Merola's 63rd Season Participants

4.Sheri_Greenawald_Photo_Kristen_Loken-1-scaledSopranos
Emily Blair, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Catherine Goode, Friendswood, Texas
Magdalena Kuźma, New York, New York
Celeste Morales, San Antonio, Texas
Mikayla Sager, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Johanna Will, Dresden, Germany

Mezzo-Sopranos
Gabrielle Barkidjija, River Forest, Illinois
Gabrielle Beteag, Atlanta, Georgia
Jesse Mashburn, Hartselle, Alabama
Nikola Printz, Novato, California
Isabel Signoret, Miami, Florida

Tenors
Victor Cardamone, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gabriel Hernandez, Tampa, Florida
Philippe L'Esperance, Grafton, Massachusetts
WooYoung Yoon, Seoul, South Korea
Tianchi Zhang, Huainan, Anhui, China

Baritones
Thomas Lynch, Lynbrook, New York
Samson McCrady, Tucson, Arizona
Laureano Quant, Barranquilla, Colombia

Bass-Baritones
Ben Brady, Denver, Colorado
Andrew Dwan, Mountain View, California
Seungyun Kim, Cheong-ju, South Korea

Apprentice Coaches
Yang Lin, Shanghai, China
Michael McElvain, Chicago, Illinois
Anna Smigelskaya, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shiyu Tan, Changsha, Hunan, China
Marika Yasuda, Williamsburg, Virginia

Apprentice Stage Director
Audrey Chait, Menlo Park, California

The Merola Opera Program announced participants for 2020, the last for San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken), who is also the Artistic Director of the program.

The Schwabacher Summer Concert at the Presidio Theatre (99 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco) is on Thursday, July 9 and Saturday, July 11.

The Merola artists perform Postcard from Morocco on Thursday, July 23 and Saturday, July 25 and Le nozze di Figaro on Thursday, August 6 and Saturday, August 8. All of these operas are to be performed at the Presidio Theatre.

The season ends with the participants singing in the annual Merola Grand Finale on Saturday, August 22 at the War Memorial Opera House.

The Merolini arrive June 2, 2020, though the COVID-19 situation is being monitored, and the season may be postponed or canceled as a result.

Official Site | Press Releases


The Met's 2020-2021 Season

MetoperaSeptember 21- December 12 2020: Aida
September 22- October 16 2020: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
September 23- October 10 2020: Roberto Devereux
October 2 2020- March 12 2021: Carmen
October 17- November 6 2020: Tristan und Isolde
October 24 2020- May 8 2021: La Traviata
October 30 2020- May 29 2021: Il Trovatore
November 12- December 5 2020: The Fiery Angel
November 21 2020- April 17 2021: La Bohème
November 30- December 23 2020: Fidelio
December 11 2020- January 14 2021: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
December 15 2020- January 8 2021: Hansel and Gretel
December 31 2020- June 5 2021: Die Zauberflöte
January 12- April 22 2021: Roméo et Juliette
March 2-21 2021: Giulio Cesare
March 1- May 20 2021: Don Giovanni
March 5-20 2021: Lulu
March 16- April 6 2021: Rusalka
April 8- May 2 2021: Dead Man Walking
March 26- May 15 2021: Nabucco
April 16- May 6 2021: Die Frau Ohne Schatten
May 7- June 4 2021: Il Pirata
May 21- June 5 2021: Billy Budd

The Met announced the 2020-2021 season. The new productions are Aida, The Fiery Angel, Die Zauberflöte, Don Giovanni, and Dead Man Walking. Sunday matinee performances are continuing and the season extends into June.

Press Releases | Official Site


Don Giovanni at Pocket Opera

Don-giovanni-pocket-opera-2020* Notes *
Pocket Opera opened the 2020 season with Don Giovanni yesterday afternoon at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. The singing and staging of this English language performance was one of the most engaging I've experienced of Mozart's dark comedy.

Donald Pippin, the Artistic Director Emeritus of Pocket Opera, has retired and this is the first performance of the company I've seen without his whimsical commentary. While I did miss him, his stamp is still certainly seen in the translation of the libretto.

The opera started off more or less as a local company production, some very suspect playing from the tiny orchestra and fine singing from a strong cast. Director Jane Erwin's work is straightforward. Mozart's music leaves the eleven instrumentalists very exposed, every sour note or lack of unison was obvious.

Music director and conductor César Cañón made an earnest effort but there were moments of complete and painful chaos. Cañón's piano playing was sprightly and there were times when the Pocket Philharmonic managed to pull it together.

The cast is talented. Bass Jason Sarten is highly believable as the Commendatore, especially when he is meant to be a statue, his movements were spot on. Baritone Mitchell Jones is charming as Masetto, as is soprano Sara LeMesh as Zerlina. It was very interesting to hear LeMesh in something so different her spectacular turn as Bess in West Edge Opera's Breaking the Waves last summer. Her voice has a wonderful vitality to it but is always precise.

Mezzo-soprano Jaime Korkos begins with an appropriately hysterical tone as Donna Elvira, her desperation seems real and she grew more and more plaintive by the end. In contrast, Rabihah Davis Dunn was a well-controlled Donna Anna, her soprano is clear and flexible. As Don Ottavio, tenor Kevin Gino is sturdy and open. Baritone Spencer Dodd is a warm and winsome Leporello while baritone Anders Fröhlich radiates danger and menace as Don Giovanni.

By the beginning of the Act I finale I had pretty much heard and seen what I had expected, but when Don Ottavio brandishes a gun (which is in the libretto but I've rarely if ever seen on stage) I was snapped out of my complacency. The stakes seem very genuine, Don Giovanni's use of Leporello as a human shield actually makes sense, as is the latter's anger at the beginning of Act II.

The momentum of the drama wasn't lost after the intermission, and the handling of Don Giovanni's descent to hell was skillful. Fröhlich tears off his shirt as he is tormented by the invisible chorus of demons, then he himself is unseen by the rest of the cast. Leporello picks up the cast-off clothing as he explains himself in the concluding ensemble.

* Tattling * 
There were the usual watch alarms at the hour. The audience looked full, I only saw one empty seat in the sixth row.


Opera San José's Il trovatore

Il-trovatore_David-Allen_8-scaled* Notes *
Opera San José is in the midst of an appealing run of Il trovatore. The traditional production cleanly moves through the scenes and has a hint of humor plus lots of robust singing and playing.

Though the synchrony of the brass-heavy orchestra and the singers was not always focused, the performance yesterday had much charm. The plot of Il trovatore is famously absurd, and there were definitely moments in which director Brad Dalton leaned into this, as seen when the Count di Luna and Manrico fight over Leonora (pictured, photograph by David Allen). Leonora grabs a sword herself and the effect is pretty amusing. The set is simple, stone stairs represent everything from a garden to a dungeon, but it works with the help of super-titles.

There is much powerful singing. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu gave a nuanced performance as the Count di Luna, his rich warmth can sound both angry and plaintive. Likewise mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman impressed as Azucena. Her mad recounting of what happened to her mother and her baby son were chilling, while she had a tender sweetness in her duet with Manrico "Ai nostri monti ritorneremo" in the last act.

Il-trovatore_David-Allen_3-scaledTenor Mackenzie Gotcher cuts a fine figure as Manrico, and his singing is strong, especially in volume. Soprano Kerriann Otaño also has a big voice, with a wide vibrato and drama to spare. Her Leonora is very spirited and her low notes are especially beautiful.

* Tattling *
The audience was very much engaged with the performance, though someone's phone did ring during a quiet moment when the Count di Luna sang near the end of the first half. I had to giggle when the ladies behind us speculated on what would happen next, prognosticating that "someone must die."


Washington National Opera's 2020-2021 Season

Washington-national-operaOctober 24– November 9 2020: Fidelio
October 31– November 14 2020: Nixon in China
February 20­– March 17 2021: Boris Godunov
February 21– March 20 2021: Rigoletto
February 27– March 19 2021: Così fan tutte
May 15–29 2021: La bohème

The 2020-2021 season at WNO was announced today. Elkhanah Pulitzer makes her WNO directorial debut with Nixon in China, and Renée Fleming does too with Così fan tutte.

Press Releases | Official Site


PBO's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (Again)

Pbo-aci-galatea-polifemo-31-1-2020* Notes * 
The production of Aci, Galatea e Polifemo that has a final performance tonight at ODC Theater in San Francisco is well worth a second viewing. National Sawdust and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra have successfully pulled off a disquieting and dark vision of Händel's serenata.

This time around I was in the eighth row rather than the first, and it made it easier to appreciate Mark Grey's video art, which starts off with Delft blue tiles depicting sea life and ships and switches to various eye irises, water, earthworms, and blood. While a step up from jewelry advertisements or screensavers, these images could be a bit on the nose, as when the letters of Polifemo's name show up garishly and slowly in gold on the screen as he makes his entrance or when a seagull flaps as Aci sings about birds.

I was, however, able to make more sense of the action on stage from further back, and it was easier to see the internal logic of this world of violence that surrounds a bathtub. I also was better able to see the interplay of shadows, which was very striking at times.

Bass-baritone Davóne Tines (Polifemo) clearly has the hardest role, the range dramatically and vocally required is definitely greatest of the three. He seemed in better voice yesterday than a week ago, he never cracked even in the highest notes and his low ones were less growled. As Aci, soprano Lauren Snouffer gets thrown to the wall rather a lot, but she always sounds perfectly clean and lucid. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo's Galatea is strong, his voice is very smooth from top to bottom. All the parts are physically demanding and all gave committed performances.

I loved hearing Maestro Nicholas McGegan and the orchestra again. There were some lovely soli from the guitar, the violin, and the oboe. It was fun seeing how the dolphin and whale sounds were made, col legno battuto on the cello for the former and a sliding note from the bass for the latter.

* Tattling * 
The young woman next to me in Row H Seat 18, probably a voice student attending with her classmates, laughed quite a bit during the opera and got an intense fit of giggles as the countertenor thrashed against the tub toward the end of the piece. She shook as she suppressed her laughter, but made very little noise.


LA Opera's 2020-2021 Season

Chandler_balconiesSeptember 26- October 18 2020: Il Trovatore
October 18– November 7 2020: Tannhäuser
November 21–December 13 2020: La Cenerentola
January 30– February 21 2021: Don Giovanni
February 27- March 21 2021: Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves
April 15-18 2021: Du Yun's In Our Daughter's Eyes
April 30 2021: Tamerlano (concert version)
May 15- June 5 2021: Aida

Los Angeles Opera announced its next season yesterday.

Official Site


PBO's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

BySuzanneKarp_8in.wide* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Maestro Nicholas McGegan (pictured, photograph by Suzanne Karp) opened a run of Händel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo last night at the ODC Theater in San Francisco. The fully-staged co-production with the Brooklyn-based National Sawdust is absolutely menacing but beautifully acted, sung, and played.

The short piece is not a proper opera, it only runs 90 minutes, but features the love triangle of nymph Galatea, her beloved shepherd Acis, and the cyclops Polyphemus. These performances use the overture from Agrippina, which was punctuated by combination sweeper-mops.

Our Galatea and Acis are dressed alike in forest green scrubs, white hair caps, yellow gloves, and black clogs. The set is essentially two walls and a claw-footed bath tub. Much cleaning ensues. Characters get in and out of the tub, threaten each other or themselves with a straight razor, and throw objects around. The effect is disquieting and alienating, especially in the intimate space. It's very difficult to tell what is going on, since the action often has nothing to do with the plot and the characters sometimes simply play dead for long periods of time.

BathThankfully, the music is gorgeous and the three voices very lovely. Bass-baritone Davóne Tines has the most challenging role of Polifemo, some of the low notes seemed utterly ridiculous and impossible, particularly in the aria "Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori." His rival, soprano Lauren Snouffer as Aci, has a clean, otherworldly tone. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sang Galatea with smooth verve.

Best of all is the orchestra, an ensemble of thirteen musicians including Maestro McGegan playing harpsichord. The jaunty tempi were never sluggish but never too rapid either.

* Tattling * 
There were cetacean sounds when "e l'orche, e le balene" are mentioned and this made me and my companion laugh out loud.

A few people left this performance before the end, and because of how this theater is set up, their exits were in full view of the whole audience and performers.


SF Opera's 2020-2021 Season

WMOH9_JoelPuliattiSeptember 11 2020: Opening Night Concert with Albina Shagimuratova, Pene Pati, and Eun Sun Kim
September 12– October 1 2020: Fidelio
September 13– October 4 2020: Rigoletto
October 6–28 2020: Così fan tutte
October 29- November 22 2020: Poul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale
November 15–December 6 2020: La Bohème
April 25- May 16 2021: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
April 27- May 15 2021: Der Zwerg
May 2-8 2021: Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin in Concert: A Celebration of Verdi and Wagner

General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the 2020-2021 season for San Francisco Opera today. Because they are installing new seats in the War Memorial Opera House in from May to August 2021, the summer part of the opera season has been moved earlier.

Press Release | Official Site


Seattle Opera's 2020-2021 Season

Dreaming-in-ColorAugust 8-22 2020: Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci
October 17-31 2020: The Elixir of Love
January 16-30 2021: Don Giovanni
February 27- March 13 2021: Johnathan Dove's Flight
May 8-23 2021: Tosca

Seattle Opera announced the 2020-2021 season today. Lidiya Yankovskaya conducts Don Giovanni with Daniel Okulitch and Jared Bybee sharing the title role. Creative Director of Opera Parallèle Brian Staufenbiel directs Flight, which his company did in 2017.

Many former Adlers and Merolini pepper the casts such as Melody Moore (Santuzza in Cav), Michael Sumuel (Leporello in Don Giovanni), Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore in Don Giovanni), and Renée Rapier (Minskwoman in Flight).

Official Site


Wozzeck at the Met

WOZ_1544a* Notes *
William Kentridge's latest production of Wozzeck (pictured, photograph by Ken Howard) at The Met perfectly captures the nightmarish quality of Berg's piece. The opening yesterday evening was one of immersive theater and absolutely beautiful playing from the orchestra.

The set is dark, filled with projected drawings, animations, and video footage of human movement. The beauty of the images really puts to shame much of the screensaver-like video projections we often see on the opera stage.

There are a couple of actors dressed up as soldier/nurse hybrids complete with gas masks, caps with red crosses, and aprons. It was as if Kentridge's images had come to life and the effect is unsettling.

Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted a clarion orchestra, the shape of the music apparent and striking. The banda that comes on stage through a wardrobe did particularly well. The chorus also was great, sounding cohesive and embodying the aesthetic of the production.

The cast is strong, as one would expect. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn is malicious but still comic as the Doctor, matched well by the incisive tones from tenor Gerhard Siegel as the Captain. Tenor Christopher Ventris is a bold Drum Major, appealing but his cruelty comes through clearly in Act II, Scene 5, when he taunts Wozzeck.

Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford (Margret) has some wonderfully deep low notes, a fine contrast with soprano Elza van den Heever (Marie). Van den Heever showed her range, she could be terrifying, almost harsh and sweet and even close to angelic. Most impressive is baritone Peter Mattei in the title role. His warm sound is engaging, and his pathos made Wozzeck seem very human.

IMG_1901* Tattling *
We sat in Row B, all the way to the right of the house. After 8pm, when the performance was supposed to begin, a woman boldly sat in front of us, where one of the staff usually sits to guard a door to the orchestra pit. The employee directly asked to see the person's ticket, and she made many excuses, even lying that she did have that seat.

There was some light talking, and someone loudly hushed the offenders at least once. Some people definitely left early, even though there was no intermission.


The Magic Flute at the Met

Flute_Final_2567_C* Notes *
The Met's holiday presentation of The Magic Flute (David Portillo as Tamino, photograph by Karen Almond ) is completely charming. The abridged version in English is less than two hours long, and perfect for children.

I saw the full version of this production in German more than twelve years ago, and vividly remember Julie Taymor's cunning use of puppetry. It holds up well, my five-year-old didn't say a word for the entire performance.

He loved the bears dancing when Tamino plays the flute, the sight gags of lobster and spaghetti with Papageno, and the flamingos in "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen." J. D. McClatchy's translation is direct and immediate. The illustrated synopsis was helpful, this might be a good idea for all operas, but really made the action clear to my son, who has seen the DVD version of this production twice, but liked having a refresher on what was going to happen.

Maestro Lothar Koenigs conducted a sprightly and beautiful orchestra, the only fuzzy note coming from the horns during the trial by fire. The chorus was lovely and transparent.

The cast is very good. Tenor Rodell Rosel is very funny as Monostatos, the crowd adored him with his bat wings and eight little claws. The audience also loved baritone Joshua Hopkins as Papageno. He has a very sympathetic presence, and his dance moves are extremely funny. His sound has a delightful lightness. Bass Soloman Howard is a noble Sarastro. He is creaky, but not in an unpleasant way.

Soprano Ying Fang (Pamina) is limpid and bright. Her voice showed no strain at all. Soprano Kathryn Lewek is almost brassy as the Queen of the Night, but not at all shrill. Her metallic sound was pronounced in her first aria and more bird-like in her second. Tenor David Portillo is a fine Tamino, his voice is so open and clear.

Theo-met-2019* Tattling *
When the 2019-2020 season was announced, I was very keen on going to Wozzeck, as the production ins from William Kentridge. Somehow I convinced my spouse that we should have Christmas in New York City, and since our five-year-old (pictured) loves Mozart, I thought it was a good opportunity to go to The Magic Flute with him. Since he was very much into San Francisco Opera's Hansel and Gretel last month, I wasn't too worried about if he could sit still for one hour and 45 minutes. He himself was a bit concerned, but we took the subway to Lincoln Center, had a chocolate chip cookie on the concourse level of the theater, took the elevator to the top of the house, and walked back down to our seats in the front row of the orchestra. I sat in Row A Seat 108, which is obstructed by the conductor and let my child enjoy the better seat.

Theo was nervous about the snake in the beginning, and asked if it was acceptable to close his eyes for that part. I told him it was fine, and this is the first opera performance we've been to together that he hasn't ended up on my lap. It was so sweet to hear him laugh at Papageno and to share this music with him, it had me in tears by the end of the opera. As soon as we got back to the place we are staying in New York, Theo excitedly told his little sister that he had seen "the real Papageno."

Since we were so close to the stage, even the small amount of talking from audience members was easy to ignore. I also noticed some snoring from the person on the other side of Theo, but this was very brief.

There are two more matinee performances this Saturday and next Thursday. The weekend performance also features an open house.


San Francisco Opera's Music Director

KIM_Eun_Sun_headshotSan Francisco Opera's next music director is Eun Sun Kim (pictured, photograph by Nikolaj Lund). The company has been without a head conductor since Nicola Luisotti left in 2017.

Kim conducted a memorable Rusalka last June and is conducting the Adler concert tomorrow.

She is one of the only female music directors of a major opera company in the United States, other than Lidiya Yankovskaya, who has been Chicago Opera Theater's music director since 2017.

It is really nice to see SF Opera put a woman of color into a leadership position, after creating a Department of Diversity, Equity and Community last summer and the various attempts at "diverse" operas such as Girls of the Golden West and Dream of the Red Chamber. Kim is from Seoul and studied composition and conducting there as well as in Stuttgart.

Biography | San Francisco Opera Press Releases


Ars Minerva's Ermelinda

Nikola-Printz-Ermelinda-Valentina-Sadiul-Ars-Minerva-2019* Notes * 
Before leaving for Ars Minerva's Ermelinda last night, my 5-year-old asked what the opera was about, and seeing that I was at a loss, he cheerfully let me off the hook, saying I could tell him today after I had seen it. Even after the delightful performance, the convoluted narrative is rather difficult to sum up, but the production is wonderfully campy and the music absolutely beautiful.

The opera by Domenico Freschi hasn't been performed since its 1680 premiere in Piazzola sul Brenta, and Francesco Maria Piccioli's libretto is absurdly incoherent, even by Baroque opera standards. There are, of course, the standard overlapping love triangles along with deceptions involving madness and reported death. The ending is ridiculously abrupt in its resolution, the titular character attempts suicide and suddenly everyone takes her seriously and all is well.

Stage director Céline Ricci leans into the silliness, there are winks and nods to be sure. The one supernumerary, Elizabeth Flaherty has a mustache she puts on and takes off to indicate which servant she is. The orchestra is included in the fun, the leading man Ormondo, love interest of both Ermelinda and Rosaura, pretends to be crazy by hitting the theorbo player and conductor/harpsichordist with sunflowers.

The costumes designed by Matthew Nash are luridly pink and purple ruffles for Ermelinda (pictured, photograph by Valentina Sadiul), a dress of artificial flowers for her friend Rosaura, and lavish brocades and silks for the males.

The tiny orchestra sounded great, conductor and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour has a jauntiness that is very pleasant with the astringency of all these stringed instruments. The two violins, viola, cello, and therorbo were together and filled the space nicely without being overpowering.

Ermelinda-2019The strong and consistent cast is mezzo-heavy. The one countertenor, Justin Montigne as Ermelinda's father Aristeo, has the highest voice, and though not as uniform as the others, he sounds quite flute-like. He was able to wiggle his eyebrows and twitch his face rather impressively when angered by his daughter. Contralto Sara Couden is a dashing Ormondo, her height and stature work in her favor and she has a physicality that is perfect for the various sight-gags in the production. Her face is expressive. She had perhaps two or three sort of froggy sour notes, but her voice is impressively deep and vibrant. I very much enjoyed her "T'adoro si ma nó" ("I adore you yes, but no I don't") as she pretends to be an insane Clorindo, tormenting poor love-sick Rosaura near the end of Act I.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Rosengaus is Rosaura's brother Armidoro, also in love with title character Ermelinda, and thus, rival to Ormondo. Her voice is light and pretty, her physical appearance less suitably imposing than Couden's. It was amusing to see mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz as Ermelinda, she is very often in male drag (she was Agamemnon in last year's Ifigenia at Ars Minerva) so seeing her this femme is fun. All the girly colors and lace and corsets! Her voice is clean and clear.

However, mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich stole the show as Rosaura. She sings everything from these obscure Baroque operas to contemporary works such as Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves. Her voice has such beautiful warm resonances and her Rosaura was both uproariously comic and richly radiant.

Tattling * 
I attended this opera as part of a group of young people, though I barely (if at all) qualify as this. I arrived at ODC Theater too early and parked myself in the corner of a bench to read and sip tea as I waited, definitely taking up more than my share of space with my Panda backpack. A young couple sat next to me and I was too focused on La Frantumaglia to make more room for them.

When I entered the hall to find my seat, rather close to curtain, I not only made an elderly lady stand up for me, I wasn't even in the correct spot. Much to my chagrin, the same young couple were in the seats right next to mine and since I didn't want to make them get up for me and my friend was on the other end of Row D, I went around muttering "I'll just bother Michael instead." I was too loud and got teased by the Chronicle's classical music critic, who was heading to his seat on the center aisle of the very same row at the exact same time. To add to my sense of being constantly underfoot and in the wrong place, the person from ODC who asked us to silence our electronic devices and pointed out the exits began the announcement with an acknowledgement of our being on stolen Ohlone land.