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November 2006

Idomeneo Rescheduled

Dob_1 Deutsche Oper Berlin decided to reschedule Idomeneo for two performances before the end of the year. All this controversy certainly is suspect, perhaps it is true that no publicity is bad publicity. I suppose if I were running an opera house in a city with two other major competitors, I might try a few stunts myself. Particularly when the house in question may well be the ugliest one in all the land. The building dates from 1961, as should be obvious. Berlin's "most modern opera house" is said to have an "elegant retro-design," but I cannot say the concrete block is inspiring in any way. The inside is even more horrid, what with the dated wood paneling and mustard-yellow upholstery. One only hopes that in a few decades the kitsch-factor will become humorous instead of just painful.

Deutsche Oper Berlin Architecture | IHT Article

SF Opera Podcast

OperahouseThis season, instead of sending subscribers a yearbook going over all of the operas showing at San Francisco Opera, they sent out a double CD with David Gockley talking about each opera and playing clips. Seattle Opera has been doing this for a few years as well, and this format is useful as one can get a feel for the actual music. Mr. Gockley certainly is entertaining, his tone is unpretentious. The music used is from the San Francisco Opera archive, so there was no clip of Iphigénie en Tauride, as it has never been given here.

The preview of the 2006-2007 season has been made into a podcast, along with a September 15, 2006 interview with Deborah Voigt. I must say their suggestions for when to listen are hilarious: Listen while you drive to work, do the laundry, or work out at the gym.

Wie, hör' ich das Licht?

Isolde_1* Notes *
Wagner Society of Northern California held a symposium on Tristan und Isolde last Saturday, October 21, 2006. There were seven speakers whose topics ranged from the day-to-day administration of Tristan at San Francisco Opera to a Jungian analysis of Wagner. The turn out was good, about a hundred people.

The highlight of the day was the round table with Christine Brewer and Jane Irwin, both were charming. Kip Cranna, who interviewed them, always speaks well. I also very much enjoyed Evan Baker's talk on Tristan und Isolde in Vienna, not least because of his amusing slides. Particularly interesting were Hoffmann's watercolors of the original sets for Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, which Baker photoshopped into an engraving of the Nationaltheater München's stage. This doesn't seem to have much to with the talk, subtitled "The Iconoclastic Mahler/Roller Production of Tristan und Isolde," but it did show how this Viennese production was a departure. He went on to speak about Adolphe Appia, the Wiener Werkstätte, and the Secessionists, all with plenty of visuals.

* Tattling *
The main purpose of this Wagner society is to wrangle tickets to the Richard-Wagner-Festspiele in Bayreuth. Sandra Molyneaux signed me up for a membership and later checked up on me to see how the day was going. She asked if I was interested in going to Bayreuth, and I must admit it is tempting. The last time I was there was in 1998 for a semester abroad, and naturally I did not have tickets to the Festspiele. It was interesting to see Bayreuth go from the quiet university town that it is most of the year to Wagnerstadt in the summer.

Oed' und leer das Meer

Tristanisolde_1* Notes *
The fourth performance of Tristan und Isolde was last night, and it was consistent with the previous performance I saw last week. Thomas Moser (Tristan) started off pretty well in Act I, and he sang beautifully in Act II, but by Act III he was rather quiet.

* Tattling *
The audience was at its worst, quite unlike October 10th, I suspect it is because there are no other performances during the work week, and there were four in the prior one. One individual who arrived late was made to sit in standing room, and he talked in a normal speaking voice, dragged the chair about, and refused to be quiet after repeated hushings. For Act III someone gave me his ticket for Z 118, the last row of the orchestra, and at one point all the people immediately around me were asleep. A woman fanning herself with a program spoke during the "Verklärung," to tell her companion (who had been asleep most of the act), "Look he's getting up!" in reference to the silly choreographic choice of having the dead Tristan rise to stand behind Isolde.

* Overheard *
During the first intermission I heard a hilarious exchange between two men, one of which was a graduate student who had lived in Berlin until recently. The graduate student said something about how the San Francisco crowd for Wagner was much gayer than in Berlin, where the people are the type to wear black turtlenecks. I had no idea black turtlenecks and gaiety were mutually exclusive. Also, the other man mentioned that Ms. Brewer would not enjoy Covent Garden, in reference to her weight and the
Voigt incident. The graduate student exclaimed that he had never seen a skinny Isolde. I wanted to mention Waltraud Meier in Bayerische Staatsoper's DVD, but decided it was best not to comment.

Before Act II started, a young man was excoriating the King Arthur performance recently in Berkeley as he walked to his orchestra seat with a friend. Apparently he was dragged to Zellerbach without his consent. He said he despised Mark Morris and that there was nothing exquisite in his choreography, that it was tawdry.

Ruth Ann Swenson News

Ruthann_1Coloratura soprano Ruth Ann Swenson has breast cancer. Ms. Swenson is a favorite in San Francisco, where she had her 1983 debut as Despina in Così Fan Tutte as a second year Adler Fellow. She was last seen here as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro in June of this year. In the picture featured to the left, she is singing the role of Cleopatra with countertenor David Daniels (not pictured) in the Met's production of Giulio Cesare, which she is to sing again in April 2007.

AP Article

The Kirov in Costa Mesa, CA

* Notes*
It was my intention to go to the Kirov's production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which ran from 6-11. October in Orange County. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but I did make it to the matinee performance of Boris Godunov yesterday. They did the 1869 version of the work with no intermission, it lasted a mere 140 minutes.

This Boris Godunov co-production with La Scala was directed by Victor Kramer. Georgy Tsypin's set had an underwater theme, the changes of set were fairly minimal, screens might hide parts of the stage, scenery descended from above, and chorus members pushed out props. There were four columns, two had enormous fish scales on them, and the other two had echinoderms, bubbles, and shells. There were also various garlic-shaped lamps that looked somewhat like human-sized anemones with sea urchin shells. At one point some descended all the way to the ground and spun like tops. It was quite amusing, though the audience did not seem to react much to this absurdity, though some number of people left all together. Many of Tatiana Noginova's costumes had reflective qualities here and there, they seemed a bit random, the chorus seemed bundled in ski jackets, the daughter of Boris wears a somewhat medieval gown made of burned-out white velvet and a beaded headdress that one can find at an Egyptian import store.

The singing was uninspired, though the choral parts were pleasing. Nikolay Putilin was not bad as the title character, he had better volume than most of the others, but not a great deal of stamina. Anastasia Kalagina's wailing was nearly intolerable, at least her part as Xenia is small. Yevgeny Akimov was a plaintive fool, he was confined to a garlic-shaped cage on hidden wheels. Lyubov Sokolova's warm tones were a welcome relief in Scene 4, she also had good volume.

* Tattling *
I was under the impression that the Orange County Performing Arts Center had a new hall, so I was somewhat nervous about finding it, but after finding the box office and stepping inside, it seemed to me this was the same hall I had been in many times before. Apparently, I must have gotten a specially-priced rush ticket, because I was given the choice of a 20 or 10 dollar ticket, instead of the usual $50-225. The seat I got was eight rows back in the center of the orchestra section. Also, later I learned that there is a new concert hall at the Performing Arts Center, but it is a smaller than the main stage, and opera performances still take place at the latter location.

The people to either side of me were completely silent throughout, but the people behind had to switch seats, and the people in front kept whispering until they just decided to leave.

One person's ticket was cut off on one side, and the usher could not figure out where his seat was and told him to just sit in Row H and keep moving down if someone had the seat he was in. By the time the opera started he must have been in Seat 23.

Closing of Die Fledermaus

Fledermausactiii* Notes *
Die Fledermaus ended its seven performance run at San Francisco Opera yesterday. It was as charming as ever, almost everyone had it together for the final go-around. Wolfgang Brendel had the correct footing for his Rockettesque duet with Eugene Brancoveanu at the end of Act II. Likewise, Brancoveanu managed to keep the beat correctly as he hit a teapot during Jennifer Welch-Babidge's aria in Act III. The ballet duet in Act II was still dull, even with different soloists, the pair were still not exactly together and there was one point where Cynthia Dreyer looked like she would teeter over. The funny thing is that they are playing dancers from St. Petersburg.

This time around I was more impressed with Christine Goerke (Rosalinde), she could use a bit more control, perhaps, but I'd like to hear her sing again in another role.

* Tattling *
Brian Leerhaber (Dr. Falke) lost one of the cuffs to his dashing red-trimmed frock coat, but was non-plussed by this wardrobe malfunction.

A woman and child arrived late to Box Y, and because the latter has not attained his full height, he had difficulty seeing the stage from Seat 5. Much talking ensued on the part of the woman, she was concerned that the boy was bored and confused about the plot. Apparently his cell phone was on for all of Act I, and he did not deign it important to turn it off for Act II after the reminder, so the woman had to do it for him. She continued to speak during the music, and it wasn't until Prince Orlovsky's "Chacun à son Goût" when she asked the boy if he would like to go. One imagines he must have replied in the affirmative, for they left.

Frisch weht der Wind

Hockneytristan* Notes *
Los Angeles Opera's 1987 production of Tristan und Isolde was revived last week in San Francisco. The production was designed by David Hockney, best known for his swimming pool paintings from the sixties. The set looked much like a large-scale colorful pop-up book, filled with strange details, such as curtains attached to nothing on board Act I's ship and Celtic knots as leaves in Act II's forest. Similarly, the medieval costumes were rather bright, at least until Act III, and uniformly made of velvet. It reminded me of the Land of Make-Believe in the esteemed children's television show Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

The choreography was bizarre, often the singers would simply stand as if they were in an oratorio and not a staged production, or worse hold some unnaturally static position. The sailor who begins the opera with "Westwärts schweift der Blick" had his back to the audience, which doesn't make for particularly good theater.

Jane Irwin (Brangäne) held her own, even singing with Christine Brewer (Isolde), who has a powerful and dramatic voice. Thomas Moser sang better as Tristan than as Florestan last season, some of his higher notes are quiet. Both Brewer and Moser had good diction, though there is an advantage in that Wagner wrote so that the words could be discerned. Runnicles kept it together in the orchestra pit.

* Tattling *
Though I arrived late for Evan Baker's preview lecture, it seemed to go well. Baker can actually pronounce words in German. He used the the Nilsson-Windgassen-Böhm recording from the 1966 Bayreuth Festival for his musical examples.

The audience was possibly the best-behaved I have ever encountered. Part of this is because the hall was not full, and even though I got my standing room ticket less than an hour before curtain, I was the twentieth standee. I imagine most people are intimidated by a performance that is more than four and a half hours long. People left at each of the two intermissions, and I had the standing area nearly to myself by the end. I did not hear a single mobile phone, and better yet, not a single beep marking the hour from an electronic watch.

$50 Orchestra Seats

Sfopera General Director Gockley announced a plan to cut the price of orchestra seats for Bravo Club members. The tickets are normally $87-$155, unless one gets student or senior rush tickets, which are $25 or $30, respectively. The student rush tickets have gone up in price, they were a mere $15 last season. Given that the Bravo Club is meant for young professionals, the members generally do not qualify for the rush tickets. Also, one has to work for those tickets, they are not always available, and people start lining up for them as much as three hours before the box office opens.

Personally, I am not fond of the orchestra seats, though they are more spacious than seats on the dress circle and balcony levels, the incline is not as steep and sometimes it is difficult to see over people's hairdos. Additionally, the sound quality is not as good as on the upper levels. However, people tend to be better behaved the closer they are to the stage. So there are many considerations, dear reader!

SF Business Times Article

Mistero e Malinconia


Giorgio de Chirico
Mistero e Malinconia di una Strada, 1914
Oil on canvas, 88 x 72 cm
Private collection

* Notes *
Apparently Michael Yeargan's set for Rigoletto is based on Giorgio de Chirico's architectural paintings. De Chirico (1888- 1978) started on this particular style in 1910 when he was living in Florence and moved on from metaphysical in 1919 to paint more realistically.

Mary Dunleavy did hit her high notes in "Caro Nome" for last Monday's performance. Unsurprisingly, Giuseppe Gipali and Greer Grimsley were easier to hear from the boxes than in the orchestra. The former still was so stiff as an actor, he was neither dashing nor rakish as the Duke should be. Paolo Gavanelli, on the other hand, acted well as Rigoletto, his sneering at court, his love for his daughter, his fear of the curse all came out well in his voice and movement.

* Tattling *
Some occupants of Box T chattered intermittently, and the latecomers of Box U were seated after the music started in Act I.

O Gott, wie rührt mich dies!

Fledermausactii* Notes *
Former General Director Lotfi Mansouri's production of Die Fledermaus was revived this season at San Francisco Opera and ends its run this Friday. Wolfram Skalicki's trompe-l'œil sets are reminiscent of Edward Gorey drawings. Thierry Bosquet's costumes are 19th century and suit the operetta. Peggy Hickey's choreography was a bit on the dull side, though it was funny when the quartet of dancers came out on stage in Hungarian dress as Rosalinde sang as the masked countess. To be fair, it was the ballet duet in the middle of Act II that was dull, the rest was passable and even quite cute.

The lead singers were consistent with each other, none stood out terribly as wonderful or terrible. There were times when soprano Christine Goerke strained her high notes as Rosalinde, and when countertenor Gerald Thompson shrieked his as Prince Orlofsky. The acting was convincing and of course, the actor who played Frosch amused everyone. It should be noted that current Adler fellow Eugene Brancoveanu (Frank) did an impressive somersault in Act III as he drunkenly stumbled around the jail.

* Tattling *
Joseph Sargent's preview lecture was worth going to, he was not one of these poor musicology graduate students that are forced to give these talks and who always seem to be spouting off nonsense in an embarrassingly halting manner. He used the Karajan recording for his musical examples. His pronouncation of "Sie" was rather inventive.

A patron complained to the house staff about a particularly aggressive volunteer usher. Apparently she often takes desirable seats in the orchestra, and the patron did not find this fair.

The interactive display for Tristan und Isolde in the lobby was quite loud. I noticed that Sharon, the volunteer usher who seems to be at the opera even more than the author of this blog, was in charge of getting the thing running during intermissions.

Last weekend was part of Fleet Week, and the Blue Angels were audible in the War Memorial during Die Fledermaus.

Sii maledetto!

Rigolettoscene13* Notes *
A revival of Rigeletto opened September 30th at San Francisco Opera. Mark Lamos' production from 1997 inaugurated the last General Director's tenure back in 2001. There were a few changes from the last time around, the dancers with exposed bosoms in the first scene were gone, and the lighting was less lurid. At least a prelapsarian Eve appeared, fully nude, holding an unbitten apple. Michael Yeargan's sets are simple but Constance Hoffman's costumes are elaborate. The last act seems to be by a canal rather than a river, but the water and reflections work nicely.

Paolo Gavanelli returned to sing the title role, which he last sang here in 1997. In her preview lecture, Alexandra Amati-Camperi mentioned that Verdi himself wanted the best baritone to sing Count Monterone, not Rigoletto, but this was not the case here. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley sounded subdued and thin next to Gavanelli. Likewise, tenor Giuseppe Gipali did not sing the Duke's part with any verve. His voice, at least what could be heard of it, seemed pretty enough. Mary Dunleavy made a lovely Gilda, her tone is clear and bright, too bad she hit one note flat in her only aria. Perhaps she'll hit it tonight.

* Tattling *
They had a simulcast of the October 6th performance in front of city hall and at Stanford University, so General Director David Gockley addressed the audience. There were quite a lot of video cameras involved.

Nancy Pelosi was spotted in the orchestra section.

I noticed that the supertitle screens are being used to announce opera talks, opera donations, Gockley's contact information, and the electronic mailing list during intermission. How tiresome!

Also, a particular individual called her father during "La donna è mobile," so that he too could hear it. Too bad the tenor was not good.

For folded flocks, and fruitful plains

Maypole* Notes *
Henry Purcell's King Arthur or The British Worthy is not an opera in the usual sense, as the main characters do not sing. The Mark Morris Dance Group production had its American premiere in Berkeley last Saturday, and all of Dryden's spoken dialogue is cut, meaning King Arthur himself never appears as such and basically there is no plot. The production also features the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Jane Glover, the UC Chamber Chorus, and seven English National Opera singers as principals.

At times Morris' choreography is pat, simply miming the text, and worse yet was the absurd simulated sex at the end of Act II between shepherds and shepherdesses. There were many delightful moments also, especially the maypole dance in Act V. The dancers were all competent and utterly nonplussed by going through doors that lead nowhere dressed as giraffes or ducks or Bavarians as the case might be.

The singing was fairly consistent as well. Iestyn Davies shows much promise as a countertenor, his voice has good volume and is quite clear. Soprano Mhairi Lawson was perhaps least impressive, she wasn't bad by any means, but her voice is not especially pretty.

* Tattling *
The people in Row Q all shifted over from the side to the center, and subsequently, the man directly in front of me fell asleep for most of the first two acts. He woke up when the audience was laughing at the depraved bits of choreography. At least he and his companion had the good sense to leave the theatre at the intermission.