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7th Performance of Don Giovanni at SF Opera

Dgskulls* Tattling *
Yesterday's performance was sold-out, so standing room was ridiculously full, at least for Act I. I got my ticket at 1:30pm and received ticket number 106. There was no late-seating up in the balcony, so there were tons of disgruntled latecomers who could not see the stage or the OperaVision screens because of all the standees. It might have been better if they were watching a screen in the lobby or some such. The area was rather warm, as there were at least 100 standing people crowded around trying to see the performance. During the quartet "Non ti fidar, o misera," a young woman fainted from the temperature. She was unconscious for a few minutes, poor thing. The people around her found help and I believe she was taken to the infirmary.

Der Rosenkavalier at San Francisco Opera

Sfoperabalkon* Notes *
Der Rosenkavalier opened June 9th at San Francisco Opera, but so far I have only managed to go last Sunday and yesterday. Lofti Mansouri's revived production, designed by Thierry Bosquet in 2000, is just as one would expect, and was based on the original 1911 Dresden premiere. Donald Runnicles conducted well, the orchestra was together, the tempi were lively but not too fast either. The singing was fine, especially Joyce DiDonato as Octavian. Her German could use a bit of work, but her portrayal was nuanced and beautiful. Soile Isokoski was lovely as the Marschallin on June 24th, though perhaps a bit cold. Martina Serafin was more shrill when she sang the role on June 27th, and she had a little too much vibrato, but she still was quite moving. Miah Persson was a feisty Sophie, her voice is pleasing and clear. Kristinn Sigmundsson was hilarious as Baron von Ochs, his voice sounded better in this role than as the Commendatore. Robert McPherson strained a lot as the Italian singer, the music was pretty, but he made it seem so difficult.

* Tattling *
During the Sunday performance, a man was stretched out on the floor behind the balcony standing room. He fell asleep, which would be fine by me, except that he snored rather loudly.

There was plenty of whispering during the Wednesday performance, and one very loud woman in W 118 of the orchestra. At some point she mentioned she was syphilitic, though I believe she was joking. Despite hushings, she was only quiet when she propped her elbows on the seat in front of her to look through her binoculars. I did not ask her to stop, as I was relieved she was no longer speaking. Again, perhaps it was my outfit, I need to work a more schoolmarmish look:


Tauric Chersonese

Tauris* Notes *
Iphigénie en Tauride had a second performance at San Francisco Opera last Sunday. The singing was again excellent. The choreography was more coherent from the middle of orchestra level standing room, but I still found it overwrought. This time I noticed that the lighting, designed by Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet, was effective, making entrances and exits move along perfectly. I especially liked the scene with the Eumenides and Orestes in Act II, in which the dancers seem to just materialize and multiply out of nowhere.

* Tattling *
There were quite a lot of people waiting for rush tickets in the morning, despite the sign which read "No Student, Senior, & Military Rush For This Performance." People had called in to ask about rush tickets, and were told there were a limited number, so the sign confused them. I was asked many times about the sign, and I speculated it was from the night before.

The audience was ill-behaved for the matinée. There was a watch alarm during a choral part in Act I and a cellular phone rang during Act II.

Il Dissoluto Punito

* Notes *
In the past week I have seen Don Giovanni twice more, in the first row and in a box. From Row A on the orchestra level, the parts that are offstage are much more noticeable, it is obvious that the sounds are coming from the speakers when they are. It was also much easier not to laugh at the Death Chicken and the Zombie Commendatore, the close proximity shocked me into silence. From the boxes I learnt that the Minuet in the ballroom scene of Act I is played by the musicians in the pit, the Contradanse by musicians in Box A, and the Teutsche is played by those in Box Z.

During both performances I noticed that Twyla Robinson was consistently off key, that Masetto and Zerlina's marriage procession with sounded very much like a race between singers and orchestra, and the set up for the final scene is too noisy as Non mi dir is being sung.

* Tattling *
People are well-behaved when they are right by the orchestra. There was lots of whispering in Box X, especially from those in seats 4 and 5, but the actual words were not discernible. The person in seat 3 snored a bit, somehow this was more endearing than annoying. The cameramen in Box Z were not in place at the beginning of the overture and they talked a little bit during the music.

Premiere of Iphigénie en Tauride

Bo Skovhus and Susan Graham, photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) had its first performance at San Francisco Opera last night. The co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Royal Opera, Convent Garden is rather sparse, not unlike the music itself. The action takes place in a black box and the costumes likewise black, all quite simple. The unadorned staging was suitable, and might have been highly effective were it not for Philippe Giraudeau's exaggerated choreography. The chorus was consigned to the orchestra pit as dancers pantomimed of what had happened thus far to the House of Atreus.

The production is bizarre in other ways as well, the dancers ran around and wrote the names on the walls and floor, only to erase them later with water. The walls poured water, the resulting puddles on the black floor looked more urinous than bloody. The deus ex machina was not represented on stage, but Diane sang in the Grand Tier, which could work for those in the orchestra and boxes, but must have been strange for those around and above her.

The only weak singer was Mark S. Doss as the villain Thoas. He sounded as if he was being strangled. The rest of the singing was incredible, especially Susan Graham in the title role and Bo Skovhus as Oreste. The latter was slightly awkward in his carriage, but dealt well with being tossed around by dancers, he was lifted and made to walk on the walls. Paul Groves (Pylade) sang beautifully as well, though at points the orchestra overwhelmed him.

* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, perhaps because it was the opening of an opera not in the standard repertory. Some concupiscent gazes were noted and there was late seating in the boxes, but nothing disruptive. It was rather strange when people craned their necks to see Diane in the audience.

Der Rosenkavalier Final Dress Rehearsal

* Notes *
My enthusiasm for opera is well-known enough for the people around me to have picked up on it. It was my good fortune to be given a staff guest ticket for the final dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier last Wednesday. I have been to dress rehearsals before, but only in the Grand Tier or Dress Circle, so I was looking forward to seeing what happened down on the Orchestra level where the production team is.

The experience made it evident just how many people it takes to get a production to its final state. I sat behind the wardrobe people, and there were such a lot of them discussing how the costumes looked and what adjustments needed to be made.

The production is standard fare, much like Thierry Bosquet's other work I have seen. The set involved trompe-l'œil, just like his 1997 Tosca, 1990 Die Fledermaus, and 2000 Don Giovanni. All the singing was good, Joyce DiDonato seems like a fine Octavian and Kristinn Sigmundsson sounds better as Baron Ochs than as the Commendatore. The orchestra also sounded quite together.

* Tattling *
The production team spoke a great deal during the rehearsal, as is to be expected. One of the best things I overheard was one woman telling the tailor "That cravat is amazing!"

I must admit, I am not terribly fond of Richard Strauss or of this particular opera. The first time I heard it, I was struck by how dissonant certain parts are. But after this third go, I was able to to find something in it that was moving.

Don Giovanni and OperaVision

Survey* Notes *
For the second performance of Don Giovanni, I thought I would check out the new OperaVision screens in the balcony. The two screens are retractable, and the images are not fixed, so that at first we were seeing the conductor and orchestra members and later we saw both close-ups of singers and full-stage views. Most importantly, everyone in the balcony was also able to see the Death Chicken in Act II Scene 13.

The performance itself seemed to run more smoothly than opening night, as is typically the case. The long dining table actually sank so that it was flush with the floor this time, instead of getting stuck in the middle with a large clatter. Elza van den Heever sounded more comfortable as Donna Anna, but her acting was lacking, and this was evident in the close-ups on the OperaVision screens. The timing between music and singers was still off a bit. This time around I noticed that Don Giovanni is just so boorish as he throws food at Donna Elvira in that last scene of Act II, he also pushes her around quite violently.

* Tattling *
The sound is better in the balcony, but the patrons tend to be noisier. A girl in L 116 spoke into her companion's shoulder for some reason during the first scene of the opera, saying that it was "funny." Please note that this when Donna Anna was trying to fend off Don Giovanni, not the most pleasant scene. The women in L 120-122 were quiet for most the opera but could not contain themselves in the finale, they were concerned about getting out of the opera house.

Before the opera I was chatted up by another standee, he is apparently running for mayor of San Francisco, was a supernumerary in Carmen, and will be a supernumerary in the upcoming Tannhäuser. These seemed like outlandish claims, but the Tattler has verified at least the first one.

Opening of Don Giovanni

Dongiovannibrussels_2* Notes *
Don Giovanni opened the summer half of the 2006-2007 season in San Francisco last Saturday. The co-production with Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie premiered in 2003, and has been also been performed at the Grand Théâtre de la ville de Luxembourg and Opéra de Lille. David McVicar's production was designed by John Macfarlane and directed by Leah Hausman. The staging was rather dark, from the black raked stage to most of the costuming. Jennifer Tipton's lighting was not as minimal as we had been lead to believe, as one could recognize the faces of the singers from the back of the orchestra section without much effort. The choreography was demanding, at times there were a great many dancers on stage along with the singers. For the ball scene in Act I, the singers held their own and looked very good among the dancers. Some of the choreography was overwrought, especially at the end of Act I, when Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio and Donna Anna unmask. A few of the dancers were flailing in the background at this point. The acting was strong and the characterizations energetic. This is the only production I have seen in which Don Ottavio is not completely boring. He has a tendency to fade into the background or to be utterly insipid, yet here it was not the case. However, overall, the production tends towards humorlessness, especially at the end with the descent of Don Giovanni into Hell. The enormous death chicken wielding a sword was hilarious, but probably unintentionally so.

Musically the performance was a bit shaky. The orchestra and singers were not always quite together, I noticed this especially with two of the basses, Oren Gradus and Luca Pisaroni. Both sang very beautifully, but were a bit ahead of the music a few times. Mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke was much better suited for Zerlina than Cherubino, which she sang last summer here. Her voice is breathy, but not unpleasant. Charles Castronovo played and sang Don Ottavio well, though when he was singing with others, one can hear that his voice is slightly underpowered. Former Adler Twyla Robinson was a charming Donna Elvira, but vocally she was harsh and her intonation was imperfect, especially when she first took the stage. That said, she was sublime at certain points in Act II when her voice was warmed up and she was singing more quietly. Elza van den Heever did a commendable job of stepping into the role of Donna Anna at the last moment, she did sound hesitant at first, but sang well. Her voice is awfully cold and sounds a bit like it is stuck in her head somewhere, but her volume is adequate. Mariusz Kwiecien was excellent in the title role, but in this production he was not quite as domineering as he was in the Chris Alexander one at Seattle Opera earlier this year.

* Tattling *
The performance was sold-out several days in advance, but the standing room line was not as hectic as it can be. After coercing several young people to agree to attend this opera, the line situation was anticlimactic, we very easily got tickets 2-11. The box office opened a few minutes after 10, and the tickets were not yet printed, making the whole ordeal take longer than usual. Standing room itself was moderately full, and there was no late seating. The ushers spoke during the overture, and a man in seat ZZ 117 started unwrapping candies at that point as well. He left during the beginning of Act II with the 3 people he was with, it was unclear as to why. During the beginning Act II, a woman in standing room walked back and forth with a plastic shopping bag, until a man in standing room (not an usher) finally asked her to "Silence her bag." A baseball capped man in row ZZ (only for Act II) fell asleep in the middle of Act II.

During Act I, the photographer for Elza van den Heever was a bit loud, one could hear the clicking sounds as he worked pretty clearly. These performance photographs are usually taken during the final dress rehearsal, but in her case this was not possible. There was also an alarming amount of applause for Ms. van den Heever at every opportunity, for each aria and also at the end of the performance. If one was unaware about her minute replacement of Hope Briggs in the role of Donna Anna, it would have made no sense. It makes one curious, if Ms. Briggs was so unsuited for this role, should that not have been clear before the final dress rehearsal?

Don Giovanni Panel Discussion

The stage director of the upcoming Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera, Leah Hausman, moderated a panel discussion yesterday evening. The panelists included Twyla Robinson (Donna Elvira), Oren Gradus (Leporello), and Luca Pisaroni (Masetto). Though the discussion was somewhat disorganized, the panelists were all quite charming. We learnt that between the three singers they had been in over 20 productions of this opera, that European opera houses are small, and that all opera companies are different.

There were details revealed about the production, which is five years old and has been seen in Belgium, Japan, Luxembourg, and France. The stage is quite raked, the choreography is treacherous, and the lighting is dark. Apparently, the performances will be projected in the balcony so that the singers' faces are visible from there. They are calling this "OperaVision." We are living in the future, friends.