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October 2006
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December 2006

Carmen, ou la Carmencita

Operacafe* Notes *
The fourth performance of Carmen this season was yesterday, and I had the chance of seeing the performance from Box A. From there I could discern that Hadar Halévy was gasping, rather than wobbling, at least, most of the time. She has a wholesome, sunny smile. Marco Berti was rather loud, but his voice is expressive, though his acting is not. On the other hand Ana María Martínez acted well as Micaëla, but was shrill in her higher register. Also acting well was Kyle Ketelsen as Escamillo. His voice is pretty, but was lost when the full orchestra played during "Toreador en Garde." Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducted at a break-neck speed in the beginning, which was thrilling and precarious. There were a few moments when the singers and orchestra were not precisely together.

* Tattling *
It impresses me that even people in boxes think it is fine to speak during the overture, and I had to hush some women in Box B. One would think if one is close enough to discern the performers expressions, one would realize that one can also be seen and possibly heard. The people in Box A 5 and 6 also talked a great deal during Acts III and IV, but only during the music, never during the spoken dialogue. It was odd since they were quiet in the beginning and it was a slow crescendo to nearly full-volume by the end.

* Overheard *
During the second intermission, I heard a woman ask her companions if "they were singing in French." I nearly fell out of my chair, and it made me spill my sparkling water all over the table.

The talking people in Box A also had a funny conversation in which they were convinced that Sean Panikkar was not in Carmen, yet he was in the program. This is because they were looking at the Manon Lescaut program, and they did not finish figuring it out by the time Act IV started. I'm not sure why they were trying to read the program in the dark during the scene change.

Buona sera, mio signore

Sro* Notes *
Il Barbiere di Siviglia closes this Thursday, and last Sunday's performance was not bad, though I was rather distracted by reading the vocal score and not watching the stage.

* Tattling *
The main problem with the balcony is the latecomers, because otherwise, the sound is rather good up there. A family of four arrived after the music started, and thus were left to stand in the back for an hour and thirty-five minutes. This was terrible for children, because they were not tall enough to see over the wall. The mother was wearing stilettos and wanted to sit, but since one cannot see from the back benches, the children would not allow her to. The father left his umbrella, coat, and program on the bench by me, and another woman came over to me, asked if it was my stuff and left in a huff when I said no.

Later, this family had quite a lot of deliberations about what to do, and when it ran into "A un dottor della mia sorte," I finally hushed them. To this, the mother ran up to me, smiled and apologized aloud. At least I had fifty-five minutes of uninterrupted music in the second half.

In the morning, there was a nice man in the standing room/rush line who told us about his first opera. It was Don Giovanni at the Old Met, and he drove from Chicago, then waited in the standing room line for four hours. We discussed the last Figaro production at San Francisco Opera, and he mentioned a performance Aida which featured, in his words, beached whales as the lead singers. It was a charming morning, but there were no rush tickets, and he waited 2 hours because there was no sign indicating the unavailability of such tickets.

L'amour est un oiseau rebelle

Carmen_1* Notes *
Mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich is singing Carmen in the alternate cast at San Francisco Opera, replacing Hadar Halévy, who in turn is replacing Marina Domashenko in the regular cast. Aldrich debuted at San Francisco Opera last Saturday, her voice was strong at first, and she sang the Habanera beautifully. She also managed to flash her underpants several times during Act I. She lacked stamina, by Act III the her initial energy was noticeably dampened. Her castanet playing was better than Halévy's, though she did start off a bit too fast and lost some crispness toward the end. Perhaps we should not expect our singers to also be percussionists or dancers.

It is said that the singers of the alternate cast are often better than the regular cast, just less famous. This is not the case here, at least if one does not include the title role. Tenor Stuart Skelton had good volume but strained his high notes, and he lacked passion. He did look more convincing as Don José than Marco Berti. Adrienne Danrich was a contained Micaëla, her voice, though not quiet, seemed rather far away. Kristopher Irmiter was a muted and reedy Escamillo.

* Tattling *
There were many children at the Saturday noon performance, perhaps because both the Girl's and Boy's Choruses sing in this opera. One girl sat in a woman's lap in seat ZZ 108 for Act II, they whispered a great deal and the girl also crawled on the floor. I suspect she was in the Girl's Chorus, despite this undignified behavior.

There were a few mishaps with Act IV, both involved chorus members, all of whom are supposed to be frozen in place at the beginning of the act. A man in the middle of this Tableau Vivant somehow lost his balance and was moving, which was unintentionally funny. Later, a boy came in early and had a small solo before the children were supposed to start.

Opening of Carmen

Carmen* Notes *
Yet another revival of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's production of Carmen opened yesterday. This particular production seems to be a staple at San Francisco Opera, it comes around again every few years, the last time was in 2002, and the time before that was in 1997.

This production is fairly traditional and, in truth, slightly nondescript and inoffensive. The costumes are pretty, lots of full skirts and fringed shawls. Marco Berti sang very well as Don José, his voice was plaintive and had a great deal of volume but not too much vibrato. At times I found him almost too loud, something rare for a tenor. Berti isn't terribly dashing, certainly Ricardo Herrera as a rival (Zuniga) did not help things. The latter is tall and fairly handsome, it's a bit odd that Carmen goes for this short and plump Don José instead. Hadar Halévy had a respectable debut, her voice is nice enough, though she wobbled or gasped slightly a few times. Her castanet playing in Act II did leave something to be desired, it was unclear and tentative. Her dancing was not good, as she lacks the flamenco body type and her steps looked awkward. The rest of the cast sang and acted well, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen was fine as Escamillo, and soprano Ana Maria Martinez was also quite good as Micaëla.

* Tattling *
Marcia Green seemed nervous at the beginning of her talk before the performance, but the topic was engaging. Instead of giving us a bit of history about Bizet and going through the plot, she followed the Fate motif throughout the opera. She did not go into detail about the Fate motif from a musicology standpoint, avoiding an explanation of augmented seconds and so forth.

The opera house was not particularly full, and I was given an orchestra ticket by a person who worked the opera before Act I, an unusual event. Unfortunately, I was seated directly in front of a woman with terrible congestion, she coughed and blew her nose during the entire opera. Unsatisfied by merely making all sorts of involuntary noises, the person in seat R 9 also talked quite a lot to her two companions in seats R 11 and 13. Among some of their erudite comments were: "Well, isn't that convenient," "They are like statues," and "Everyone is up there." Utterly charming, it is good to remember why I like standing room over the orchestra seating.

I was also rather confused by the pronunciation of the proper names in this opera. "Escamillo" was said with a glide, as in Spanish, but "José" was pronounced with an initial affricate, as in French, yet the final vowel was a stressed close-mid front vowel, as in Spanish.

Opening of Manon Lescaut

Manon* Notes *
Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Manon Lescaut opened with a matinee performance yesterday. The production, designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, was completely traditional, rather unlike the 2004 Der Fliegende Holländer, which was the last Lyric production to come here.

This production, taken as a whole, has been my favorite thus far this season, and I cannot say it is because of Puccini's music, which I do not find particularly lyrical. Puccini's third opera is chock-full of different musical ideas, features a bizarrely disjointed plot, but somehow it came together beautifully. Donald Runnicles conducted well and with great sensitivity, he will be sorely missed when his tenure ends in 2009. Karita Mattila's voice was ravishing in the title role, so sweet and girlish at the beginning and filled with desperation at the end. Tenor Misha Didyk also sang well as Des Grieux, passionately and with enough volume and control. However, his diction was not always clear. John Hancock (Lescaut) and Eric Halfvarson (Geronte) both seemed competent, both vocally and dramatically.

The most obvious flaw in the production was the minuet, the music was there, but the dance seemed to consist of Mattila making curtsies as everyone else sits in a circle around her. Mattila looked awkward in the whole of Act II, she holds her head a bit too forward and her movements seemed somewhat erratic. Manon is supposed to be bored, but the fidgeting was excessive.

* Tattling *
Stanford professor Giancarlo Aquilanti gave a somewhat maniacal talk before the performance, declaring that Puccini was politically incorrect and that Des Grieux was a loser. Definitely worth hearing, Aquilanti certainly wasn't dull. He talked over most of his musical examples and seemed entirely smitten with Puccini.

The opera house looked completely full, and there were no latecomers of note, people were much more well-behaved than usual. The only annoyance of the performance were a couple who got up in-between Acts III and IV to stretch their legs, even though there was no intermission at this point. This should have been clear from the program and from the fact that Runnicles was still in the pit, baton aloft. Unfortunately, they didn't return to their seats before the music began again, and the ushers did not allow them to sit. Thus, we in standing room were left to hear them complain aloud during the music.

Fredda ed immobile

Balcon* Notes *
The seventh performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia this season was at least better than the last I saw. Things may have been helped by standing in the balcony, where the sound is better. I could definitely hear Nathan Gunn (Figaro) more clearly except when he was in the upper room of Bartolo's Bauhaus house. Apparently his height made it so he could not project out of the set properly, but both John Osborn (Count Almaviva) and Allyson McHardy (Rosina) were audible. The finale of Act I was closer to being together, but I must say I'm not impressed by Maurizio Barbacini as a conductor. The music was taken so fast and seemingly without regard to the singers, it was like some sort of precarious race to the end.

* Tattling *
The later start made it easier for people to be on time, but there were still latecomers hanging out in standing room. Certain people are completely boggled by the concept that there are repercussions for being tardy.

Just before Bartolo's aria "A un dottor della mia sorte," someone took a photograph with flash, and as Bruno de Simone started singing, another photograph was taken.

Manon Lescaut Panel Discussion

Insightmanon* Notes *
Despite having a subscription to San Francisco Opera for 3 seasons, I only managed to attend my first
Opera Insight Panel Discussion yesterday. The hour-long panel discussion on Puccini's third opera was moderated by music director Donald Runnicles and included soprano Karita Mattila, bass Eric Halfvarson, baritone John Hancock, and the stage director Olivier Tambosi.

Much was made of the fragmentation as far as plot goes in regards to Puccini's libretto. Apparently at least seven people worked on it, which seems rather excessive, no? Also, a rather lot of comparisons were made between Puccini's work and Massanet's, and both were compared to the source text by Abbé Prévost.

The production of Manon Lescaut from Lyric Opera of Chicago opens this Sunday at 2pm and it shows 6 more times until December 10th.

* Tattling *
This last opera panel discussion of the year did not seem particularly well-attended, but everyone was rather well-behaved. There was a bit of hilarity regarding Wagner, when Tambosi suggested he was a mountain to get around or through or to subsume.

A few words of German also reared their heads, der Anlauf (from Tambosi) and das Fach (from Mattila).

Tra la la. Largo al factotum.

Operaboxlevel* Notes *
Alarmingly, the fifth performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia this season was worse than opening night, at least as far as Act I. John Osborn (Count Almaviva) was flat, Allyson McHardy (Rosina) gasped in her prominent aria "Una voce poco fa," Nathan Gunn (Figaro) seemed more concerned with his Vespa than with singing, and the finale of Act I was not together. This last bit was rather embarrassing, utter chaos. Act II was markedly better, but on the whole not inspired.

* Tattling *
Because the performance began half an hour earlier than usual, in order to get us to bed at a reasonable time, there were many latecomers. They were not allowed to take their seats, so there were nearly two dozen disgruntled patrons waiting about in standing room, For some reason, they preferred to speak during the arias, duets, and ensembles rather than the recitative.

I've also noticed that people love to check their mobile devices during the performances, one young lady in X 102 seemed to be intently staring at her phone. I don't much care if people are paying attention or not, but the lighted screen is distracting.

Considering my lack of enthusiasm for this production, perhaps I should not go again for the Sunday matinee. I've already made two more dates to see in the latter half of the month, so maybe five times isn't strictly necessary.

Opening of Il Barbiere

Barbiereopening2006* Notes *
A revival of Johannes Schaaf's Il Barbiere di Siviglia production from 2003 opened last night on Halloween. Hans Dieter Schaal's set looked as white and stark as ever, the centerpiece being a German fantasy of the Barbie Malibu Dream House, which Thomas May describes as "Bauhaus inflected." The scene changes do go quite smoothly as the set turns. The construction site complete with manhole and barrier with blinking light in Act I was a bit gratuitous, at least it was off to the right from the orchestra.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but Nathan Gunn's voice is not spectacular. The baritone does cut a nice figure as Figaro, but his voice is a bit light and languid. Mezzo Allyson McHardy (Rosina) has a dark tone, strong, but some of her arpeggios were muddy. I liked her very much as Olga in Eugene Onegin, and it was interesting to hear her as the lead this time around. John Osborn (Count Almaviva) is possibly the loudest tenor we've had all season, he has a good deal of vibrato, which perhaps makes his intonation less than perfect. Baritone Bruno de Simone (Dr. Bartolo) enunciated well, his parlando parts were all clear. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu sang well as Fiorello, and he also was the Sargeant, but there isn't much singing for the latter. His voice has a notable resonance that Gunn's lacks.

* Tattling *
A young man was whispering into his cellular phone in standing room during the overture. After he was done with his call, he tried to go to his seat in the orchestra, but the usher would not allow him in. He argued with her for a bit, then tried the usher at the center aisle, who also did not allow him to take his seat.

There weren't that many costumes this year, sadly. The house was not full either.

* Overheard *
The third and fourth people in the standing room line told the house manager that his absence at the final performance of Rigoletto was sorely missed, as there were many people in line and much chaos. They also expressed their disapproval of latecomers who talked in standing room, and the house manager assured them that they were working on having the opera on screens in the lobby.