotte, and Christine Brandes Queen of the Night.

2010-2011 Official Site | Subscription Information

Seattle Opera's 2009-2010 Season

October 17-31 2009: La Traviata
January 16-30 2010: Il Trovatore
February 27- March 13 2010: Falstaff
May 8-22 2010: Amelia

Only four operas next season for Seattle Opera, as the Ring Cycle also to be presented this summer. The La Traviata is from San Francisco Opera, and will star Nuccia Focile and Eglise Gutiérrez sharing the role of Violetta. Gordon Hawkins will be Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. Stephanie Blythe sings Dame Quickly in Falstaff. The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia will include William Burden, Nathan Gunn, and Jane Eaglen.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

Cincinnati Opera's 2009 Season

June 11-13 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 25- 27 2009: Don Carlo
July 9-11 2009: Ainadamar
July 23-31 2009: Carmen

Cincinnati Opera's 2009 season includes Michelle DeYoung singing Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, Dawn Upshaw as Margarita Xirgu in Ainadamar, and William Burden as Don José in Carmen.

Cincinnati Opera Official Site | 2009 Season

Pelléas et Mélisande at Unter den Linden

Pelleas* Notes *
This season's final performance of Pelléas et Mélisande at Staatsoper Unter den Linden was last Wednesday. The 1991 production, the work of one Ruth Berghaus, is truly absurd. Hartmut Meyer's set and costumes were both contributed to the folly. The set consists of a downstage mound with a hole in it, which served as both the fountain Mélisande is found at, and the well in which she loses her ring in later. Upstage the sets could be changed, and this worked well for the different scenes. One of the sets included a steep staircase with rather small steps, instead of having Mélisande in a window at the top of a tower, she simply sat at the top of the stairs. None of the singers sounded as good on this staircase as they did down below, I am not sure if it was because of the acoustics, as the staircase had walls and was more upstage, or because of the steep incline which looked difficult to stay on. The costumes were quite silly: Golaud and Pelléas both looked like button mushrooms in their wide caps and long coats, Mélisande wore her petticoat with the waistline just beneath the breasts, so also looked like a mushroom of a different sort. Mélisande's hair was not long, which worried me a great deal, as she has that window scene in which Pelléas is supposedly wrapped in her tresses.

However, the sets and costumes were not nearly as ludicrous as the staging. For instance, when Mélisande play with her wedding ring at the well, she just throws it in, and puts her hands behind her back. This got the biggest laugh all evening. Or in the aforementioned hair combing in the window scene, Mélisande takes off her wig and Pelléas rubs it on himself. Basically he brings the wig to crotch-level and humps it. It was extremely hilarious. Golaud was made to flap his arms as he walked, and when he kills Pelléas, he casually walks by, sees his brother kissing his wife beneath him, and stabs downward but once and flaps on away. The worst might have been the scene before Pelléas dies in which Golaud and Pelléas' grandfather Arkel asks to kiss Mélisande on the cheek or brow. Instead of being innocent, Arkel molests Mélisande, and the scene is extremely disturbing.

The orchestra sounded wonderful under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle, the musicians were very much together. However, at times, they were much too loud, and they overwhelmed every single singer at one point or another. Andreas Mörwald, a soloist from the Tölzer Knabenchor, sang beautifully as Yniold. Hanno Müller-Brachmann was better as Leporello in the concurrent production of Don Giovanni than here. He was fine as Golaud, but his singing did not betray much emotion. Robert Lloyd sounded strong as Arkel, and his singing at the end was especially grand. It was difficult to hear how lovely Willam Burden's voice is, he was quiet as Pelléas, and was the most often overwhelmed by the orchestra. Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená was most impressive in the role of Mélisande, her volume and tone were both excellent. 

* Tattling *
The second tier is not quite as warm as the third, but still not all that comfortable. For the most part, the audience was quiet, though there was a mobile phone ring during Arkel's aria at the end. This was the first performance I sat off to one side, to the left in this case. One is closer to the stage and can make out the faces well, but some of the stage is certainly obscured, due to the shape of the building. I sat next to a young man possibly from the French-speaking part of Switzerland or Belgium, which I learned from a conversation in German between him and a German woman who took the empty seat next to him at intermission. They discussed the performance, and it was said that the production was rather artificial. At one point the German woman asked if he knew that a "Berliner" is a sort of pastry.

Pittsburgh Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 18-26 2008: Samson et Dalila
November 15-23 2008: The Grapes of Wrath
February 7-15 2009: Don Pasquale
March 28- April 5 2009: La Bohème
May 2-10 2009: L'Italiana in Algeri

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is singing Dalila, which should be interesting. Vivica Genaux and William Burden sing the lead roles in L'Italiana, as they did in San Francisco a few seasons ago, and it is the same cute Santa Fe production as we saw here. Former Adler Fellow Sean Pannikar will sing Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath.

Official Site | Post-Gazette Article | Tribune-Review Article

Opera Company of Philadelphia's 2008-2009 Season

October 10-24 2008: Fidelio
November 14-23 2008: L'Italiana in Algeri
February 20- March 6 2009: Turandot
April 24- May 3 2009: L'enfant et les sortilèges/Gianni Schicchi
June 5-14 2009: The Rape of Lucretia

Nathan Gunn and William Burden will be singing in The Rape of Lucretia.

Press Release | Official Site

Dallas Opera's 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Seasons

November 14-22 2008: Le Nozze Di Figaro
December 5-13 2008: Die Fledermaus
January 23-21 2009: Roberto Devereux
February 13-21 2009: La Bohème
March 6-14 2009: L'Italiana in Algeri

James Valenti is having his Dallas Opera debut as Rodolfo. William Burden is singing Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri, in the production San Francisco Opera audiences saw in 2005, directed by Chris Alexander. The Fledermaus production from Seattle Opera, last performed there in 2006, was also produced by Alexander.

The 2009-2010 season was announced today:

October 2009: Otello
February 2010: Così fan tutte
February/March 2010: Don Pasquale
Late April 2010: Moby-Dick
May 2010: Madama Butterfly

The new Winspear Opera House will be open by then. Most interesting in this inaugural season is the world premiere of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, conducted by Patrick Summers and starring Ben Heppner. The work is a co-commission and co-production with San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, and Calgary Opera.

Press Release [PDF]

Seattle Opera's 2008-2009 Season

August 2-23 2008: Aida
August 16 2008: International Wagner Competition
October 18- November 1 2008: Elektra
January 10-24 2009: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
February 21- March 7 2009: Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung
May 2-16 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro

I may avoid Aida, as Andrea Gruber is in the title role, and her vibrato is overwhelming. I am not terribly fond of Les Pêcheurs de Perles, but William Burden will sing Nadir, so I might just go, considering it is also during the San Francisco Opera hiatus. I am most interested in hearing Bluebeard's Castle, as I missed this in Los Angeles. John Relyea is singing the title role in Seattle. Mariusz Kwiecien is singing the Count in Figaro, but the rest of the cast may not be up to his level.

Seattle PI Article

Closing of The Rake's Progress

Rakecar* Notes *
The Rake's Progress closed today with a Sunday matinée, and to my surprise, I attended, as I was offered a seat from a friend. This season I have avoided Sunday performances, as they are extraordinarily popular. Also, the last performances at the end of the year are crowded, after my experience with the
closing of Carmen last year, I was not too keen on experiencing something like that again. The staging went well today, I did not hear any stage managers and the only thing that was really loud was when they were placing the trailer. The set is clever, and this production is a testament to how one can have both novelty and invention without distracting from the drama and music. The only truly weak part may have been the Bedlam scene, though I appreciate that the persistence of certain stage elements must have been important to the set designer and director. The sunken area of the lunatic asylum is clearly the same space delineated in the earlier swimming pool scene. Unfortunately, having the singers in that small space, the chorus and the principals, was strange. Worse, it cut them off from the audience, and lowered the dramatic tension. Perhaps the scene read better in the balcony.

The orchestra sounded better than opening night, but not quite up to their very best. I consistently found both James Morris (Nick Shadow) and Trulove (Kevin Langan) more difficult to hear than the other lead singers. Morris has had perfect comic timing throughout. Langan's acting was good, suitably skeptical of Tom in the beginning, sympathetic at the madhouse. Denyce Graves had a huge presence and I especially adored her in "You Love Him, Seek To Set Him Right." At times her voice was somewhat harsh, but it was fine for this role. Laura Aikin's high notes were lovely, her Anne Trulove never had too much vibrato. William Burden was marvelous in the title role, his voice lucid and his acting brilliant.

* Tattling *
A young woman in Box W arrived late, and she took off one of her shoes and put her foot on an empty chair. She was unable to do this during the second half of the opera, as people were seated in the second row (she was in the third). After the opera, I noticed she was limping, so it was probably a sprain.

The costume for Nick Shadow in his last scene is a red unitard covered with strips of material. I believe it is meant to make him look as if he is being consumed in flames, but to me it just looks like a chicken suit.

For my own amusement, I tried to dress like a 1940s Hollywood starlet, wearing my hair in the manner of Veronica Lake. Baritone Frederick Matthews complimented my shoes.