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December 2007

Closing of La Rondine

Rondine Act I, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
The last performance of La Rondine was sold-out, but as it is part of my subscription, I attended in my regular spot in Box X. The set looks quite nice up close as well as from afar, though I noticed that the mirror ball in Act II was audible. I suspect it created white noise that dampened the sound of the singers, perhaps that is why I had more difficulty hearing Angela Gheorghiu in Act II. After hearing the music thrice, I still unmoved, though the orchestra and singers were mostly fine.

Gheorghiu looked ravishing from my vantage point. I again noticed her breathing, and that her voice has a certain pretty fragility to it. Misha Didyk continued to sound rough as Ruggero. Anna Christy still sounded bird-like. Gerard Powers sang those high notes in Act III better, strained, but on key.

* Tattling *
Standing room looked terribly full. There was quite a chorus of watch alarms, more than half a dozen at 8pm, perhaps a few less at 9pm and 10pm. Box X had three couples in it, they had come to the opera together. I noticed a person in Box Y was standing for the performance, and that the people behind me retreated behind the curtain of Box X. When I returned after the intermission, one of the people was insisting that he and his friends be moved. He asked where David Gockley was and was very unhappy about the person in Box Y. Flatulence was mentioned. The usher spoke to the offending person, and he did sit for the second half of the opera.

5th Performance of Macbeth

Thomas Hampson, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Last night I was invited at the last minute to hear Macbeth again, from box seats, so I gave the opera another try. Of course there was no booing this time, so I did laugh a good deal less. From Box O, I was able to see the green slime on Duncan after his murder. Also, I could see an entire shoe trying-on scene with Lady Macbeth and some witches that I missed the other times, in Act II Scene 2. One of the problems with the production is that Lady Macbeth is just so crazy from the get-go, chained at the top of the box. By the time she has her mad scene, Lady Macbeth is fairly subdued, she doesn't seem much crazier at this point than at the beginning.

The set still had problems with its loudness. Again I heard some stage directions just before the upstage curtain started moving, this is after Macbeth's "Mi si affaccia un pugnal?" in Act I Scene 2.

The singing was consistent, Thomas Hampson sounded especially great in "Pietà, rispetto, amore." The only person who was notably better was Alfredo Portilla as Macduff. This could be because of acoustics, some voices are dampened in the rear of the orchestra, or it could be that Portilla has been working hard. He did withdrawal from the role of Pinkerton he was supposed to sing next week. Portilla did have one note near the end of his big aria that wasn't quite right.   

* Tattling *
Most of the patrons of Box O were very quiet, none of them had mobile phones that rang nor watch alarms during the hour. However, the women in seats 1 and 2 whispered and giggled a great deal in the first half. The staging is so loud, I didn't feel right about hushing them. Plus, I was someone else's guest, and I wanted to be at least somewhat gracious. Unfortunately, by the second half, which this pair of women were slightly late for, they were speaking aloud during the music. Thankfully they did become more and more silent as the night wore on, I believe one of them might have fallen asleep.

Additionally, my companion noted that I was wearing blue jeans to the opera, and she had never seen me wear such apparel, even when we were at university. I promised I would tattle on myself, and now I have. I have no real excuse, it was just what I was wearing that day.

Idle Soprano Gossip

BirdAs you might remember, Angela Gheorghiu (Magda in La Rondine) was fired by  Lyric this season. A little bird told me that Ms. Gheorghiu is very nice and not a diva at all. I heard from someone else that she might have been a little testy about her lodging. It was also suggested that she is like her name, angelic.

More entertainingly, I heard that Georgina Lukács (Lady Macbeth in Macbeth), is as disagreeable as her voice. Slaps and spitting were mentioned. I'll certainly think of this when I listen to her tonight.

Om Shanti Om

Om Shanti Om* Notes *
I have this particular friend who has attended every performance with me at
Seattle Opera. She is from the Bay Area, so we occasionally go to the opera in San Francisco when she is in town. Last year during the Thanksgiving holiday we spent 7 hours and 25 minutes listening to 3 operas in a mere 30 hours. This year I was not supposed to be around, so when my plans were changed at the last minute, I insisted that we see the opening of The Rake's Progress together, forcing her to travel from Fremont to San Francisco on BART early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving. Since she is moving to Germany at the end of the year, I figured I should let her spend some time with her family, and not drag her to see the Macbeth that showed yesterday and La Rondine, which was performed today. I thought the Macbeth would be particularly cruel to drag her to, considering she will be seeing plenty of Regieopern in Berlin. Additionally, the last time she heard Thomas Hampson was in Simon Boccanegra at the Met, and the last Macbeth she saw was pretty awful.

I regularly listen to the BBC Asian Network podcast of Love Bollywood, for I find the show rather entertaining. This year, their reviewer Komal Nahata has only liked one film, this being Om Shanti Om. The movie is also doing well at the box office. Since Fremont, where my dear friend is from and was staying this weekend, has a "Multicultural Entertainment Megaplex," I was sure Om Shanti Om would be there. As I suspected, the film was being shown every hour during the day, so I dragged my friend there 5 hours before her plane departed.

The film is absolutely hilarious, poking fun at the Hindi film industry with a charming light-heartedness. The first half is set in 1977, replete with fabulous costumes and glorious dance sequences. The second half is set in present day, and has tons of cameos and fun music. I laughed during many of the 168 minutes. Shah Rukh Khan was convincing both as a junior artist and a superstar. Newcomer Deepika Padukone makes a  beautiful leading lady, she was suitably dignified when called on to be so, and also quite silly when necessary. The songs are good fun, I especially enjoyed "Dard-E-Disco" (Pain of Disco).

* Tattling *
We were nearly 10 minutes late to the cinema, but because my friend's flight was at 7pm, we were obliged to see the 2pm show. We sat in the center section, right in front of a pair of men. I tried my best to slouch. There was some speaking on the part of the audience, but it was not terribly distracting.

As I drove my friend to the airport, I admitted that I had enjoyed Om Shanti Om more than The Rake's Progress, but would only see the film once more, at least, so I can see the beginning. Undoubtedly I will try to hear William Burden and Laura Aiken at least two more times.

Opening of The Rake's Progress

Laura Aikin and William Burden, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress opened yesterday in a co-production with
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Opéra de Lyon, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and Teatro Real Madrid. The opera was taken from the 16th century into the 1950s, so taken from when Hogarth's paintings are set to when the opera was premiered. The effect makes Stravinsky's self-consciously Baroque/Classical style, complete with harpsichord, somewhat nonsensical. The English countryside is reimagined as Texas, Nick Shadow takes Tom Rakewell to London to become a movie star. Carl Fillion's sets are exceedingly charming, it seems that every scene had something terribly clever in it as far as staging. Especially amusing were the bed that Tom and Mother Goose dally in, the inflatable movie trailer, the dollhouse meant to represent the Trulove home, Anne's flyaway scarf as she makes her way to London, and the swimming pool of the Rakewell home. Boris Firquet's video design was excellently incorporated, the scene changes that used this were seamless, and the only time the rather horizontal screen really bothered me was the movie marquee scene (Act II Scene 2), because naturally the eyes go up to see the rest of the building, and it is just blank black space. The lighting design, by Etienne Boucher, was blinding as Nick Shadow filmed Tom in Act I Scene 2, but was otherwise good.

Runnicles and the orchestra were not in their best form, they overwhelmed the singers, they were not always together, and the horns sounded rough. Both William Burden (Tom Rakewell) and Laura Aikin (Anne Trulove) sounded clear and bright. Burden sang quite plaintively, and Aikin sounded perfectly angelic and bell-like. James Morris was a placid Nick Shadow, his lower notes were slightly gravelly, though his higher range was pretty. Denyce Graves played Baba the Turk to a tee, her powerful voice has a wonderful warmth and was appropriately gruff in this role. In the smaller roles, tenor Steven Cole stood out as Sellem, his acting in the auction scene was hilarious, and though he was slightly quiet when he moved upstage, his voice is pleasing. Besides Ms. Graves and Mr. Cole, the acting of the principals was rather subdued. It was difficult to see how Tom's actions were motivated, Morris was particularly ambiguous, in playing the Devil himself, though unctuous, he did seem rather cold and bored.

* Tattling *
Because this opera opened the day after Thanksgiving and my family is not in the Bay Area, I had to convince a friend to get a ticket for me in the morning. Someone managed to sneak past her into the building and I got the following text message at 10:22 am: I had to beat a queue-cutting coot to get your #1 ticket. I hope you're happy!

Standing room was only moderately full, and the rest of audience was somewhat sparse. Everyone was pretty quiet, I heard no watch alarms on the hour. Someone tore paper at one point in Act I, but this was only for a few seconds. The sign asking people exit from the side doors during the performance was knocked over twice. There was much applause for the set, and this obscured the music more than once.

I was given a lovely crocheted cupcake in standing room, for my efforts in depicting pastry. Certainly it was one of the nicest presents I have received at the opera.

Pina Bausch at Cal Performances

Tenchi_2* Notes * 
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal returned to Cal Performances for the first time in 8 years, with a three day run of the piece Ten Chi. The work has quite a lot more dancing in it than Nelken, the only other work of Bausch's I know. It was a couple of strange Japanese/German dream-like hours. The set was like a dark sea, with a few whale parts peeking through the surface. Toward the end of the first part petals or snow start falling, and it continued for the entire show. The seventeen performers on stage included many fine dancers, and some rather funny as actors as well. The assisted gliding and swimming was particularly beautiful. In evening dress the performers dressed and undressed each other, took photographs, bowed, counted audience members' fingers, threatened to drop ice, walked on glass, and encouraged snoring. Aida Vainieri got one of the longest ovations for her hilarious sound effects as she attacked a pillow and this was amplified by the microphone held in her cleavage. Mechthild Großmann was slightly terrifying when she made her many declarations, though the most alarming part was when she started listing off Japanese words like geisha, bonzai, Mt. Fuji, and sushi. She would draw out the words and play with the sounds, and for some reason it was disturbing.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet except for a bit of whispering. They submitted to snoring and finger-counting when asked. They seemed to like the performance a great deal, and it occurred to me what the difference between Pina Bausch's work and that of those responsible for Regieoper. With Bausch, one knows what one is getting, avant garde contemporary dance. It is not as if she has taken The Nutcracker and put whales and swimming into it. Then again, she has done
Iphigenie auf Tauris as a dance opera, I can only imagine how absurd it might be.

Requiem in D minor, KV 626

Diesirae* Notes *
I haven't been to hear UC Berkeley's
University Chorus since a 2004 performance of Rachmaninoff's Vsenoshchnoye bdenie at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland. Imagine my surprise at not seeing Marika Kuzma, as she is on leave this school year, and Aya Ueda is the Guest Director. The evening started off with Awit Sa Panginoon, an a cappella work with a Filipino text. The work seems more appropriate for Easter than Thanksgiving, given that it is based on pasyon, a Lenten vocal genre. The music was hypnotic, and the two female soloists were particularly good, the sopranos Lily Ehlebracht and Dalia Sawaya.

Mozart's Requiem in D minor, KV 626 was played and sung very nicely. The soprano, Krista Wigle, had a good deal of vibrato, but a pretty voice. Mezzo-soprano Paula Chacon occasionally had an odd wobble in her voice as well. The men fared better, Matthew Oltman (tenor) and Jeffrey Fields (bass) sing with, respectively, Chanticleer and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and it was apparent why.

Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei ended the evening, as an extension of the Mozart. While not horrible, it was a bit odd to hear after the Requiem. I did not give it the proper attention, so I have nothing more to say about it.

* Tattling *
The performance was sold-out, though this is not an infrequent occurrence, as students wish to see their friends perform. The audience was well-behaved, I noted no watch alarms or phone rings, nor was there any talking. I did sit in the middle of the third row, so that probably made a difference. After the performance, I overheard some complimentary words about Matthew Oltman's hair, worn in a discreet mohawk.

4th Performance of La Rondine

Misha Didyk and Angela Gheorghiu, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
I gave La Rondine a second chance, and listened to it in the balcony standing room area last night. The sets and costumes were beautiful from afar as well, and the disco ball in Act II was not visible, so not blinding. Even still, I could see why this opera has only been performed once, before this production, at San Francisco Opera. The plot is thin, no one dies or gets married, and the music, though pretty, is rather light.

Angela Gheorghiu did sound better from the balcony, though she had moments of being overwhelmed by the orchestra in Act II. At times I could not hear which language she was singing in, though I could discern the notes, the words were lost. Perhaps I mistook her delicacy for tentativeness, Gheorghiu certainly has control of her tone, in stark contrast with our other current leading lady and fellow Non-Slavic Eastern European, Georgina Lukács. I still was bothered by Gheorghiu's occasional gasps and her ungainly movements. She is, of course, stunningly beautiful, so even her awkward carriage has a certain charm.

The rest of the cast was consistent with the previous performance I attended. Gerard Powers still missed that one high note in his duet with Anna Christy (Lisette) in Act III, just before the butler enters. Otherwise, his acting and singing were both strong.

* Tattling *
The performance was not full, and I was a little surprised given that the reviews were good and Gheorghiu should be a big draw. I did notice more Romanians than usual. I managed to get a good standing room spot in the balcony behind L 111, which was unoccupied for the whole performance. People were well-behaved, there was hardly any talking, only two watch alarms went off at 10pm, and no mobiles rang. The sets for Acts I and III received applause, as they did for opening night.

David Gockley spoke and answered questions after the performance. We were promised that there would be no microphones used to amplify singers' voices, that SFO would go into movie theaters, and that we should be able to chose our seats online soon. Apparently subscriptions are down, and they are trying to make subscribing more desirable by discounting the tickets by 20% next season. The uncomfortableness of the seats in the War Memorial Opera House was brought up yet again, apparently it is important to the SFWMPAC Board of Trustees that the seats retain their 1930s look and feel. They must always sit in the boxes.

Opening of Macbeth

Thomas Hampson and Georgina Lukács, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
It was as expected, the audience at the Macbeth opening was, on the whole, discontent with the production and even booed the members of production team that dared to take bows. That is quite a feat, the last time I heard Americans boo at a production was five years ago at Alcina. Personally I found Alcina to be more offensive than this Macbeth, since the former is more inaccessible to a general audience and an alienating staging just makes matters worse. Additionally, David Pountney's Macbeth production has a lot of intentionally absurd elements, and somehow the earnestness of the Alcina was particularly grating. Incidentally, both of these productions are on DVD (
Alcina and Macbeth), should you want to view them.

Despite the silliness of Marie Jeanne Lecca's fashion don'ts (pink and red witch costumes, Lady Macbeth's S & M dress, the Star Trek outfits on the murderers), the hula hooping, paper mummies, and drag queens, it was all a little boring. The person in front of me fell asleep at one point. The set, designed by Stefanos Lazaridis, was not terribly fascinating, just one round room with huge gash in the ceiling and a box with doors that got shoved about. It was too noisy, of course moving the box around wasn't at all quiet, but particularly in the parts in which curtains were drawn over the back wall. The first time this happened, during a scene change in Act II, I was able to hear some stage directions.

The choreography was likewise loud, Vivienne Newport has a witch hula hooping, paper mummies tearing themselves, Birnam Wood banging on the box, and the chorus inexplicably taping up the side of box at the end. The hula hooping and the Wood were, at best, cute, but the mummies and tape were obnoxious. The choreography for the witches was overly busy, but the chorus did well. As did Georgina Lukács as Lady Macbeth, her movements were terrifying, very predatory and slightly revolting.

The Adlers in this production were all great: Noah Stewart (Malcolm), Jeremy Galyon (A Doctor), and Elza van den Heever (A Lady in Waiting) had small roles but sang well. Raymond Aceto sang Banquo with good volume, but his voice is somewhat thin. Tenor Alfredo Portilla was a mournful and suitable Macduff, his aria in the beginning of Act IV was fine though a few of his high notes toward the end were strained. The Lady Macbeth, Georgina Lukács, had impressive acting, but lacked control of her voice. She sounded lovely in her lower range, but her higher notes wobbled a great deal. Thomas Hampson has suitable gravity and pathos for the role of Macbeth, and sang well. His fine volume and rich tone were pleasing. 

* Tattling *
The turnout was poor for an opening night, but perhaps it was because of the
Obama rally that took place nearby or possibly fatigue from last week's opening of La Rondine. Many people were late because streets were closed for the rally, but they were seated during the short pause between Acts I and II. Standing room only had a few dozen people, I was all alone at the box office until 9:10 am, when a small line started forming for the rush tickets. Too bad there weren't any available, and no sign indicating so. It was odd given that I saw many open seats, most standees found seats without a problem.

The audience was subdued during the performance, as the aforementioned sleeping will attest to. A pair of men in Y 18 and 20 of the orchestra were very upset by the production, and I kept laughing at this, because it was so darling. I laughed so much at the booing I could not manage to boo myself.

Macbeth Final Dress Rehearsal

Macbeth* Notes *
Verdi's Macbeth opens tonight at San Francisco Opera, with
Thomas Hampson in the title role. I was fortunate enough to attend the final dress rehearsal last Sunday, and was at least impressed with Hampson. David Pountney's production, directed by Nicola Raab, is the consummate Regieoper that San Francisco seems to dislike so. I overheard it called "alienating" and "weird." It reminded me a bit of that misquote of Tolstoy in Nabokov's Ada, except substitute "opera production" for "family." I felt I had seen many of the same devices before, and I'll try to keep just how rather general so it won't be spoilt for you, gentle reader. The camouflage fatigues, unexplained props, odd projections, sets that look worse for wear, meandering child supernumeraries, noisy choreography, fake breasts, paper, and drunken staggering all gave me a sense of déjà vu. I was just waiting for my friend Chattering Teeth Head and a few couches suspended from the ceiling to show up. It is not surprising at all that the production is from Oper Zürich.

* Tattling *
There were a gaggle of high school students at the dress rehearsal, but they were well-behaved. I sat next to a pair of rather loud women speaking Russian, but I did not silence them as it seemed futile, given that the production team obviously spoke during the performance. Somehow I managed to dress in a manner not unlike the witches and overheard someone comment on that as I left the opera house.

Opening of La Rondine

Angela Gheorghiu, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Puccini's La Rondine opened at San Francisco Opera yesterday. This co-production with
Le Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse and Royal Opera, Covent Garden is easy on the eye. Ezio Frigerio's set is beautiful, evoking Gustav Klimt and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Likewise, Franca Squarciapino's Roaring Twenties costumes are quite pretty. The choreography and dancing were solid, especially in Act II, set in a dance hall.

Angela Gheorghiu made her long-awaited debut at San Francisco Opera as Magda de Civry. She sounded surprisingly tentative in Act I, particularly in "Che il bel sogno." Her high notes were sung on key, but not with complete conviction. Some of her lower notes were difficult to hear, and sometimes her breathing was rather audible. Her acting was strangely timid as well, her shoulders hunched. She is gorgeous, I would never have guessed she is 42 years old, just a few years younger than Karita Mattila. I kept comparing Gheorghiu to Mattila during the evening, it was impossible for me to not think of the latter's strong performance in Manon Lescaut last season. Both La Rondine and Manon Lescaut are less popular Puccini works, both singers sang with Misha Didyk in the lead tenor role. However, Mattila was fully engaged as Manon, and one cannot say the same for Gheorghiu as Magda.

Misha Didyk had good volume as Ruggero Lastouc, though his voice can be harsh at times. Tenor Gerard Powers (Prunier) was more pleasing, but one of his high notes in Act III was strained and unpleasant. Anna Christy sounded bright and sprightly as Lisette, she was perfectly delightful.

* Tattling *
Standing room was full, as was most of the orchestra level and the boxes. I was somewhat disturbed that the house manager of the opera house was not there, this is the first time in four seasons that I have attended in standing room and have not seen him about.

The audience was reasonably well-behaved. There was a particular man jangling his keys in orchestra level standing room that was vaguely annoying. Another man in Z 113 rustled a plastic bag that he kept his cough drops and water bottle in, and I was reminded of how I cannot wait for San Francisco's plastic bag ban. The woman in ZZ 111 spoke slightly too much during the first half of the opera and stood up at one point to trade seats with her companion. During the second half she was on oxygen, and her breaths were rather loud, so I had to retreat over to another area. Obviously, she couldn't help it, but it was difficult at first for me to discern where the gasps were coming from and I spent too much time worrying that I had lost my mind.