Antony and Cleopatra (Again)

_DSC0371* Notes * 
I started going to San Francisco Opera in 1996, and over the years I've gained many opera going friends, with whom I've traveled to see operas all over the place, from Seattle to Berlin. It has been sad to not be able to attend performances for the last few years, so when my opera buddy based in Brooklyn said he would like to go to John Adams' Antony and Cleopatra (Amina Edris as Cleopatra and Gerald Finley as Antony in Act I Scene 5 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) on September 18, I did my best to rouse up some of our friends to go as well. As I did not know standing room would be back or if I'd be able to get press tickets for this date, I purchased four tickets for the last row of the house. I was fortunate enough to be able to get press tickets, and thus asked two more friends to join us. Much merriment was had, though sadly no one else seemed to like this opera as much as I did.

It was agreed that all the voices were beautiful and that the music in between scenes in Act I was strong. From the orchestra level, I felt I could hear tenor Paul Appleby as Caesar more clearly, his voice is nice and light, perfect for Mozart, but also lovely here. His music in Act II Scene 2 made my hair stand on end. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker sounded more powerful from the balcony. I still liked his aria in Act I Scene 2, but it was even more noticeable to me this time how declamatory the vocal lines were throughout the opera. Soprano Amina Edris (Cleopatra) gave me chills though, especially in her death scene at the end of the opera.

I really loved hearing Maestra Eun Sun Kim and the orchestra. I confirmed for myself that it was between Act I Scenes 4 and 5 that sounded particularly Wagnerian, like the end of Das Rheingold, something very Valhalla-esque to the music here. Again, I enjoyed the textures of cimalom and celesta, and am looking forward to seeing the orchestra when I attend this opera again on Friday as part of my subscription.

* Tattling * 
I made a reservation for the North Box Restaurant, but somehow bungled it by only having a table for 2 rather than 6. Thankfully we got there early enough that it seemed to get sorted out quickly, the people that work there are very kind and professional. I noted that most of the group present had been at the French Laundry back in 2010, the very evening our local baseball team won the World Series, and we had done The Wave at the table and three of our party sang part of Nixon in China. We did The Wave at our table, convincing our one compatriot that was not there last time to take a video of us.

Our press tickets were in Row S and there was a "famous opera dog" next to us who was very quiet and well-behaved. I noted a loud cell phone with an 80s arcade sound near the beginning of the opera and a few watch beeps at each hour. I also heard a few people being hushed. My opera companion fell asleep during Act I Scene 2.

My friends were not very happy with me at the end of the opera, as they felt the second act dragged on too long. At 3 hours and 17 minutes, perhaps some cuts would be helpful. Anyway, one of our party threatened to strangle me, and another mentioned they might want to stand outside the opera next time with signs protesting my lack of taste and possible spousal abuse in bringing my partner to such a boring performance. I apologized to them all, giggled heartily, and invited them to do standing room for Eugene Onegin next Sunday.


Opera San José's Le Nozze di Figaro

OSJ_TheMarriageOfFigaro_DavidAllen14* Notes *
Le nozze di Figaro (Efraín Solís as Figaro and Maya Kherani as Susanna in Act IV pictured, photograph by David Allen) opened at Opera San José last weekend with a joyous and very human production set in colonial India.

I was skeptical about moving this piece from Seville to South Asia, as a person with multiple marginalized identities, I'm always wary of using other cultures for some exotic flair. But it definitely worked well, and Mozart's work was more alive than ever, and felt like it could belong to anyone.

It was great that there were many opportunities for the South Asian diaspora in this production and not just the singers. I was happy to see that choreographer Antara Bhardwaj was a cultural consultant as was the costume designer Deepsikha Chatterjee. The stage looked gorgeous, as did the clothing, and it was great to see Bhardwaj dancing in a quartet, the geometric lines were very lovely. Director Brad Dalton seemed to have everyone on the same page, it was impressive that not only the trained dancers but the whole cast was able to move so nicely (pictured, photograph by David Allen).

OSJ_TheMarriageOfFigaro_DavidAllen17Conductor Viswa Subbaraman kept the orchestra going at a frenetic pace, occasionally going off the rails but certainly never a dull moment. The singers were most wonderful, however. Even silly Don Basilio -- tenor Zhengyi Bai -- was sung with absolute delight and beauty. Soprano Melissa Sondhi was an adorable Barbarina, and gave an effortless performance of "L'ho perduta... me meschina." Mezzo-soprano Deepa Johnny was likewise sweet as Cherubino, her first aria, "Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio" perfectly fluttery and light and her second ("Voi che sapete che cosa è amor") simply lovely. She was one of the tallest people on stage so the jokes about Cherubino's size were all the funnier.

Soprano Maria Natale was convincing as the Countess, her notes have a brass-like quality that is distinctive. As the Count, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu's sound is more rounded and warm, he's suitably puffed up but not a buffoon. His Act III aria "Hai già vinta la causa – Vedrò mentr'io sospiro" was moving.

OSJ_TheMarriageOfFigaro_DavidAllen12-1This pair was a fine contrast to soprano Maya Kherani as Susanna and baritone Efraín Solís in the titular role. Kherani has a pure sound not unlike a bell and Solís is bright with textural nuances. They both have wonderful physicality and were excellent with the comic timing.

Scenic designer Steven C. Kemp's set matched the embellishments of the California Theatre itself and was very detailed and ornate. There were rather long pauses between Acts I and II and Acts III and IV, but the trade off of having such opulence seems fair.

* Tattling *
The 89-year-0ld lady next to me was very chatty and genial. She had a friend behind her and another one across the aisle but promised to behave herself, and she was quiet during the music and conscientious about letting me get around her when I needed to.

I cried during the wedding scene in Act III (pictured, photograph by David Allen) and at the end of the opera. I love this music so much and it was nice to feel like the people who put this opera on were making space for people like me.


SF Opera's Antony and Cleopatra

_DSC1405* Notes * 
The world premiere of John Adams' Antony and Cleopatra (Act II Scene 3 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) at San Francisco Opera featured powerful voices and lushly textured music. The piece has a certain glittery yet dark quality to it, and the production leaned into that, to be sure.

The libretto for this work was by the composer, but based mostly on the play by Shakespeare with flourishes from classical texts by Plutarch, Virgil, and others. This was more successful dramatically than other libretti of Adams' recent operas, but perhaps there were fewer chances for the weird but charming outbursts about pigs or chocolate cake.

The orchestra sounded splendid, Maestra Eun Sun Kim has precision with dynamism. The orchestration has two harps which very much called to mind Wagner to me, especially near the end of Act I. I was also quite taken by the use of celesta (or bell piano), which I could hear very clearly up in the back balcony. Somehow it didn't remind me of the Sugar Plum Fairy at all, and I look forward to hearing the opera again to focus in on this and the cimbalom, which I immediately responded to, as I was obsessed with dulcimers as an adolescent. The chorus also sounded great, very much together and full.

The singing was strong, there were quite a lot of characters, but they were all distinct. It was lovely to hear mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Deshong as Octavia, sister of Caesar. Her voice is wonderfully rich and deep. I also really liked mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven as Charmian, Cleopatra's attendant, who radiated calm reasonableness in contrast to Cleopatra's wild rages.

_DSC9485The most evocative aria for me was in Act I Scene 2, "Age cannot wither her, no custom stale her infinite variety" sung by Antony's lieutenant Enobarbus. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker details the appeal of Cleopatra in front of a scrim with projections of the character, as she lounges upstage (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver). Walker is sympathetic and his voice effectively conveys how alluring and magnetic Cleopatra is.

The three principal singers were also quite vigorous. Tenor Paul Appleby is an unctuous Caesar, his voice is very bright and pretty. At times his sound may have lacked heft, but I think it might have had to do with the staging, he was dampened by being upstage and boxed in by scenery in Act II Scene 2, for instance.

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley makes for a charismatic leading man, singing Antony with much sweetness. But best of all was soprano Amina Edris as Cleopatra, her voice has an intense vitality to it, and she was downright frightening when it was called for, implacable and domineering.

The production, directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer, is stylish and stark. The scene changes are seamless, there were many moving stage elements that could hide and reveal different settings. The projections were elegant, often black and white, and employed thoughtfully.

* Tattling * 
I had a ticket for the very last row of the opera house, but since standing room is back, I decided to stand near the center aisle, especially since the performance was not sold out and it was easier to see from that vantage point without anyone directly in front of me.

I was asked if this was my first John Adams opera, which I was so amused by, I could hardly respond. It was clear that the pandemic has made my social skills even worse. Otherwise, the audience around me was quiet and respectful, though there might have been some inappropriate giggling when Eros, follower of Antony, stabbed himself in Act II Scene 3.

My 8-year-old child loves Nixon in China, and I had thought maybe I could bring him to hear this. His review of Doctor Atomic (not a very child-appropriate work, we only heard the first 15 minutes) was that it sounded "like Nixon in China but bad and noisy," so I was curious if the music here would be something he would be interested in. The themes of Antony and Cleopatra seem a little too adult for a third grader though.


Merola Grand Finale 2022

Merola-Grand-Finale_Credit-Kristen-Loken_2695_Resized-scaled * Notes *
The Merola Grand Finale (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken) returned to the War Memorial Opera House last night for the first time since 2019. It was a joy to hear all these talented singers in person and in the opera house.

The stage was simple, basically three white screens and different colored lights for the various scenes. Only the duet "Vogliatemi bene" from Act I of Madama Butterfly had some static projections that looked like raindrops or petals. Matthew J. Schultz's stage direction had appeal, it was direct and unfussy.

I liked how mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz as Kitty Oppenheimer interacted with bass-baritone William Socolof in their aria "Am I in your Light?" (from Dr. Atomic) though he did not sing. It made sense to have Socolof play J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Printz did very well with both singing and acting. Also interesting was Schultz's choice to have the Card Trio from Carmen start with only Frasquita and Mercédès onstage, and then have Carmen join only later.

While there were many strong arias, such as countertenor Cody Bowers singing "D'un sventurato amante...Pena tiranna" from Handel's Amadigi di Gaula and bass-baritone Le Bu in Verdi's "O tu Palermo," the most impressive were the duets. Singers were well-matched and sang pieces nicely suited to their abilities. "Listen, Mary, trust me!" from Highway 1, U.S.A. by William Grant Still was sweeping and beautiful when sung by soprano Adia Evans and baritone Scott Lee. Soprano Maggie Kinabrew as a spunky Adina with bass-baritone Seungyun Kim as a very silly Dulcamara were charming in "Quanto amore!" Strongest of all in the first half of the evening though was undoubtedly soprano Amanda Batista and tenor Moisés Salazar in "Vogliatemi bene," the raw power yet total ease of their voices was arresting. They blended their sounds nicely as well.

In the second half, I found soprano Ariana Rodriguez and tenor Chance Jonas-O'Toole very adorable in "Tornami a dir che m'ami" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Rodriguez has some lovely resonances to her voice and Jonas-O'Toole is distinctive, warm and woodwind-like. Also notable was the Puccini duet from La bohème "Dunque è proprio finita" with soprano Adia Evans and tenor Daniel Luis Espinal which was vivid and very loud. As I'm a ridiculous fan of Gounod's Faust, I was very glad to hear soprano Chelsea Lehnea and bass-baritone Seungyun Kim sing "Alerte! Alerte!" with tenor Moisés Salazar acting the part of the title character.

*Tattling * 
It was fun seeing all the supporters of Merola that we've missed in the last two years, even if it was behind masks.

There was a bit of light talking on occasion, and someone's hearing aids made a lot of squeaky sounds during the performance. I must say I wasn't too annoyed by it, as I had sort of forgotten this could be an issue after all these months of pandemic precautions and staying inside. In a way I'm grateful to be able to even hear those high-pitched sounds still.


SF Opera's Don Giovanni

_DSC4033* Notes * 
Don Giovanni, the last installment of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy directed by Michael Cavanagh, opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. It was a joy to hear Maestro Bertrand de Billy conduct this beautiful music and there was much lovely singing.

Post-apocalyptic future felt much like something out of Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower, though that work is set in the a few years from now rather than the late 2080s for this production. It felt like violence could happen at any moment in the decrepit version of the 18th century manor house that was once so charming for Così fan tutte from the fall.

There were references to the previous two operas, especially in the costuming. One of the funny red gnome hats worn by Dorabella and Fiordiligi show up on a chorus member who is one of the survivors of this dystopian world. The startling physicality of the singers was evident right a way in the death of the Commendatore, who took a disturbingly long time to die. The extensive projections during the overture which included fire and shadows of people were distracting and a bit on the nose.

It is always interesting to see how directors deal with various elements of the plot in a new way. Instead of threatening his guests with a gun in the Act I finale, Don Giovanni puts on sunglasses and has Leperello blind them with the light of his portable projector. This device is used during "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" to show the list of names of Don Giovanni's conquests, and appears throughout the piece.

I really enjoyed "Don Giovanni! A cenar teco m'invitasti," when the Commendatore comes for dinner as a monumental statue (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver). Usually this is my favorite bit of the opera anyway, because of those wild diminished sevenths and stentorian tones from the bass. Here the giant head that appeared was extremely absurd and surreal and I could not stop laughing, which was probably not the intended response, but certainly was one of the most memorable stagings of Don Giovanni I have ever seen. The descent to hell was particularly great, as the statue broke in half and both real fire and projections overtook our rakish anti-hero.

Instead of the usual mishmash of the two versions of the score, this time San Francisco Opera stuck to Vienna (1788) version. So it had "Dalla sua pace" but not "Il mio Tesoro" for Don Ottavio and "Restati qua... Per queste tue manine" in Act II, a duet for vengeful Zerlina and a rather hapless Leporello. The orchestra was neat and clear, the onstage and offstage musicians for the various bandas all played well. There were a few times when the music was a bit off-kilter, like for "Batti, batti o bel Masetto," as Mozart's music is unforgiving and exposes every flaw. However, conductor de Billy was more sedate than some others in recent memory, and it was nice to feel like the orchestra was secure and not in danger of flying off the rails. This is the first outing for our new chorus director John Keene, and it seemed fine, the chorus was cohesive and especially strong as unseen demons for the aforementioned inferno scene.

The cast is solid, lots of pretty singing and fine acting. As the Commendatore bass Soloman Howard might not have had the gravity of an older man, but his volume was good and his onstage death throes were convincing. Former Merolino bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum was slightly wooden as Masetto, but perhaps that works for the role. I do remember him being charming in Walton's The Bear in 2017, but obviously it is very different music. Soprano Christina Gansch sang Zerlina with warmth, particularly lovely in her duet "Là ci darem la mano" and showed a more sadistic side in the duet "Per queste tue manine." I still remember Luca Pisaroni as Masetto back in 2007 because I saw 6 or 7 of the performances, but he is an amiable Leporello and sounded robust. He was excellent at physical humor, and was very funny when he attempted to impersonate his master at the beginning of Act II.

_DSC8346Tenor Amitai Pati cuts a dashing figure as Don Ottavio, though he is a touch underpowered. His "Dalla sua pace" had a longing in it that was lovely. I liked soprano Nicole Car's Donna Elvira, her penetrating, taut sound is just shy of shrill and was perfect contrast to soprano Adela Zaharia's Donna Anna (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver). These three singers blended well together, and I loved their trio of Act I ("Protegga il giusto cielo"). Zaharia definitely was the standout of the evening. Her voice is incandescent, the low notes have richness and the high notes very shiny and secure. Her Act II aria "Non mi dir" was revelatory, one of the most beautiful moments of the whole opera. Baritone Etienne Dupuis was no slouch either as Don Giovanni, he is an excellent actor and has a nice, sweet voice that is bright enough to cut through the orchestra. I was impressed by his ability to channel the lankiness of Pisaroni's Leporello though their frames are rather different. He was also brutal with Donna Elvira (who in fact is played by his real life spouse), especially when he threw a dish of fish at her in Act II. Dupuis did well with "Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa," light and sparkly and his "Deh, vieni alla finestra" was also very pretty.

Tattling * 
The couple in front of us in Row S Seats 2 and 4 were chatty, but the maskless person next to them in Seat 6 was even louder, he had the sniffles and his breathing was so distinct and in my ear I thought it might be my date that was snarfling so much. The woman in Seat 4 couldn't take it and switched to Row R Seat 2 before Donna Elvira's entrance.

This was good in that her date (whose mask was carefully tucked under his chin) had to lean forward to talk to her, and thus the sound of their voices was further away from me. When I gigglingly suggested to my companion that it was she that had caused all that racket, she was offended and incensed. She rolled up her opera program and hit me as she proclaimed "Batti! Batti!"

None of the three returned to their seats after intermission. I did not notice any electronic noise during the performance but a lot of audience members dropped things.


No Love Allowed at Pocket Opera

Pocket-opera-liebesverbot2022* Notes *
Last month Pocket Opera put on three performances of Wagner's No Love Allowed (Das Liebesverbot). I attended the delightful May 15 matinée at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. The English language production had a lot of charm and some beautiful voices, and though I did miss Pocket Opera's founder Donald Pippin's wry comments, his sense of humor came through translation of the libretto.

The two leads (pictured, photograph courtesy of Pocket Opera) were very strong. As Isabella, soprano Leslie Sandefur has a sprightly, metallic sound, while tenor Michael Dailey (Luzio) was bright and legato.

The rest of the enormous cast was likewise filled with fine voices. Baritone Spencer Dodd was suitably villainous as the hypocritical Viceroy Friedrich, his Act II aria was nuanced and tormented. As his abandoned wife Mariana, soprano Aléxa Anderson sang smoothly and with a delicate prettiness. Her duet with Sandefur at the convent in Act I was very lovely. Tenor Justin Brunette as Isabella's licentious and imperiled brother Claudio had some soaring high notes.

Other notable contributions came from mezzo-soprano Sonia Gariaeff as libertine Dorella who had a saucy good humor and baritone Michael Grammer as Brighella, captain of the watch, whose deep, dark voice embraced the silliness of his role. There are nine other voices that I haven't gone over, but suffice it to say they did well, especially with the raucous carnival scene in Act II.

Music director and conductor Jonathan Khuner lead the Pocket Philharmonic and played the piano. Since there were a less than a dozen musicians, mistakes were rather exposed. But it was great fun to hear this rarity in person nonetheless.

* Tattling * 
One had to show proof of vaccination to attend and most of the audience members were masked. There are distinctly fewer watch alarms at the hour these days, perhaps everyone has switched to smart watches. There was some chatter but no electronic sounds were noted.


Emerson String Quartet at SF Performances

SFP-EmersonStringQuartet-04* Notes *
Last night the Emerson String Quartet (pictured, photograph by Jürgen Frank) played at Herbst Theatre as the penultimate show in the 2021-2022 season at SF Performances.

The performance started with an absolutely lovely String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Borodin. The Allegro moderato was played with a singing tone by first violinist Philip Setzer, while the Scherzo: Allegro had a more dance-like aspect. The plaintive Noctturno: Andante is very familiar to everyone, but I loved how uniform the playing was, how the solo line started with the cello and moved in turn to the other musicians. The quartet is clearly tight and it is wonderful to hear the four voices combine so elegantly. The Finale: Andante; Vivace was bright and together.

Next was Barber's String Quartet in B Minor, Opus 11, which I have never heard but nonetheless has themes in the middle movement Molto adagio that reappear in the well-known Adagio for Strings. There was a certain strident quality to outer movements -- Molto allegro e appassionato and Molto allegro (come prima) --, and an interesting "buzziness" to the music.

After the intermission came Bartók's String Quartet No. 1, Sz. 40, starting with a lyrical Lento. The first violinist was switched to Eugene Drucker, who played gracefully. I enjoyed the aptly named Poco a poco accelerando all'allegretto, the chromaticism sounded lush and the changes in dynamics were distinct. The Introduzione: Allegro; Allegro vivace at times sounded like a swarm of wasps almost, and there was something rather moving about each of the musicians playing a particular line and then playing in unison.

The encore was a Bach chorale, with Philip Setzer back as first violinist. It was a calm, meditative way to end the evening.

* Tattling *
The Emerson String Quartet is disbanding next year, which is why I was prompted to hear the group, as I have not heard them since 2009. I have a soft spot for this quartet as their recording of Complete Beethoven String Quartets was one of the first chamber music CDs I ever purchased.

One of the ushers carried around a "Wear Your Mask" sign up and down the aisles before curtain. People were good about keeping them on throughout the performance. There were no electronic disturbances noted, only a dropped program and a few coughs.


PBO's Radamisto

Pbo-2022* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and new Music Director Richard Egarr (pictured) ended the 2021-2022 season with Händel's Radamisto last weekend at the Bing Concert Hall on the Stanford campus. The intimate venue proved unflattering, though there certainly was some lovely singing and playing.

I attended the last performance of the run yesterday afternoon, and was able to hear Egarr conduct. He had a foot infection and was at the hospital, and the assistant conductor had lead the first two performances. The overture sounded warm and focused, though there were moments in the 2 hour and 45 minute piece that were off-kilter and chaotic. The trumpets and the flute had some strong soli.

Christophe Gayral's production is staid and serious. The insignia of the Armenians looked much like the logo of a certain German athletic brand, but it was unclear if this was intentionally humorous. There was much use of the different configurations of the Bing's stage to change the set, which could have been interesting, but seemed to change the acoustic for the singers and did not serve the music well. There were a lot of guns and flags. There was much fussing with a navy blue coat in a scene with Radamisto and his wife Zenobia that didn't do much dramatically. A later scene in which Radamisto's sister Polissena is stripped of her queenly gown works better, but effective staging elements were far and few between. The lighting design seemed off at times, at one point in Act I Polissena stepped forward into darkness, and the light only caught up later. If this was done on purpose, it did not seem so.

It was hard to get a good read on some of the voices in the cast, as they sounded different in the various locations of the hall and in its different configurations. Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta seemed warm and clear in her first vocal appearance as Prince Tigrane, but later on in the act. Likewise bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock's voice had a light, floaty quality to it in the space, he wasn't very threatening as the villain Tiridate. Soprano Ellie Laugharne stayed on the right side of shrill as unloved Polinessa, her icy sound a nice contrast to the warm, bright tones of soprano Liv Redpath (Zenobia).

Only Redpath and countertenor Iestyn Davies in the title role had a consistent beauty to their voices, it was unclear to me if this was because I happened to be seated in the right place to hear their voices or because the staging was more forgiving to them somehow. Redpath could clearly convey emotion in her voice, sounding especially plaintive and bell-like in her Act II aria "Che farà quest'alma mia." Davies too has a brilliant sound, his "Ombra cara" of Act II was great, as were his duets in Act III with Redpath.

* Tattling * 
Though the hall seemed to amplify the audience members as well as the performers, and I heard some wrappers, zippers, and coughs, there were few if any electronic sounds or talking. Most everyone wore masks, despite the fact that they are no longer required.


Opera San José's West Side Story

West-side-story-opera-san-jose-2022-1* Notes *
West Side Story (Act I pictured, photograph by David Allen) opened at Opera San José last night in a sleek and effective production from director Crystal Manich. It was wonderful to hear Leonard Bernstein's music live with a fresh, youthful cast.

Conductor Christopher James Ray kept the orchestra and singers together, though it could have been bolder and crisper. The drama certainly exuded from the stage, and there was much beauty in the singing and dancing.

Scenic designer Steven C. Kemp's dynamic set worked very well, the scenes seamlessly changed and I liked seeing the different rooms from different angles. It was all quite clever and impressively quiet.

The talented cast is a mix of opera singers, musical theater performers, and dancers. At times I felt a bit disoriented from the difference in singing style and where the sound was coming from, as microphones are used, since it is a musical, after all. Rival baritones Antony Sanchez (Bernardo) and Trevor Martin (Riff) clearly come from the musical theater world, they both moved so effortlessly. Sanchez is a particularly fine dancer and Martin has a lovely, light sound. On the opera singer side we had tenor Jared V. Esguerra as Chino and baritone Philip Skinner as Doc. We didn't get to hear that much of their strong voices, but they ably and sensitively acted their roles.

I very much liked soprano Natalia Santaliz as the soloist in "Somewhere." Her delicate voice singing above the lovers was ethereal and otherworldly.

The ensembles had a lot of spirit. Mezzo-soprano Natalie Rose Havens is a cheeky Anita, she lead the Shark girls in "America" and played off soprano Christine Capsuto-Shulman as Rosalia. Havens was able to show the nuances of her character very clearly, she was completely convincing. She has a splendid, rich voice as well.

The Jets were entertaining in "Gee, Officer Krupke," Jawan Jenkins is endearing as Action. It was all the more disturbing when these same performers harass Anita at Doc's just a little later. The central problems of the piece feel so intractable and realistic.

West-side-story-opera-san-jose-2022-2The leads (pictured, photograph by David Allen) are both powerful singers. Soprano Teresa Castillo is sweet as Maria, she sings with clarity and her duet with Anita in Act II, "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" was moving. The appeal of tenor Noah Stewart as Tony was undeniable, his resonant tones and tender boyishness were perfect for "Maria" and "Tonight."

* Tattling *
The audience was enthusiastic. Most people did keep their masks on as asked. I did see someone in Row G using her iPhone at the beginning of Act II. I also noted some electronic noise, but nothing too close to me.

As I was turning the pages of the program, I was surprised to see that one of the semi-finalists of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition this year is from Ürümqi. I rarely see Chinese ethnic minorities like myself in an opera program, so this was notable for me. It makes me very curious to hear soprano Nina Mutalifu when she competes on Wednesday, May 18.


Merola's 2022 Participants

Merola-2022Sopranos
Amanda Batista, Manchester, New Jersey
Adia Evans, Baltimore, Maryland
Maggie Kinabrew, West Hartford, Connecticut
Chelsea Lehnea, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Celeste Morales, San Antonio, Texas
Olivia Prendergast, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Ashley Marie Robillard, Norton, Massachusetts
Arianna Rodriguez, Fairfax, Virginia
Olivia Smith, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada

Mezzo-Sopranos
Veena Akama-Makia, Little Rock, Arkansas
Nikola Adele Printz, Oakland, California
Maggie Reneé, Los Angeles, California
Erin Wagner, El Paso, Texas

Tenors
Daniel Luis Espinal, Sarasota, Florida
Chance Jonas-O'Toole, Dallas, Texas
Jonghyun Park, Seoul, South Korea
Sahel Salam, Houston, Texas
Moisés Salazar, Santa Ana, California

Countertenor
Cody Bowers, Newnan, Georgia

Baritones
Andres Cascante, San José, Costa Rica
Scott Lee, Statesville, North Carolina

Bass-Baritones
Le Bu, Yancheng, China
SeungYun Kim, Cheongju, South Korea
William Socolof, White Plains, New York

Bass
Edwin Jhamaal Davis, Utica, Mississippi

Apprentice Coaches
Shawn Chang, Taipei, Taiwan
Juan José Lázaro, New York, New York
Yang Lin, Shanghai, China
Artyom Pak, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Deborah Robertson, Springfield, Missouri

Apprentice Stage Director
Matthew J. Schulz, Waverly, Iowa

The Merola Opera Program announced participants for 2022 today. The group looks to be very diverse, and even includes a pianist from Central Asia.

The 2022 season includes six performances including a recital entitled "A Celebration of American Song" on July 9, the Schwabacher Summer Concert on July 14 and 16, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte on August 4 and 6, and the Merola Grand Finale on August 20.

Official Site | Press Release


PBO's 2022-23 Season

A99J1404October 20-23 2022: Händel's Theodora
November 16-20 2022: Vaudeville Baroque with Nicholas McGegan
December 14-18 2022: Händel's Messiah
February 9-12 2023: Saint-Saëns' Concerto for Violoncello No. 1 and 2 with Steven Isserlis, Brahm's Symphony No. 2
March 25-31 2023: Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor and Symphony No. 33 in B-flat major with Kristian Bezuidenhout
April 20-22 2023: Händel's Amadigi di Gaula

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2022-2023 season was announced today. The soloists for the Theodora are Julie Roset, Helen Charlston, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Thomas Cooley, and Dashon Burton. The soloists for Amadigi di Gaula are Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nicole Heaston, and Kangmin Justin Kim.

Press Release | Official Site


Opera Parallèle's Sophia's Forest

Sophias-forest-2022 * Notes *
I was so pleased to be able to hear Opera Parallèle's latest offering, Sophia's Forest by Lembit Beecher, yesterday evening at Grace Cathedral. This 2017 chamber opera deals with the trauma of a nine-year-old immigrant child and features some very beautiful singing and creepy sound sculptures made from wine glasses and bicycle wheels.

Conductor Nicole Paiement had the Del Sol Quartet, plus percussionist Divesh Karamchandani and composer Beecher electronically controlling his nine sound sculptures all well in hand. The playing was taut and impeccable.

The set was on the ground level of the cathedral along with all of the musicians, with the audience seated on three sides. This gave the performance an intense immediacy. The background of menacing trees along with the incredible venue, lighting, and a few props were enough to create the right atmosphere for this harrowing story.

The narrative is revealed retrospectively by an adult Sophia, played by soprano Maggie Finnegan. Her voice is crystalline and ethereal, without a hint of harshness. Her child counterpart, Charlotte Fanvu, does not sing but is clearly a talented actor and is convincing. I was relieved to read that she is twelve and not nine in real life.

Girl soprano Samantha Fung-Lee sounded bright and clean as Sophia's sister Emma and likewise baritone Bradley Kynard (Wes) had a pleasant, light sound. Kynard was sympathetic as Sophia's mom's boyfriend in the States, he didn't have many lines but seemed kindly. Mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich (Emma, Sophia's mother) gave us some contrast with her very warm and deep voice. It was moving when Scharich sings "She's always been the same" about her daughter, and we got to see many different sides of this character, even in the spare 60 minutes of this piece.

Tattling *
Opera Parallèle was sent detailed instructions on what to expect as far as Covid-19 protocols and parking, so I was careful to get to the performance an hour ahead of curtain. I knew I had to show my proof of vaccination and identification, and waited until the line had dissipated before heading inside. This gave me time to wander on the outdoor labyrinth for about ten minutes, which was very soothing.

I really like that I don't have to print out my ticket and can simply bring it up on my phone, but the problem is I have to switch from my digital vaccine record to the ticket and this takes a bit of time. A man at the door mistook my pause doing this and noting that the restrooms are downstairs as a sign of confusion, when truly I was trying to avoid having an awkward time of going into the venue, having to come back out to go to use the restrooms, and not having all my ticket ready to be scanned again. Anyway, he let me know the cathedral was not simply open to the public and that I would have to leave if I wasn't attending the opera, but was apologetic once I explained that I did have a ticket and was trying to make sure it was ready.

The audience was pretty quiet and there weren't any noticeable electronic interruptions. The man next to me did take off his mask several times throughout the performance to blow his nose. He wasn't loud, at least. I have seasonal allergies and still feel shame about being scolded by at least two different women at the gym for working out in public when having symptoms, and that was pre-pandemic. I find it unnerving how much more comfortable other people can be out in the world, seemingly unself-conscious and unafraid of being reprimanded by strangers.


The Met's 2022-2023 Season

MetoperaSeptember 27- October 28 2022: Medea
September 28- October 20 2022: Idomeneo
September 29- October 21 2022: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
October 4 2022- April 15 2023: Tosca
October 16- November 12 2022: Peter Grimes
October 25 2022- March 18 2023: La Traviata
November 3- December 3 2022: Don Carlo
November 10- December 29 2022: Rigoletto
November 22- December 15 2022: The Hours
December 31 2022- January 28 2023: Fedora
December 16 2022- January 6 2023: The Magic Flute
December 2 2022- May 18 2023: Aida
January 15-28 2023: Dialogues des Carmélites
January 10- April 29 2023: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 26- April 1 2023: Lohengrin
February 28- March 25 2023: Norma
March 12- April 1 2023: Falstaff
March 27- April 10 2023: Der Rosenkavalier
April 10- May 13 2023: Champion
April 21- June 9 2023: La bohème
May 5- June 2 2023: Don Giovanni
May 19- June 10 2023: Die Zauberflöte
May 30- June 10 2023: Der fliegende Holländer

The Met announced the 2022-2023 season, which includes a world premiere of Kevin Puts' The Hours and new productions of Champion, Don Giovanni, Fedora, Lohengrin, Medea, and Die Zauberflöte.

Press Releases | Official Site