Tancredi at Bregenzer Festspiele

IMG_7511* Notes *
Rossini's Tancredi (ovation pictured, photograph by author) premiered at Bregenzer Festspiele last night in the Großer Saal of the Festspielhaus. Based on Voltaire's play, the opera has lots of brilliant music that is a joy to hear.

Set in Syracuse, the production from Jan Philipp Gloger is updated to be set in a Cosa Nostra household. It was a bit on the nose, but the revolving set itself is very attractive. The role of Tancredi is written for a mezzo or contralto en travesti, but for this version the character is a woman with she/her pronouns, but this is only known to her beloved, Amenaide.

The singing was adequate. Mezzo-soprano Laura Polverelli was throaty and emotive as Isaura, who was Amenaide's mom rather than her friend in this production. Bass-baritone Andreas Wolf was perfectly fine as Tancredi's rival Orbazzano. Tenor Antonino Siragusa shouted quite a bit as Amenaide's father Argirio. His voice is bright but not overly plaintive or pretty.

Soprano Mélissa Petit is a lovely Amenaide, her sound is bird-like and she sang very beautifully with mezzo-soprano Anna Goryachova as Tancredi. Goryachova has some wooliness to her lower register, but her high notes have a nice clarity and she definitely is convincing as an androgynous person in both her body-type but more importantly, in her carriage. Her last piece was very sad, not only because of her singing, but because she has been completely abandoned on the stage and is singing for no one.

The orchestra could have been more precise and driven under the baton of Maestra Yi-Chen Lin, though the beauty of the music was evident.

* Tattling *
Again, the Bregenz audience was quite terrible. The two women who moved in from the aisle behind me in Row 23 spoke loudly and said very self-evident things like "Es is eine Frau, eine Chinesin" about the conductor when the orchestra was playing. A woman next to us in Row 22 loudly unwrapped a cough drop for several seconds during a choral part of Act I.

Naturally, there were people taking pictures of the opera during the performance. A person in Row 20 Seat 6 was stoped by an usher in the first half, but both talked to her companion (for which she was roundly hushed by my seat mate) and took at least one photo during the second half.

Der Freischütz at Bregenzer Festspiele

IMG_7483* Notes *
A spectacular new production of Der Freischütz (ovation pictured, photograph by author) opened at the Seebühne of the Bregenzer Festspiele yesterday night. The opera featured an icy town under a huge moon with reimagined spoken dialogue.

Philipp Stölzl's staging created a whole world complete with synchronized swimming, ice skating, and lots of fire. There were some silly bird sound effects and kitschy projections on the moon, but for the most part, there was always something to look at as objects would rise from the partially submerged set. The singers and dancers did an impressive job moving about the stage, it seems like they could easily slipped.

As this took place on Lake Constance, the singers were all amplified and the orchestra, the Wiener Symphoniker, was not even visible expect by simulcast. The music is quite jaunty and fun. It was a little weird that the camera focused often on the finger boards of string instruments, instead of the conductor, Enrique Mazzola.

There was some charismatic performances, Moritz von Treuenfel had an outsized role as Samiel, the Black Huntsman, and brought an intense physicality to this spoken part. He was also darkly funny. Bass Christof Fischesser was suitably sinister as Kaspar, and tenor Thomas Blondelle had a pleasing warmth and baritonal quality as Max.

Strongest of all were the two sopranos,  Hanna Herfurtner was an incisive Ännchen without being shrill and Mandy Fredrich had a beautifully clear but emotionally-charged performance as Agathe.

* Tattling *
This audience was badly-behaved. There was a family of four in Row 32 Seats 302 to 305 who came with another couple that pretty much spoke for the entire two hours. The two males in the group repeated took photographs of the performance even though we had been explicitly told not to at the beginning.

For the most part the talking was fairly quiet at least. It is simply unnerving to be around audience members who don't seem that engaged with such an over-the-top display in such a unique setting. It makes you wonder what would make them stop talking and put their phones down.

Opera Parallèle's Fellow Travelers

Fellowtravelers _stefancohen_030* Notes *
Opera Parallèle is presenting the West Coast premiere of Fellow Travelers (Scene 6 pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) this weekend in San Francisco at the Presidio Theatre. The opera, a love story set in McCarthy era Washington DC, features a wordy libretto by Greg Spears and lyrical music from Gregory Spears.

Directed by Artistic Director Brian Staufenbiel, this chamber opera is very much makes for compelling theater, with romance, intrigue, and betrayal. Jacquelyn Scott's scenic design employs props hidden in a platform to move the action along with help from background projections. The mid-century costumes from Y. Sharon Peng are pleasing.

Opera Parallèle's Music Director Nicole Paiement is conducting John Adams in Vienna, so Maestro Jaymes Kirksey was at the helm of the pit. Though perhaps not as taut as usual, the orchestra sounded lovely playing this sweeping score, there were lots of trills and perhaps some references to Tchaikovsky. The libretto is structured in a way that feels very metrical, the repeated lines come back within the context of a duet or ensemble that reminded me of a tightly structured poetic form like a villanelle.

The plot centers on a love story between Hawkins "Hawk" Fuller, who works in the State Department, and Timothy Laughlin, a recent college graduate who aspires to work on The Hill. There is some great singing from the cast. even in the smaller roles. Soprano Cara Gabrielson has a full, icy clear voice as Lucy, Hawk's beard and soprano Elena Galván (Miss Lightfoot) was incisive and cut through the orchestration with utter clarity. Soprano Victoria Lawal is a sympathetic Mary Johnson, Hawk's assistant. Her Southern accent comes through nicely and her voice is smooth and resonant.

Fellowtravelers _stefancohen_068Best of all are the two leads (pictured in Scene 14, photograph by Stefan Cohen), who can both sing and act. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi embodied Hawk, he's charming and sounds sweetly vibrant. Tenor Jonathan Pierce Rhodes is convincing as Tim, he seems young and earnest, and his heartbreak is feels very real. His voice is beautiful, very clear and bright.

  • * Tattling *
    The scenes of this opera unfold one after another, so there weren't really pauses for people to chatter, which meant they spoke over the music at times. The folks in the center section of Row H closer to the odd numbered seats were quite audible, for instance. I did not hear electronic noise or see anyone use a cellular phone, so that was nice.

The opera is presented with an intermission after Scene 8, but it felt very abrupt. Maybe I have just gotten used to contemporary operas being done all in one go. The intermission must have been a little on the short side, because a person in our row came back late, as the music had already resumed

It was fun to see many familiar faces in the audience, and the intermission was a good time to catch up with some friends I haven't seen for a bit.

SF Opera's Partenope

Partenope-sfoperaact3-2024* Notes *
A revival of Händel's Partenope returned to San Francisco Opera last night. The sleek staging (Act III pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) is still very funny and the cast is fantastic.

Even though Händel wrote 42 operas, we usually only hear Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. Partenope (1730) had its first performances in the United States in 1988 and at the War Memorial in 2014,  so it is great to have the chance to hear this opera again. 

The 2008 production from Christopher Alden is set in a 1920s Parisian salon and references Man Ray, Surrealism, and Dadaism. There are many sight gags, leaning into the silliness of the plot. Crude drawings are scrawled on the walls; bananas are eaten, thrown, and worn; lewd gestures made; and jokes in and around a water closet figure prominently in Act II. The amount of toilet paper employed has, perhaps, a different valence than it did pre-pandemic.

The music is lovely, and conductor Christopher Moulds certainly keeps everyone moving. The rapid tempi at times felt rushed, but it was always lively and never dully square. The continuo was played prettily by cellist Evan Kahn, theorbist Richard Savino, and Maestro Moulds and Peter Walsh on harpsichord.

Partenope-sfopera-act1-2024Best of all was the singing, especially from the title character. Soprano Julie Fuchs (pictured in Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver), making her American debut, is truly a winsome Partenope. Her resonant voice is bell-like and clean, well-suited for the role. She went from strength to strength, her sound opening up as the night progressed. Her Act II aria "Qual farfalletta" was particularly beautiful and she interpolated some La Traviata into the end of Act III to hilarious effect.

Also making very fine company debuts were countertenors Carlo Vistoli (Arsace) and Nicholas Tamagna (Armindo). Vistoli has an almost girlish sweetness to his voice, very much at odds with his physical presentation, which was fun. His coloratura is impressive, but his introspective arias were also strong, as in Act III with "Ch'io parta." Tamagna sounded clear and open as Arsace's rival Armindo.

The cast was rounded out by three former Adler Fellows, all of whom can both sing and act. Baritone Hadleigh Adams is charming as Ormonte, he has a lot of charisma and a pleasant tone to boot. He looked and moved fabulously in his pink petticoated dress with Pickelhaube and bananas on his head. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack is suitably tormented and vacillating as Rosmira who is disguised as a man named Eurimene. Her voice is light and pretty, but she can sound downright mannish. Her real-life husband tenor Alek Shrader is Emilio, a military general also besotted by Partenope, but presented here as a stand-in for Man Ray. Shrader's antics are amusing, he is creepy and weird, constantly photographing the others. His voice has a richer tone than I remember in previous years.

* Tattling *
The couple behind us in Orchestra Row R Seats 2 and 4 were having the best time. They arrived precisely at 7:28pm and were exhilarated to be there just before the curtain rose. They did talk to each other the whole opera, but were so engaged that it was hard to be annoyed with them. They laughed uproariously at every single joke presented.

Otherwise, the rest of the audience also seemed to enjoy the opera, I heard lots of giggles and clapping for the various arias but very little in the way of electronic noise or lozenge wrappers.

In fact, the most ill-behaved person I observed was likely myself. I tried to dress as a flapper per the Roaring Twenties theme of this production and my boa, shed pink feathers all over the place.

SF Symphony's Erwartung

Sfsymphony-erwartung* Notes *
San Francisco Symphony performed Schoenberg's Erwartung (1909) for the first time on Friday. Conducted by outgoing music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra sounded splendid at the Saturday performance I attended. The musicians were very clear and together, while soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams (pictured as the Woman, photograph by Kristen Loken) sounded hearty, always able to cut through the lush orchestration.

This opera is part of director Peter Sellars and Salonen's collaboration  at San Francisco Symphony to put on large-scale works over four years. Sellars reframes this piece as an "Accidental Death in Custody" and begins with a body bag on stage. Two guards come out and Williams signs some papers on a clipboard. This new setting did not always work with the text, as it is very specific, and the opera is more ambiguous, the Woman gradually realizes her lover is dead, which is at odds with a corpse at her feet. The imagery of walking through the forest at night is lost, but the Woman's journey does retain a nightmarish quality, a very contemporary horror.

Maestro Salonen got his ideas across,  the orchestra has a fine clarity and everything felt laden with intent.  The piece can be quite loud, but I could always pick out the fluid soli. Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik played particularly well, though all the strings were shimmering. The woodwinds sounded lovely, especially the flute. The brass fanfares were clear and in tune.

The one vocal soloist, soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, was utterly focused and very strong. Her voice is well-supported from top to bottom and her high notes are crystalline without being the least bit shrill. She sounded robust no matter how she was positioned, whether she was standing or lying down, it did not seem to matter. Her German diction was clear as were the emotions of the text. It was an intense 33 minutes.

Sfsymphony-mere-oyeThe evening began with Ravel's Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) with choreography from Alonzo King performed by his LINES Ballet. King chose not to literally tell these stories, but there were characters within each of the dances. The dancers (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) were dressed in muted autumnal colors and were a joy to watch, lots of impressive extension, and coordinated movement. I love to hear live music with dancers, especially at this high level, though there were moments when I might have been more focused on the playing than the dancing.

* Tattling *
The dancing kept the audience rapt, they hardly made a peep during the Ravel. The Schoenberg is more challenging, and there was some light talking and looking at cell phones to check the time.

Surprisingly, many people I know attended this performance, as it was not the prima.

I was startled to see that SF Symphony had not performed the Schoenberg before, it's a bit funny to think a Saariaho was here first. I heard this at Seattle Opera where it was presented with Bluebeard's Castle in 2009. When I saw in the program that Mary Elizabeth Williams was in the young artist program at Seattle Opera before I had my first child, I thought I must have heard her before. Sure enough, she was Serena in Porgy and Bess back in 2011, and it was nice to see that I was consistent about really liking her voice. Apparently I found Erwartung "interminable."

SF Opera's Innocence (Again)

IMG_6846* Notes *
Hearing Saariaho's Innocence a second time at San Francisco Opera is most gratifying. The music is richly layered and the orchestra sounds great, as do the singers.

The whole production is at a very high level, it was even more obvious from the orchestra level how perfectly coordinated the staging was, and how quietly everything was placed as the massive set was spinning. I noticed this time around that the set mostly goes clockwise, but did also spin counterclockwise. There definitely were times when things did stop or speed up, and it is truly a feat.

Maestro Clément Mao-Takacs has the orchestra sounding very clear, there is lovely shimmering punctuated with pops of percussion, and I look forward to hearing this up in balcony standing room. Mao-Takacs high-fived all the principal singers when he came to the stage for the ovation (pictured, photograph by author) and he seemed to have a strong rapport with the musicians.

Again I loved hearing soprano Vilma Jää as Markéta , but was able to get a better handle on the other voices this time. Soprano Lucy Shelton (Teacher) almost screams, I felt like her voice was reaching inside of me, it was very disturbing. Soprano Claire de Sévigné (Mother-in-Law) can sound bird-like and crystalline, while soprano Lilian Farahani (Bride) has a touch more warmth and heft to her tone. Soprano Beate Mordal has a certain sweetness as Lilly, one of the students who survives, and soprano Marina Dumont was sympathetic as Alexia, another surviving student.

Julie Hega is menacing as Iris, the shooter's friend, her slow, deliberateness and deep voice are striking. It is also clear that the character has been abused and is in pain, so again, there is nuance. Tenor Miles Mykkanen has a bright quality to his voice. Mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose sang the role of Tereza, the Waitress, with a lot of passion, conveying the text with clarity in both her voice and her acting.

* Tattling *
There were some inappropriate giggles when Tereza confronts Patricia, the Mother-in-Law. Perhaps the person in question was just uncomfortable witnessing these mothers and their pain.

I did see the fog this time, it is right near the end and was to far upstage for me to see from Box B.

The original language supertitles to the sides of the stage did not appear during the June 7 performance, which was too bad, as I had found them very helpful to understand what language the opera was being sung in at any given moment.

The Magic Flute at SF Opera (Again)

Sfopera-rtg-2024* Notes * 
I attended San Francisco Opera's Die Zauberflöte with my family last Sunday, our first with all four of us. It was also my seven-year-old's (pictured left, photograph by author) first time to the War Memorial Opera House. Again, my favorite part was hearing Eun Sun Kim conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

It was very fun to be able to see the musicians in the orchestra pit, especially the fortepiano. We could not see all of the stage from where we were, but since most of staging was visible, it seemed easy enough to fill in what was going on, since all of us know this opera fairly well.

I was definitely a bit nervous about bringing my young children to the opera, and hopefully the younger one was not too annoying to the other two patrons with whom we shared Box Z. My daughter runs hot and was wearing two dresses, leggings, and a fake fur stole, so did overheat at one point.

Both children have familiarity with silent film, especially Buster Keaton, so they did get a lot of the jokes. They seemed charmed by the various animals projected on the stage. The black cat that befriends Papageno was a favorite, but they also liked the owls and cuttlefish.

Papageno may have missed a cue and his legs were facing the wrong direction from his body at the end of Act I.

The singing was more confident this time around,  Tenor Amitai Pati (Tamino) continued to sing well, though his voice is a bit light, as is soprano Anna Simińska (Queen of the Night).

* Tattling * 
My ten-year-old was his usual quiet self at the performance, this is the second time he's been to this particular opera. I think it's easier for him to pay attention when he's wearing his glasses, since that means he can actually read the supertitles. His sister did fairly well, and I'm glad I waited to bring her to San Francisco Opera now that she can read, since it is harder for her to sit still. When I told her if she didn't behave I wouldn't bring her again for a long time, she asked how long, and I responded with "20 years."

SF Opera's Innocence

Innocence2-sfopera-2024* Notes *
Kaija Saariaho's Innocence had a U.S. premiere last night at San Francisco Opera, almost exactly a year after her death. The performance was gripping, the music, narrative, and staging all had a relentless intensity.

As with Adriana Mater, the opera from Saariaho performed by San Francisco Symphony the previous June, Innocence deals with a very difficult topic. Sofi Okansen's original Finnish libretto, which was made into the nine-language final version by Aleksi Barriere, deals with a school shooting and its aftermath a decade later. The way the story unwinds, starting at a wedding reception in Helsinki and gradually taking us into the international school where the shooting takes place is very effective. The story is nuanced, there are many characters, but we are able to understand that nothing is black and white, nothing is simple.

The enormous set has two levels (pictured, photographs by Cory Weaver) and is basically looks like a modernist building. It revolves the entire 108 minutes of the opera, which has no intermission, and the scenes are changed when rooms are out of view. The crew members did an incredible job, and having rooms change from a reception hall into a classroom, which seemed to happen undetectably, pulled the audience into the world of this opera. 

Innocence1-sfopera-2024Saariaho's music is, however, the beating heart of this piece. The eerie textures of the orchestra had much color and shape under the baton of Maestro Clément Mao-Takacs. There wasn't a moment when my attention flagged, the intensity of focus from the orchestra pit was palpable. There were particularly beautiful soli from the bassoon, oboe, and harp. The brass and strings all sounded clear and clean.

The singers had microphones, which is characteristic of Sariaaho's work. This piece has a lot of speech singing (Sprechgesang) and the amplification made for good intelligibility, I could definitely understand the English, German, and Spanish without looking at the supertitles, which were provided in English above and in whichever language the words were in, which was so helpful. I really appreciated seeing the text, so that at a glance I could tell what language we were hearing.

There are a lot of principal singers for this opera, 21 in total. Soprano Vilma Jää was a standout, her portrayal of Student #1 (Markéta) was otherworldly. Her vocal technique comes from Finnish folk music, and her part was written for her. While it wasn't what one normally hears at the opera, it felt very much in place for this performance. Soprano Lucy Shelton as the Teacher was also very strong, she very much appeared to be a shattered person, it was clear in her singing. 

Baritone Rod Gilfry sang the Father-in-Law with warmth and subtlety, while soprano Claire de Sévigné gave an icy, almost frightening contrast as the Mother-in-Law. Tenor Miles Mykkanen has a pretty sound as the Bridegroom, but was able to effortlessly convey the different emotions of the opera. Soprano Lilian Farahani was a fine counterpoint as the Bride, her character is not in the community when the school shooting happened. She is perhaps easiest to identify with in the story, as what happens is unfolding to her as well. Mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose (Waitress) is the most devastating though, her pain felt very real to me, and her rich, powerful voice showed the anguish of losing a child.

* Tattling *
There were light whispers in Box A, but Box B (which included librettist Okansen, who had to scurry out to take her ovation) was exceedingly quiet. I did not hear or see anyone's cellular phone.

The advisory for this opera warned us of "FOG" in large letters, but of the gun violence in much smaller type below. I did not even detect this fog, but perhaps I was too fixated on other aspects of the performance. Cake is thrown out of anger and frustration, for example, which I really was not expecting.

The Magic Flute at SF Opera

_75A0387* Notes * 
Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade's delightful and clever production of Die Zauberflöte (end of Act I Scene 3 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night. Eun Sun Kim conducted a beautifully transparent performance with much lovely singing.

This 2012 production originates from Komische Oper Berlin and stages the opera in the silent film era. All the spoken text is cut, instead there are intertitles with Mozart's Fantasia in D minor K. 397 and Fantasia in C minor K. 475 played on fortepiano as accompaniment.

The stage is basically a large white surface with six revolving doors, all but one are situated high up, with little ledges for the singers to stand on. There are many animations to propel the story forward, all the scene changes are instantaneous. It was startling how many animation cues there were, some 729, all done by a dedicated stage manager, and they all appeared to go perfectly smoothly. The draw back of this elaborate scheme is that the singers have to be extremely exact in their positions and movements, and are hemmed in by the stage, often standing in a confined space for quite a long time as the projections move around them. But it certainly was an immersive experience, so much was happening and it was difficult to resist being drawn in to all the many sight gags and entertaining theatrical jokes and references.

Maestra Eun Sun Kim had the orchestra sounding completely transparent, I felt like I could hear every musical line and even feel where certain instruments were doubled. It was very nice to hear Mozart played with so much clarity. The soloists all did well, Julie McKenzie (flute), Stephanie McNab (pan flute), and Bryndon Hassman (glockenspiel) all played cleanly.

The chorus sounded strong, even if they were often hidden in two triple=tiered towers on either side of the projecting surface, we could always hear them.

The three boy sopranos Niko Min, Solah Malik and Jacob Rainow are suitably eerie as the the three spirits. Soprano Arianna Rodriguez is adorable as Papagena. The three ladies, sung by soprano Olivia Smith and mezzo-sopranos Ashley Dixon and Maire Therese Carmack, started off a bit hesitant but were fine by the end. Their scene mooning over Tamino was very much played for laughs. Tenor Zhengyi Bai's Monostatos was dressed as Count Orlok from Nosferatu, which was also very funny.

_75A7111Bass Kwangchul Youn is a solid and powerful Sarastro, while soprano Anna Simińska was a more delicate and ethereal Queen of the Night. She hit all her notes, sounding very fluttery and birdlike. Bass-baritone Lauri Vasar has a darker timbre than any Papageno I've ever heard, he has a breathiness to his sound as well, and a winsome manner. His duet with Christina Gansch (Pamina) in Act I, Scene 2 (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) sounded great. Gansch has a robust, well-rounded sound but also a certain brilliance. Tenor Amitai Pati has a very pretty voice, and his Tamino is sweet.

* Tattling * 
There were some lozenges loudly unwrapped toward the beginning of the performance, but not a lot of electronic noise. The audience did seem very engaged and reacted to the misogyny of the text. I also was bothered by the light of someone's phone in Row Q, in the center section, right on the aisle.

There were also a few pen clicks from the journalist behind me, who was clearly taking notes for a review. This person was asked to give an opinion of the opera at intermission by an audience member, which seemed quite inappropriate. I understand the audience member was just curious but it seems unkind to interrupt someone at work.

Víkingur Ólafsson Plays Goldberg Variations

Cal-performances-vikingur-olafsson-by-ari-magg-3 * Notes *
Pianist Víkingur Ólafsson (pictured, photograph by Ari Magg) is playing Bach's Goldberg Variations all over the world in the 2023-2024 season and came to Cal Performances last Saturday afternoon. The recital he gave was potent and focused, getting all sorts of colors out of the instrument.

He started off very sedately with the aria and proceeded to explore the wide range the thirty variations have to offer. His playing is always crystal clear and yet not bland in the least, there were always nuance and a varied array emotions that were palpable. He was never needlessly flashy, which one always does appreciate.

It definitely took the listener on a journey though the world of this piece. There were times in which I was flooded with the purest joy and other moments when I was close to tears. The clarity of Bach's music was a near religious experience.

* Tattling *
As is often the case with a performance without an intermission, this recital started 12 minutes late. Someone's cellular phone rang during the aria and Ólafsson stopped playing until the ringing stopped, and started again at the beginning. Somehow we made it through the 80 minutes without more phones ringing, though I did hear a watch alarm chime at 3pm and some doors slamming shut. There were also a lot of weird feedback sounds in Zellerbach, lots of loud buzzing and humming.

Ólafsson declined to do an encore, since the piece is so complete in and of itself, finishing with the Aria again at the end. He spoke to us instead, forgiving the cellular phone owner and praising Bach as the greatest composer in history while excusing himself to John Adams, who was in attendance, and whose new piano concerto After the Fall will premiere next season at San Francisco Symphony with Ólafsson as the soloist.

Pocket Opera's Cunning Little Vixen

Cunning-little-vixen-2024* Notes *
In April Pocket Opera did a charming run of Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody lišky Bystroušky) and I managed to catch the last performance at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco last weekend. It was the premiere of this translation from Pocket Opera's late founder Donald Pippin.

Janacek's opera was done in a new chamber version by the tiny orchestra that was seated on the stage behind singers. Maestro Jonathan Khuner had the musicians going at a fast clip, but the vivid music came through well and has stuck in my head for several days now.

Stage director Nicolas A. Garcia's production is very sweet and moves easily through the many scenes. The choreography, by Lissa Resnick, employs two talented dancers that portray a pair of insects and the human couple of Terenka and the Forester. I appreciated their movement through the lush instrumental interludes. The costumes were very cute, for the most part they suggested which animal they were to represent without being completely literal. The vixen wears a stylish sweatsuit in orange plus ears and a tail and the chickens have fifties dresses in black and white with red headbands and shoes (pictured), and it's just enough to feel intentional and cool rather than simply being on a shoestring budget.

The singing was all very strong. Contralto Sara Couden sounded great as both the Badger and the Parson, her rich voice is surprisingly well suited to these roles. The contrast of her with the tenor Erich Buchholz as the Mosquito and the Schoolmaster was very pleasing, they can hit the same notes and they sound totally different. Bass-baritone Robert Stafford did fine as Harašta the Poacher, as did mezzo-soprano Hope Nelson as GoldStripe the Fox, who was appealing and incisive.

Baritone Spencer Dodd also sounded plaintive as the Forester, a nice reedy sound. Best of all was soprano Amy Foote in the title role, her icy flexible sound and physical embodiment of SharpEars the Vixen was heartrending.

* Tattling * 
There was a lot of back and forth with one of the ushers as people were being seated during the beginning of Act I Scene 1, it was loud and hard to ignore. There was also one watch alarm at 4pm.

It's been about twenty years since I first heard this piece done at San Francisco Opera, and almost eight since I heard it at West Edge Opera in Oakland (also with Amy Foote, incidentally). It's embarrassing to remember how much I disliked it the first time, but I'm glad I've been able to come to appreciate Janáček so much more.

Opera San José's Florencia en el Amazonas

Opera-San-Jose_Florencia-en-el-Amazonas-8_Photo-Credit_David-Allen_edit-scaled * Notes *
Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas (Act II pictured, photograph by David Allen) had a long overdue Bay Area premiere at Opera San José last weekend. The attractive new production features lots of strong singing.

The music is reminiscent of Puccini, lots of shimmery swells of sound. The orchestra sounded robust under Maestro Joseph Marcheso. Likewise the singing was very powerful.

Bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian (Captain) has impressive low notes that resonate well. Baritone Ricardo José Rivera has a loud, booming voice, and he was suitably fey as Riolobo. Baritone Efraín Solís sounded very distinct from Rivera, his part as Alvaro is much more of this world, and his warm, textured sound was charming. He sang well with mezzo-soprano Guadalupe Paz, I like her part of Paula, as there are an interesting range of feelings that are explored with this role.

Tenor César Delgado and soprano Aléxa Anderson are convincing as young lovers Arcadio and Rosalba. Delgado is plaintive and Anderson is bright. Soprano Elizabeth Caballero did a fine job with the title role of Florencia Grimaldi. She has a dramatic flair to her sound, her final aria "Escúchame" was effective.

The set, designed by Liliana Duque-Piñeiro, has two pieces of scenery that suggest the river boat, basically some stairs with a deck and a paddlewheel. There are also a bunch of large cutout pieces hanging from the ceiling that are leaves and vines of the jungle, it is pretty, and the lighting pulls everything together. It wasn't always clear when the characters were on the boat or not, or when they were traveling on the river. Director Crystal Manich has the singers push the pieces of the set around to change the scenes, which went smoothly. I liked the butterfly imagery that was employed throughout the opera, there was a puppet, winged costumes, and blue butterfly confetti.

* Tattling * 
The audience silent for the most part, I only noted a light crinkling of paper from the center of the orchestra level during Act II, but it was only for about a minute.

Opera Parallèle's Birds and Balls

4.4.24-2105 Vinkensport Ensemble Credit Kristen Loken* Notes *
Opera Parallèle gave a splendid performance of two comedic one-act operas yesterday at SFJAZZ. Done in one go, the evening began with David T. Little's Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken), which was followed by Laura Karpman's Balls. It was impressive how cohesively these works were presented together, both visually and musically.

Director Brian Staufenbiel put us in a 70s telecast of these two very disparate sporting events, with Mark Hernandez as sports announcer Howard Cosell engaging the audience and even the conductor. There were projections surrounding us, and the live-image capture was especially effective. As always, Maestra Nicole Paiement deftly held the orchestra and singers together. It was fun to hear her conduct a bit of Verdi's Triumpal March from Aida in Balls, when Billie Jean King enters. At one point in this opera nearly all the musicians stopped playing their instruments and clapped beats with their hands, they were all very much synchronized, Paiement keeps everything very precise.

Vinkensport is about Flemish folk sport of Finch-Sitting, in which trained finches try to sing the most "susk-e-wiets" in an hour as possible. In this opera there are six competitors, all the finches have very amusing names. Soprano Jamie Chamberlin gave a very vulnerable and human performance as Holy St. Francis's Trainer, she's had quite a lot going on in her personal life, while soprano Chelsea Hollow's character of who trains Farinelli is actually just using a tape recorder, since her bird is deceased. Hollow's voice is crystalline and very beautiful. Soprano Shawnette Sulker as Sir Elton John’s Trainer drinks many martinis and is very funny, her bird-like voice seems very apropos. Tenor Nathan Granner is likewise entertaining as Han Sach’s Trainer, his nice light sound is very pretty. Rich-toned bass-baritone Chung-Wai Soong is more somber as Prince Gabriel III of Belgium’s Trainer, we learn he inherited his role as trainer from his father.  Baritone Daniel Cilli as Atticus Finch’s Trainer is also serious, setting his bird free in the end.

4.4.24-3004-Nikola Printz as BJK in Victory with Cast Credit Kristen Loken Balls (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) tells the story of "The Battle of the Sexes" tennis game between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973 with a surrealist bent, Susan B. Anthony is a character, and at one point Billie Jean King dons a tricorn hat.

Many of the singers in the first opera were also in the second, but Balls has the jazz singer Tiffany Austin as King's secretary, Marilyn. Austin has a lovely voice that stood out. Tenor Nathan Granner is again very humorous as Bobby Riggs. Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz was compelling as Billie Jean King, their sound is resonant and powerful.

* Tattling *
The audience was mostly quiet, but as Billie Jean King sang about the pressure of tennis, someone dropped some plastic cups in the Left Terrace, Row TJ.

Mark Padmore Sings Winterreise

Cal-performances-mark-padmore-mitsuko-uchida-by-justin-pumfrey* Notes *
Tenor Mark Padmore sang Schubert's Winterreise at Cal Performances yesterday afternoon. Accompanied by the pianist Mitsuko Uchida ( pictured with Padmore, photograph by Justin Pumfrey) we were taken on an intense journey with these 24 songs.

Padmore has a bright voice and clear German diction. He was able to convey the text not only through his enunciation but by coloring the notes, the meaning felt completely obvious. I liked how he could sound like a perfectly pretty bell but also get across the passion of the words. There were times when his intonation was inexact, but this heightened the drama of these lieder rather than detracting from the piece. Uchida's playing was clean and supportive.

Der Lindenbaum and Die Post were particularly strong. The former starts with such sweetness, and turns darker and more strident, and then back. It was sad that during this performance the song began with a cellular phone ringing and had so much rustling of programs before it ended that Uchida hushed the audience. It was maddening given how beautiful and engaging the performance was.

* Tattling *
The performance started 15 minutes late, as it had no intermission. The audience was embarrassing. The person next to me in Row D fell asleep three or four times, jerking awake and shaking not only her seat but the ones around her. There was so much electronic noise, throughout, the worst of which was a phone that rang five times during the last song.

The Joffrey Ballet's Anna Karenina at Cal Performances

3cal-performances-the-joffrey-ballet-cheryl-mann* Notes *
The Joffrey Ballet's Anna Karenina was presented by Cal Performances last night at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley for the first of three performances. The 2019 ballet with music by Ilya Demutsky was played live by Berkeley Symphony and conducted by Scott Speck.

The music is eerie and busy, there is a lot going on with a full orchestra, piano, and vocalist Lindsay Metzger.

Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, the story is condensed into two acts and runs just shy of two hours. Possokhov uses the floor quiet a bit, but judiciously, the movements are beautifully fluid. The racehorse scene (Act I, Scene 4) was particularly impressive as far as utilizing the many dancers all together, as was Act II, Scene 5, in Betsy Tverskaya's salon (pictured, photograph by Cheryl Mann). I was very much amused by the use of different colored tutus in this latter scene. There was also a lot of using furniture in the dancing, there's a couch that is featured in the love scene between Anna and Vronsky, a bed in Act II's prologue when Anna has a fever and the subsequent scene, and lots of chairs for the Parliament scene.

The production made good use of lighting, projections, and props, it moved through the many scenes effectively without falling flat or feeling too overdone with meticulous details.

The dancers were strong. From the very beginning, Hyuma Kiyosawa is an exuberant Levin, and Yumi Kanazawa is a sweet Kitty. Dylan Gutierrez is a lanky, almost gangly Karenin, but didn't have any trouble doing lifts with both Anna Karenina and their son Seryozha (played by Jimmy Gershenson). Alberto Velazquez is convincing as Vronsky, his duets were particularly good. Best of all was Victoria Jaiani as Anna Karenina. Her extension is incredible, and her utter brokenness at Obiralovka Train Station was haunting. The staging of her death, with the railroad tracks and light of the train, was artful.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet, there was no talking or whispering, only a few rustles of programs or lozenge wrappers disturbed the music.