Seattle Opera announced the 2019-2020 season today.
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Opera Parallèle revived last year's production of The Little Prince this weekend at the Marines' Memorial Theatre. The opera is perfectly charming and the feminist twist of having mostly female principals worked well.
I had a better appreciation for Nicholas Wright's libretto this time around -- it is concise -- condensing some 90 pages of text into showing us the story rather than telling it to us. Composer Rachel Portman is instrumental in all of this, naturally, and the music is both lovely and engaging.
It is always a joy to hear conductor Nicole Paiement, even if the ensemble only had a pianist and percussionist, it never felt anything less than lithe and completely together.
The members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as stars and birds sounded otherworldly, as did our title role Little Prince, Erin Enriquez (pictured with Christabel Nunoo as the Snake, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo). Enriquez has a bell-like sweetness that was only occasionally marred by staticky feedback from her microphone. In contrast, it is not surprising at all to see that mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti (The Pilot) is singing Siegrune in Die Walküre at The Met this spring, she has a fabulously dramatic voice.
Mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich is a delight as The Fox, her warm, supple sound suits the role. Soprano Sabrina Romero-Wilson sang the vain, silly but lovable Rose with clarity, while soprano Maggie Finnegan was quite haunting as The Water. Soprano Christabel Nunoo sang The Snake with both beauty and menace.
Of the quartet of male singers, all of whom sang various grownups found on neighboring asteroids 325 to 330, tenor J. Raymond Meyers is most memorable, partially because he plays a catchy kazoo tune, and partially because he is dressed as Elvis. Baritone Zachary Lenox is funny as The Businessman counting his stars, as is bass-baritone Philip Skinner as a King who doesn't have much power at all. Tenor Samuel Faustine is endearing as The Drunkard and the hapless Lamplighter who suggests Earth to the Little Prince.
Hats off to director Brian Staufenbiel for a very attractive production that doesn't try to slavishly mimic Saint-Exupéry's illustrations. The visuals are courtesy of Matt Kish (best known for his Moby-Dick monograph) and David Murakami, the look is much more urban and contemporary than the original book.
* Tattling *
This was my four year old son's first full opera performance excluding those he was present for in utero. He is a nervous little boy with sensory processing sensitivity (in fact, he hid during a rendition of "Happy Birthday" earlier that day) so we did a lot of preparation, including reading the book and watching the opera beforehand on YouTube. He seemed to like the experience and was very quiet and still for the full 95 minutes.
A couple near the front and middle of the orchestra level brought their toddler and baby, but got to the performance late and had to leave early, as the baby was crying during Act II.
San Francisco Symphony announced today that Esa-Pekka Salonen (pictured left, photograph by Andrew Eccles) is its next music director. He starts in September 2020, succeed Michael Tilson Thomas, who leaves after 25 years.
* Notes *
Ars Minerva was back at ODC with Giovanni Porta's Ifigenia in Aulide last weekend. This opera, premiered in 1738 at Shrovetide in Munich, is in many ways the typical Baroque opera with an elaborate plot based on a classical subject. The music certainly is beautiful and was vibrantly performed here.
The most famous opera using Euripides original drama is of course Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide, and Porta's version also changes the tragic ending, but the music (written more than three decades before) is rather frilly in comparison.
The music is pretty and the small orchestra, lead by Derek Tam, played with a fresh brightness. There was much lovely singing from the eight soloists, including artistic director and founder of Ars Minerva Céline Ricci, whose mezzo-soprano is clear and powerful as Achille. Countertenor Matheus Coura makes for a very sensible Teucro, while soprano Cara Gabrielson is a robust and very emotional Elisena. Tenor Kevin Gino had the slightest strain at the top of his voice, but otherwise is quite a convincing Ulisse, doggedly after Agamennone to sacrifice his own daughter for the greater good.
Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz in turn was a strong Agamennone, with lots of color to her voice and some gorgeous low notes. Her singing with sopranos Shawnette Sulker (Clitennestra) and Aura Veruni (Ifigenia) was particularly good. Sulker has never struck me as a natural fit for Baroque opera, perhaps because I've heard her in more contemporary pieces, but her bird-like sound works well in this. She is a fine actress, her mastery of side-eye got a few laughs in Act II as she comes upon her daughter's supposed rival. Veruni has a clean, light voice and makes for a noble Ifigenia.
Ricci's production used all the characters plus a supernumerary in purple robes and tragic masks as a near constant presence. It was effective, and the semi-staging seems to refer to the lack of set besides the background video projections and a large rock in one scene of Act III.
I enjoyed the pleated velour athleisure worn by the male characters, the women's one-sleeved velour gowns were somehow less fun. There were also a lot of sequined capes.
* Tattling *
I attended the Saturday performance with a group of young people that was coordinated by the secretary of the board of Ars Minerva. Somehow many of us managed to wear dresses that matched the dark red and black program.
The woman in B 13 spoke to both of the people next to her throughout the performance, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet audience. There was noticeable attrition after Act II, perhaps because the opera was three hours and 15 minutes long.
* Notes *
The West Coast premiere of It's a Wonderful Life (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera on November 17. Based on Frank Capra's holiday film, the music here by Jake Heggie is sugary sweet, and though reminiscent of Bernstein is very much his own. There was fine stagecraft and beautiful singing as well.
The opera is set in 1916 to 1945 and has a certain earnestness. It is just on the edge of being cloying, but both composer Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer infuse the drama with enough humor to avoid the sickening saccharine. The repetition of themes such as "Dancing the Mekee Mekee" or Uncle Billy Bailey's "O boy, o boy, o boy" are funny rather than annoying. The set design from Robert Brill is appealing with dozens of screens in the air and on the ground, all the scene changes go very smoothly.
Maestro Patrick Summer conducted a fluid orchestra that never overwhelmed the singers. There are more than 30 characters in this piece, and many of the soloists are from the ranks of the talented San Francisco Opera Chorus. The Angels First Class is comprised of four current Adler Fellows: soprano Sarah Cambidge, mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, tenor Amitai Pati, and bass-baritone Christian Pursell.
They did sound angelic, as did soprano Golda Schultz, who plays guardian angel Clara (changed from Clarence in the movie) Odbody. Schultz is sympathetic and her high notes floated quite nicely. Evidently the role is meant for a woman of color. Schultz, a mixed-race South African, shares her duties at San Francisco Opera with Kearstin Piper Brown, who is African-American, as is Trevigne Talise, who sang Clara for the world premiere in Houston.
Baritone Rod Gilfrey is a perfectly evil Mr. Potter, while soprano Andriana Chuchman sang Mary Hatch with vim and lyricism. As George Bailey, tenor William Burden sounds as good as ever, warm and lovely.
* Tattling *
Unlike with many recent operas, I could easily hum a bar or two of the music, even though I've only heard it the once. I couldn't bring myself to sing "Auld Lang Syne" at the end of the opera though Maestro Summers turned around to conduct us. Perhaps it was because I was crying an embarrassing amount. I've really gone soft in my old age.
I only made it to the fourth performance of the run, since I missed the premiere to escape the unhealthy air quality in the Bay Area due to the Camp Fire up in Butte County. I also did not manage to see the 1946 film version of It's a Wonderful Life before attending the opera, even though it is currently available on Amazon.
* Notes *
An elegant co-production of Arabella (Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The orchestra and singers were all very strong in Strauss' glittering Viennese comedy.
The huge cast for this opera boasted many familiar faces, from mezzo-soprano Jill Grove (Merola 1995) as the fortune-teller to soprano Hye Jung Lee (Merola 2010) as the Fiakermilli. The only new singer to the War Memorial stage was tenor Daniel Johanssen as the melodramatic Matteo who loves Arabella but is loved by her sister Zdenka who lives as a boy. Johanssen looks the part and sounds terribly plaintive as he longs for even a glance from his beloved.
It was a pleasure to hear mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens (Countess Waldner) again singing something rather less grave than Cassandre from 2015 or Klytemnestra last year. Baritone Richard Paul Fink was perfect as Count Waldner, his diction is clear and he's very funny, so different than his Edward Teller in Doctor Atomic or his Alberich.
Soprano Heidi Stober is a great Zdenka, I remember loving her in this role when I heard it in Santa Fe back in 2012. Her physicality is tomboyish and completely convincing, her voice sparkles and has a beautiful flexibility. Baritone Brian Mulligan too is wonderfully cast as Mandryka, his robust voice is velvety and he is a fine actor. He looks like he could wrestle a bear, as he is purports to do just after receiving Count Waldner's letter. Soprano Ellie Dehn has a white, clean sound as Arabella herself, and looks as alluring as one would expect for someone sought after by no less than five suitors.
Director Tim Albery's production is very pretty, not least of all because of the set, designed by Tobias Hoheisel. The stylish grey interiors look great with the pops of color from flowers or the bright red jacket of the Fiakermilli.
Maestro Marc Albrecht had a promising debut. The orchestra gleamed, staying together without overwhelming the singers or being too square. I particularly loved hearing all the viola music in Act I.
* Tattling *
This was poorly attended, and I got standing room ticket 22 only 15 minutes before curtain. The young man in Row J Seat 103 of the balcony blinded me with his phone at one point during Act I, and the young woman next to him in Seat 105 looked at her Apple Watch throughout the performance.
* Notes *
This weekend Opera Parallèle is in Carmel for In the Penal Colony as part of the Days and Nights Festival. Philip Glass' potent chamber opera from 2000 is a perfect match for this company and the production gets to the nightmarish core of the short story from Kafka.
Maestra Nicole Paiement conducted the string quintet with her usual vim. Though the musicians were regulated over to the right front corner of the stage, they were balanced with the singers and were easy to hear without being overwhelming.
Brian Staufenbiel's direction is anything but static, there's so much going on even though we only have two singers and two actors. The set has two concentric turntables that can move at different rates and three jagged screens -- one in the middle and one for each side. It is just able the right amount of realism -- the torture machine is menacingly spiked -- mixed with off-kilter weirdness such as a portrait of the previous commandant which shows him with waving pink tentacles rather than a head.
The opera is in English and much of Rudolph Wurlitzer's text hews closely with Kafka but obviously is much shorter to accommodate the singing. There were no titles, and I really liked this as it forces the audience to play close attention to the singers. Tenor Javier Abreu has a sweet, sympathetic voice as The Visitor, making for a good proxy for the audience. Robert Orth has a great authority as The Officer, his bright, high baritone is convincing.
* Tattling *
There was some scattered talking during the opera. I heard a familiar tiny, muffled sound behind me near the end of the opera, which turned out to be a newborn who was nursing as I left the hall.
* Notes *
The new production of Tosca (Act II with Scott Hendricks as Scarpia, Joel Sorensen as Spoletta, and Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) that opened last night at San Francisco Opera is an ideal first opera. The set looks like a meticulous reproduction of the places featured within Rome and the singing is strong. The young cast looks very convincing.
I don't think I've ever seen a Tosca that didn't try to recreate Sant'Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese, and Castel Sant'Angelo, since they are such specific locales. This offering, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, is no exception, but it was impressive how real everything looked. The costumes also look very genuine, there are no gratuitous wardrobe changes, Tosca doesn't even put on a coat to fetch Cavaradossi before their would-be escape. Shawna Lucey's direction is straightforward and effective. Act II was especially disturbing, Scarpia's sexual violence against Tosca is all the more palpable in light of current events and I winced from those scenes, even at the back of the balcony.
The cast is uniformly fine both vocally and dramatically. I was able to spot Hadleigh Adams (Angelotti), Dale Travis (a sacristan) and Joel Sorensen (Spoletta) right away, even without looking at the program, so often have I heard these singers from the War Memorial stage. Tenor Brian Jadge has also performed Cavaradossi here many times, and did well. His voice is as loud as ever, and his arias sounded great. His fall in Act III looked alarmingly authentic.
Soprano Carmen Giannattasio has a lovely vulnerablity as Tosca, her "Vissi d'arte" alone is worth the price of admission and she sang prostrate on the stage, but this did not seem to have any influence on the volume of her voice at all. She did sound shrill at times at first, but that suits the jealous questioning and nagging of her part in Act I. Scott Hendricks completely embodied Scarpia, he was slick and repulsive, his voice sounded suitably powerful.
Maestro Leo Hussain conducted the orchestra with vigor that bordered on chaos in Act I, but improved over time. There was a gorgeous solo from the harp and the brass played out with clarity.
* Tattling *
The audience was sparse, and the latecomers in the last row north of center were terribly ill-behaved and talked so much that I had to move to the other side of the balcony to get away from them. Because there were not many people back there, they were even audible from that distance.
I don't know if it is because I have two little kids of my own, but children's voices in opera often creep me out now. Zachary Zele as the shepherd boy made me completely uncomfortable.
* Notes *
A winsome cast (Matthew Grills as Belmonte and Rebecca Davis as Konstanze pictured, photograph by Pat Kirk) opened the Opera San José 2018-2019 season with the delightful music of Die Entführung aus dem Serail yesterday night. Mozart's jaunty Singspiel is a joy to experience with the young soloists, the sprightly orchestra, and gorgeous set, despite the muddled staging.
The quality of Opera San José's soloists always is solid and this was no exception, the singers are appealing and can both sing and act. The music of Entführung is challenging to pull off, and I was especially impressed by soprano Rebecca Davis as Konstanze, her incisive sound is strong and beautiful. I am astounded every time Konstanze has to sing the back to back arias in Act II, and Davis did not disappoint. Tenor Matthew Grills (Belmonte) also gave a pleasing, lovely performance, making only a few errors. He swallowed a note in his first aria and may have been under pitch for one or two notes in "Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke," but did great in "Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen" of Act II and in all the ensembles.
Tenor Michael Dailey is endearing as Belmonte's valet Pedrillo and soprano Katrina Galka is perfectly sassy as maid Blonde. Both (pictured left, photograph by Pat Kirk) were very distinct from the other tenor and soprano, Dailey's voice has texture to it and Galka's has a hard edge. Both are excellent actors and are ridiculously attractive, especially for opera singers.
Bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam is an amusing as the grumpy Osmin. His clowning had to compete with a lot of silliness from nearly everyone on stage, of course from Pedrillo but there was much buffoonery from Belmonte and even Bassa Selim, the speaking role portrayed here by bass Nathan Stark.
My least favorite element of the performance was the English dialogue coupled with the singing in German, I wish they simply sang in English as much as I like hearing the sung German text. Dramatically it doesn't make sense, and an opera is artificial enough already without having to overcome this too. I appreciated the many details of Michael Shell's direction and the wonderful physical humor, but some gravity was missing for Bassa Selim, I don't see how he goes from his crass antics to becoming the enlightened person who lets his enemy's son go in the end.
This was saved by a splendid set from Steven C. Kemp, which looks better than both productions at San Francisco Opera right now and provides a fine spectacle. It did not surprise me at all that the audience clapped for the last act's set design as it was revealed, it simply looks like a seraglio.
In the end though, Mozart's music shines. I love this opera and I loved hearing it here. Though there were inconsistencies in intonation from the strings, Maestro George Manahan kept the orchestra together and the sound was buoyant. The chorus was powerful and bright as well.
"Your" replaced "you" in a supertitle announcement about silencing electronic devices at second intermission. A cellular phone did ring in Row D, around Seat 5 and 7. More distracting were the loud comments from the man in Row F Seat 1, who talked regardless if the orchestra was playing alone or people were singing.
* Notes *
A magnificently cast Roberto Devereux (opening scene pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) is the second offering in San Francisco Opera's 96th season. Though somewhat marred by a tepid staging, the tragic opera by Donizetti is a fine vehicle for vocal fireworks and held together by a confident orchestra and chorus.
Maestro Riccardo Frizza had the orchestra well in hand, clear and synchronized. From the first notes, the sound was declarative and bright, but never overwhelmed the singers. Frizza was never in a rush but also did not drag in the least.
Stephen Lawless's production from the Canadian Opera Company is set in the Globe Theatre, in fact we see Shakespeare pop up out of a trunk during the overture, along with lots of explanatory notes on the supertitle screen setting the context for us about Queen Elizabeth's time. It was odd, given that the piece is not historically accurate, and it was a lot of reading to do before the singing even started. Then again, I am not much of a fan of Donizetti's music, the overture refers to "God Save The Queen," which of course sounds like "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" to us Americans, so a distraction was welcome enough.
There were some weird elements to the staging, for instance Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and a young Elizabeth appear in glass cases during the overture, Elizabeth thrashes around for a bit and then the cases move off the stage to be replaced by a new scenes. All of these were perfectly seamless, which made the set changes between actual scenes and acts all the more irritating. A red curtain came down as the stairways were moved or a bed was placed to indicate Sara's apartments while a note read "Please stay in your seats during this scene change" on the screen. This takes the audience out of the drama, giving them time to chat or look at their phones, and even though the changes were quick, the damage was done.
But the real reason for mounting this opera is certainly for the singers. Tenor Russell Thomas did not disappoint in the title role. His Act I "Nascondi, frena i palpiti" where Roberto Devereux denies loving anyone is convincing. He also sang "Come uno spirto angelico... Bagnato il sen di lagrime" with great beauty. I found the music here incongruously cheerful for the scene, in which Devereux is imprisoned in the Tower of London and awaiting death.
Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is the hapless Sara, beloved by Devereux and married off to the Duke of Nottingham through the machinations of Elizabeth I. Barton has a lovely, rich voice and she sings with utter ease. If memory serves, she nearly upstaged lead soprano Sondra Radvanovsky last time they sang together at San Francisco opera in Norma four years ago.
That was definitively untrue here. Radvanovsky is devastating as Elizabeth I, and it made you wonder why Donizetti didn't keep the title of the source text, Elisabeth d'Angleterre. Radvanovsky takes chances, her notes aren't perfectly clean and white, her voice crackles with emotion when necessary. Her voice is powerful and her rage is unmistakable. At times she seemed completely unhinged, yet she is able to show vulnerability, especially in the last scene.
* Tattling *
The opera was sparsely attended, at least in the balcony, quite undeserved given how strong the cast is. Standing room was even more empty than the night before, perhaps because rush tickets were available.
There many people using their devices in the upper balcony and more than one person was scolded by the ushers.
* Notes *
The standard double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci opened the latest season at San Francisco Opera last night with a colorful production (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) from tenor turned director José Cura.
With the departure of Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera is looking for a new music director and Maestro Daniele Callegari is the first of many conductors making a debut at San Francisco Opera this season. The orchestra sounded transparent, particularly the harp and strings.
Because of the orchestra, the Intermezzo in Cavalleria Rusticana was the best moment of that opera, despite the surreal dance choreography at odds with the realistic production. Likewise, the chorus did a great job throughout the two operas, singing with cohesion and gamely depicting the busy neighborhood denizens.
The leading ladies are powerful here and both sang with much emotion. Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk's Santuzza has much pathos, even when she used a shrill edge, it was not inappropriate to her role. Soprano Lianna Haroutounian is secure and lovely, she makes a pretty little Nedda and the violence against her was especially pronounced because of her small stature. Her singing with David Pershall as lover Silvio was beautiful.
The men were more of a mixed bag. The off stage singing of tenor Roberto Aronica (Turiddu) was warbly but his drinking song ”Viva, il vino spumeggiante" was strong. Baritone Dimitri Platanias was serviceable as Alfio in Cav and more gripping in Pag both in the Prologue as Leoncavallo and Tonio, the buffoon who tries to force himself on Nedda. Most compelling was tenor Marco Berti as the betrayed Canio, his anger is palpable. “Vesti la giubba” was a high point of the performance.
José Cura's production, directed here by Jose Maria Condemi, is at once static, just the one street scene in Buenos Aires in the Italian neighborhood La Boca, and fiddly, with people constantly walking through, peering out their windows and the like. The idea has its appeal, why not have these two operas, so often done together, inhabit the same world? In practice, it was forced, and confusing unless one consulted the program as characters from Cavalleria Rusticana showed up in Pagliacci. I ended up feeling very sorry for Mamma Lucia (played by mezzo-soprano Jill Grove) who mourns for not only her son Turiddu but for Silvio as well, since he is a waiter at her tavern.
* Tattling *
Standing room was not competitive at all this year, I arrived at the opera house at 9:52am and got tickets 8 and 9. The opening night crowd was raucous, applauding and cheering Nancy Pelosi, who was in attendance.
There was the usual talking and inattention, particularly after the intermission as many people did not make it back to their seats in time and were stuck at the back of the orchestra level. Someone in this area talked loudly on his cell phone during Pagliacci. I also heard someone's device ring with the sound of crickets during a quiet part of this opera, which seemed terribly inappropriate.
* Notes *
West Edge Opera's third production this summer is Luca Francesconi's Quartett, based on the 1980 play by Heiner Müller, which in turn is based on Les Liaisons dangereuses. Both music and drama here are utterly disturbing.
The piece debuted at La Scala a scant seven years ago, but has seen great success, and has been done in Vienna, London, and even Buenos Aires. The work requires only two singers playing ex-lovers Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, but they role-play each other as well as virtuous Madame de Tourvel and virginal Cécile de Volanges, victims manipulated by the pair.
Director Elkhanah Pulitzer keeps everything clear by use of onstage costume changes, even though there are many scenes in this one act opera, and the English text can get lost in the layers of music. Chad Owens' set is unique: there are two dressing rooms on the left and right above two showers, the dressing rooms can be assessed by either ladders or a steeply raked platform. In the center is a long dining table for eight and around the orchestra runs a strip of stage as well.
The characters go around and around in circles, repeating the same patterns several times in the 85 minute piece. They are powdered white from head to toe, but the physical demands of the staging which include sliding down, climbing up, and running on that steep incline definitely wore the makeup off. The costumes, almost all white, had a lot of impact. I especially liked the imposing Marquise's nearly vertical tulle and ostrich feather head dress.
Pulitzer highlights the vanity and cruelty of the pair, the Marquise has a phone that she takes photos with that are projected onto the incline and often garishly reappear in the negative. There is much sex and violence, it is all highly artificial in this staging, but somehow the grotesqueness is very effective.
The music seems difficult, Francesconi studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio, and the piece requires electronics, a live orchestra, and a pre-recorded one with a chorus. There was a lot of shimmers, buzzes, and elaborate percussion. I spent a lot of time looking at the supertitles, as it could be quite hard to understand the words, which come from the play but translated into English and expounded on by the composer. The musicians, lead by Maestro John Kennedy, looked like they were concentrating intensely, and as far as I could tell everything came off the way it was supposed to. Soprano Heather Buck and baritone Hadleigh Adams both sounded and looked great. Buck's voice could be angelic or dangerous, while Adams has a pleasant, lyrical tone.
* Tattling *
Someone outside the theater was having a loud conversation on her cell phone right before the music started, causing a few giggles from the audience members, otherwise they hardly made a peep, so intent were they on the opera.
* Notes *
Nomadic West Edge Opera is performing this summer in yet another alternative space, this time in Richmond at the Craneway Conference Center, once a Ford plant. The opening show is Debussy's very wonderfully weird Pelléas et Mélisande. The music is utterly beautiful, the singing was very good, and the production sleek and inventive.
The Craneway is right on the water, and has a glorious view of San Francisco. The building houses the Rosie the Riveter Museum, as it was the site of shipyards with female workers during World War II. A space upstairs was transformed into a theater with much black fabric, platforms, and extensive structures for lighting, which needed its own generator as the building's electrical system was inadequate for this. Unlike previous venues in the last few years, this one does have running water and real bathrooms.
Director Keturah Stickann, very much in keeping with this opera company, did a lot with very little, and her production worked incredibly well. The set (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), designed by Chad Owens, is a wall with five openings, and it was impressive how these were used as places to project onto screens or serve as doors or bring in props to the scene. The costumes had a medieval look but were often festooned with rivets.
Maestro Jonathan Khuner kept the small orchestra together, and created a big sound. The singing was lovely. Mezzo-soprano Kendra Broom is an otherworldly Mélisande, her high notes soar and her low ones are deeply rooted. She also was mysterious and nymph-like in her acting. Her Pelléas, tenor David Blalock, may have been a bit more wooden, but his voice is bright and strong. In contrast, baritone Efraín Solís truly embodied the role of Golaud. From grave and sad to crazed and jealous, Solís was completely convincing, and he sounded great, very warm and sympathetic.
* Tattling *
There were technical difficulties with one of the four supertitle screens which made the opera start late. It was not resolved and those in that area had to move to see the titles.
A young woman in Row D 26 took a picture of Act III, Scene 1, when Mélisande's hair spilled out of the tower. The young man behind her texted. The woman next to me fell asleep during an intense moment of the opera in Act II.
I wish I could go to this opera again, there are two more performances on August 12 and 17, but am overbooked and will be out of town.
* Notes *
The Merola Opera Program's second opera this year is The Rake's Progress, performed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on August 2 and 4. The singers (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) gamely performed this challenging music in a sleek Baroque meets modern production that suits Stravinsky's music.
The stage is clean and elegant, a simple white wall with five doors topped with pediments, a raised platform in front, some space on the sides for chairs and the chorus. The costumes matched. I especially loved Anne Trulove's outfit, a navy dress with bright blue accents in the shape of a Baroque gown, but no frills and a short hem, worn with sturdy brown boots. The chorus members had many different outfits for their many roles, there was a lot of drag, both for men and women. Scene changes are managed with props, especially inventive was the use of a huge doll house, which is the conveyance for Baba the Turk in Act I and the stone/bread machine in Act II.
Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of big voices here. The chorus made up for its small size by being very loud and sang in a unified and cohesive manner. Even the smaller roles are excellently cast, tenor Addison Marlor really hammed it up as the auctioneer Sellem. He was very funny. Also hilarious is mezzo-soprano Anne Maguire as Baba the Turk. Her sound is very deep, almost gravelly, and she has the right self-possession for the role.
Soprano Meigui Zhang's wide-eyed Anne Trulove has a supple, gleaming sound. Tenor Christopher Oglesby is likewise fine as Tom, his voice is rich and warm without strain. Best of all though may have been baritone Jacob Scharfman as the villainous Nick Shadow. His voice and movements conveyed his dangerous nature, even when being very obsequious at first.
* Tattling *
It seemed that the audience was not clear on the libretto of the opera, because they seemed to clap at the wrong time more than once. This may have contributed to the Act I harpsichordist missing a cue, and also delayed the epilogue.
* Notes *
The first of two operas from the Merola Opera Program this summer is the rarity Il Re Pastore at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on July 19 and 21. The lighthearted production directed by Tara Faircloth suits the early Mozart very well, as do the young singers (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken). Maestro Stephen Stubbs conducted with warmth and kept everyone together.
The absurd plot of Il Re Pastore involves Alexander the Great (Alessandro) conquering the kingdom of Sidon, deposing a tyrant named Stratone, and reinstating the rightful heir Aminta, who has lived as a shepherd and has no idea that he is royalty. Alessandro wants the tyrant's daughter Tamiri to marry our titular pastoral king Aminta, but unfortunately he loves shepherdess Elisa, while Tamiri loves Agenore, a Sidonian aristocrat.
The cheery music is unmistakably Mozart's, even if he wrote it when he was only 19. The small orchestra is exposed, and there was a violin out of tune, but the conductor did a fine job keeping the singers and musicians together without being square and dull.
The set is essentially a staircase and two big curved walls covered in greenery on one side and stripes on the other. These were moved by male supernumeraries who were security for Alesssandro. Everything seemed to be mid-century, and the costumes very cunning. There were many sight gags, including topiary sheep, dancing with umbrellas, and throwing petals with deadly seriousness.
The singers, all with high, bright voices, were ebuillent. The part of Aminta was originally cast for a soprano castrato but was played here by female soprano Cheyanne Coss in men's wear. Coss has a clear sound that is well-grounded and her "L'amerò, sarò costante" in Act II was especially beautiful. Her Elisa, soprano Patricia Westley has a very different voice, though also sweet, has a metallic tang, and she both looked and sounded exceedingly girly. Mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh's Tamiri was winsome, her voice is brilliant and crystalline. Her Act II aria ""Se tu di me fai dono," in which she scolds Agenore for giving her away was one of the highlights of the evening.
Tenor Charles Sy has a plaintive voice which works for long-suffering Agenore, he is physically attacked in this production by both Elisa and Tamiri. Tenor Zhengyi Bai (Alessandro) also has a pretty voice, but definitely sounds different than Sy, more robust and with a great openness.
* Tattling *
A prominent Bay Area music critic had to be re-seated next to me in J 3 because his original seat was broken. Unfortunately, the people next to him in J 5 and 7 talked to the couple in front of them. He moved to another seat so that he could sit with his date after intermission, but so did the noisy pair that had been next to him.
A man in Row F Seat 101 put an earbud into his ear at some point in Act II and looked at his cellular phone for several minutes.