Previous month:
November 2007
Next month:
January 2008

War and Peace

The penultimate performance of Prokofiev's War and Peace this season at the Met is tonight, and how I wish I could go, if only to see the enormous sparkly red chicken puppet again. Also, I read in the Financial Times that the production features 4 live chickens, in addition to a horse, a dog, and a goat, not to mention the 170 singers. It is idle talk on my part, as I have not yet finished reading Tolstoy's work. It took 557 pages, but War and Peace does have an opera scene in Volume II, Part Five, VIII-X. I especially like the description of Natasha's initial impressions of the opera in Chapter IX:

After her life in the country, and in her present serious mood, all this seemed grotesque and amazing to Natasha. She could not follow the opera nor even listen to the music; she saw only the painted cardboard and the queerly dressed men and women who moved, spoke, and sang so strangely in that brilliant light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so pretentiously false and unnatural that she first felt ashamed for the actors and then amused at them. She looked at the faces of the audience, seeking in them the same sense of ridicule and perplexity she herself experienced, but they all seemed attentive to what was happening on the stage, and expressed delight which to Natasha seemed feigned. "I suppose it has to be like this!" she thought. She kept looking round in turn at the rows of pomaded heads in the stalls and then at the seminude women in the boxes, especially at Helene in the next box, who- apparently quite unclothed- sat with a quiet tranquil smile, not taking her eyes off the stage. And feeling the bright light that flooded the whole place and the warm air heated by the crowd, Natasha little by little began to pass into a state of intoxication she had not experienced for a long while. She did not realize who and where she was, nor what was going on before her. As she looked and thought, the strangest fancies unexpectedly and disconnectedly passed through her mind: the idea occurred to her of jumping onto the edge of the box and singing the air the actress was singing, then she wished to touch with her fan an old gentleman sitting not far from her, then to lean over to Helene and tickle her.

The Met Opera - Live in HD 2007-2008

The Met's first simulcast of the season, Roméo et Juliette, showed on 477 screens in the United States, and 100 screens abroad, selling around 97,000 tickets. The season is as follows:

Roméo et Juliette
December 15, 2007 (10:00 am – 1:30 pm PST)

Hansel and Gretel
January 1, 2008 (10:00 am – 12:35 pm PST)

January 12, 2008 (10:30 am – 1:50 pm PST)

Manon Lescaut
February 16, 2008 (10:00 am – 1:41 pm PST)

Peter Grimes
March 15, 2008 (10:30 am – 2:15 pm PDT)

Tristan und Isolde
March 22, 2008 (9:30 am – 3:05 pm PDT)

La Bohème
April 5, 2008 (10:30 am – 1:50 pm PDT)

La Fille du Régiment
Saturday, April 26, 2008 (10:30 am – 1:40 pm PDT)

Here is a list of participating cinemas in the United States. In the Bay Area, the South Bay seems to have the most theaters involved in this.

In the United States, one can purchase tickets online via Fathom Events by choosing the performance from the drop-down menu under the header labeled "Event Search," and then typing one's zipcode in the form that appears on the right column labeled "Find Theatres." The results page redirects the user to either Fandago,, or some other third party site depending on the cinema. There are surcharges, so the $22 ticket is actually $23-25.50, and is more expensive than standing room at the Met ($20).

As far as I could tell most of the cinemas outside the United States have some similar method of purchasing tickets online, the exceptions being the Czech Republic and Puerto Rico (the Met considers the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico an International Location). I believe I was able to navigate Cine Magnum well enough to reserve tickets for a theatre in Thuringia.


Once_2* Notes *
The Irish film Once was released on DVD earlier this week. I saw it a few months ago, and was determined to dislike it, as it was advertised about a thousand times on NPR as being about musicians finding romance on the streets of Dublin. Imagine my surprise to learn Once is actually a musical of sorts, and a very charming one at that. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová sing and play well, their songs are pretty, though lyrically they do tend to veer toward the maudlin. One gets the impression that neither of them are truly actors, but they do work well together and were able to pull it off. The movie itself is sweet without being cloying.

* Tattling *
The patrons of the
Elmwood are usually subdued, if anyone is loud, it is usually me and my inappropriate laughter. There was one time when I could not stop laughing at Mulholland Drive. The audience of a dozen people for Once was silent and barely moved.

SF Opera Cinemacasts

Following the Met's lead, San Francisco Opera and The Bigger Picture announced an agreement to bringing opera to movie theaters. Appomattox, Die Zauberflöte, Don Giovanni, La Rondine, Madama Butterfly, and Samson et Dalila will be shown four times each, beginning in March 2008. All of these offerings have already been recorded in the last year, so none of them will be simulcasts.

Press Release [PDF] | San Francisco Opera | The Bigger Picture | Schedule

WNO Opera's 2009 Ring Cycle

Washington National Opera is presenting a complete Ring Cycle for the first time in November of 2009. Dubbed the "American Ring," this co-production with San Francisco Opera is directed by Francesca Zambello.

November 2-16 2009: Das Rheingold
November 3-17 2009:
Die Walküre
November 5-19 2009: Siegfried
November 7-21 2009: Götterdämmerung

Official Site | Press Release [PDF]

Aaja Nachle

Aaja_nachle* Notes *
Madhuri Dixit made her return to the silver screen in Aaja Nachle, after a five year hiatus. She looks pretty great in the movie, considering she has had two kids since playing Chandramukhi in Devdas. Her dancing was lovely, and it was interesting to see a woman who just turned 40 as the main protagonist. Dixit was not completely convincing in the flashback scene from 11 years before the main part of the story, she just does not look like someone in her twenties. This is a minor point, Shah Rukh Khan does not always look like the 30 year old he was playing in Om Shanti Om either.

The film itself was charming. The plot is simple, basically about traditional culture versus capitalism, a dance school is threatened with demolition to make way for a mall. The heroine is strong and independent, she runs off to the United States and comes back to make good. Komal Nahata called the plot unoriginal, much like Lagaan, as that film involves villagers learning to play cricket so that they can cancel taxes they cannot afford to pay. In Aaja Nachle, the people of Shamli have to put on a musical version of Laila and Majnu. Certainly there are similarities, but I would argue it is a bit different, the transcendence of art being rather central to Aaja Nachle.

Though at times Aaja Nachle was slightly unbelievable and a little silly, for the most part it was quite cute. For instance, the production quality of the musical within a musical was far too good to be realistic, but it was good fun anyway. The music was not particularly catchy, and if asked, I could not hum a single tune from it.

* Tattling *
It turns out I couldn't see Saawariya, even if I had wanted to, it has already left the
Naz 8.

The theater had less than 20 people in it, it was clear why Aaja Nachle was declared a flop.

Quite stupidly, I was on BART to Fremont just before a football game was to take place at the Oakland Coliseum. The fans screamed and such, and one jokingly threatened a person wearing paraphernalia of the opposing team. Indianapolis beat Oakland, 21-14.

I noticed that Masala Grill, near the Naz 8 Cinema, devotes an entire section of their menu to Desi-Chinese dishes such as sweet corn soup and ginger chicken.

Messiah at SFS

Messiah* Notes *
 Of Händel's 29 oratorios, Messiah is far and away the most performed, and is the composer's most famous work. Messiah has returned again to San Francisco Symphony for a couple of performances, conducted by Ragnar Bohlin, who is the new director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. Bohlin made his debut conducting at Davies Hall yesterday. The chorus sounded lovely. The orchestra, on the other hand, did not quite have it together for the soprano recitative right after the "Pifa." The violins were slightly fast, or else the cello and organ were slow. The trumpet sounded especially fine in the bass air "The Trumpet Shall Sound."

The bass soloist, Patrick Carfizzi, was underpowered, he did sound nice when only accompanied by harpsichord. Some of his transitions were slightly muddy. Shawn Mathey, the tenor, lacked heft, and at times he was also difficult to hear. Mezzo-soprano Tove Dahlberg has a much brighter voice, with good resonance and depth. She did have a little too much vibrato for her higher notes in "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion." The soprano, Camilla Tilling, had good control of both her vibrato and volume, and though sometimes strained, never sounded shrill. All the soloists had fine diction.

* Tattling *
The symphony audience was well-behaved, even for this very famous work that must have drawn people that do not normally go to Davies Hall. I did hear two watch alarms during "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth." However, many people did leave early. The middle part of the Center Terrace was completely full for the first half of the performance, and there were noticeably less people for the second half.  A few people also left after the famous "Hallelujah" chorus, which also garnered the only applause during actual piece.

Camilla Tilling looked beautiful in a satin pearl grey dress with a ruched bodice. Tove Dahlberg is possibly the only performer I have ever seen carry off wearing a strapless gown. Her posture is good and her shoulders are pretty. It must have been cold though, for she put on a wrap for the second half.

Saawariya on NPR

Saawariya Today NPR's Morning Edition aired a story on Sony and Saawariya, a film based on Dostoevsky's 1848 "White Nights." Saawariya was released the same weekend as Om Shanti Om, but was panned by critics, including Komal Nahata, the regular reviewer on the BBC Asian Network's Love Bollywood, who was interviewed for this story.

Both Saawariya and Om Shanti Om are still playing at the Naz 8 in Fremont. However, I was planning on seeing Aaja Nachle instead, though Nahata did not like it, Love Bollywood presenters Raj and Pablo did, and said the dancing was good. This is no surprise, given that Madhuri Dixit has training in Kathak, and the film Aaja Nachle is about saving a dance school.

2008 Adler Fellows

Adlers-2008 The seven new Adler Fellows for 2008 are Tamara Wapinsky, Daveda Karanas, Daniela Mack, Andrew Bidlack, Alek Shrader, Kenneth Kellogg, and Lara Bolton. They join current fellows Heidi Melton, Ji Young Yang, Katharine Tier, and Matthew Piatt.

Daniela Mack will be singing at a Schwabacher Debut Recital on Sunday, April 6, 2008, as will Heidi Melton on Sunday, April 27, 2008. The Adlers will all perform in The Future Is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert scheduled for December 6, 2008.

The Adler Fellowship Program is named after Kurt Herbert Adler, the second general director of San Francisco Opera. This residency program gives young singers a chance to perform on the main stage in small roles.

Press Release [PDF] | SF Opera Adler Fellow Web Site

Opera Intake for Fall 2007

CeilingLast June I went to San Francisco Opera sixteen times (seventeen if one counts the rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier I went to), and while that is excessive, one should note that there were only three productions, and only twenty-one performances. I only missed one performance of Don Giovanni because one of my best friends was getting her PhD that weekend, but I saw every performance of Iphigénie en Tauride.

When this season started, I told myself I was not allowed to go to the opera four times a week. I tried my best to monitor my opera intake, and I have improved. Here is the break-down, from September 4 to December 9, 2007:

Samson et Dalila: 3 of 8, plus 1 rehearsal
Tannhäuser: 5 of 7
Appomattox: 2 of 7, plus 1 rehearsal
Die Zauberflöte: 3 of 9
La Rondine: 3 of 7
Macbeth: 4 of 7, plus 1 rehearsal
The Rake's Progress: 5 of 6
Madama Butterfly: 3 of 5

Total: 28 of 56 performances, plus 3 rehearsals

I also went to see The Turn of the Screw at Oakland Opera Theater and Iphigénie en Tauride at Seattle Opera. Counting all performances and rehearsals, I went to the opera only about twice a week.

Closing of The Rake's Progress

Rakecar* Notes *
The Rake's Progress closed today with a Sunday matinée, and to my surprise, I attended, as I was offered a seat from a friend. This season I have avoided Sunday performances, as they are extraordinarily popular. Also, the last performances at the end of the year are crowded, after my experience with the
closing of Carmen last year, I was not too keen on experiencing something like that again. The staging went well today, I did not hear any stage managers and the only thing that was really loud was when they were placing the trailer. The set is clever, and this production is a testament to how one can have both novelty and invention without distracting from the drama and music. The only truly weak part may have been the Bedlam scene, though I appreciate that the persistence of certain stage elements must have been important to the set designer and director. The sunken area of the lunatic asylum is clearly the same space delineated in the earlier swimming pool scene. Unfortunately, having the singers in that small space, the chorus and the principals, was strange. Worse, it cut them off from the audience, and lowered the dramatic tension. Perhaps the scene read better in the balcony.

The orchestra sounded better than opening night, but not quite up to their very best. I consistently found both James Morris (Nick Shadow) and Trulove (Kevin Langan) more difficult to hear than the other lead singers. Morris has had perfect comic timing throughout. Langan's acting was good, suitably skeptical of Tom in the beginning, sympathetic at the madhouse. Denyce Graves had a huge presence and I especially adored her in "You Love Him, Seek To Set Him Right." At times her voice was somewhat harsh, but it was fine for this role. Laura Aikin's high notes were lovely, her Anne Trulove never had too much vibrato. William Burden was marvelous in the title role, his voice lucid and his acting brilliant.

* Tattling *
A young woman in Box W arrived late, and she took off one of her shoes and put her foot on an empty chair. She was unable to do this during the second half of the opera, as people were seated in the second row (she was in the third). After the opera, I noticed she was limping, so it was probably a sprain.

The costume for Nick Shadow in his last scene is a red unitard covered with strips of material. I believe it is meant to make him look as if he is being consumed in flames, but to me it just looks like a chicken suit.

For my own amusement, I tried to dress like a 1940s Hollywood starlet, wearing my hair in the manner of Veronica Lake. Baritone Frederick Matthews complimented my shoes.


End of 2007 Tattling

SfoperafirealarmSomeone one pulled a fire alarm just a few minutes before yesterday's performance of The Rake's Progress was to begin, so we all had to file out and everything started half an hour late. This hasn't happened in awhile, but I remember a rash of fire alarm pulling in 2005. Later, everyone laughed at the recorded message reminding us to locate the nearest exit in case of an emergency. The cast still sounded very good, despite the delay.

Today standing room was quite full for Racette's last performance of Madama Butterfly this season. Before the performance, David Gockley came on stage, and reassured us everyone would still be singing. He lead us in applause, recorded for a possible DVD or some such thing. He used the word vociferous more than once. I don't think I can convey how absurd this was. The performance itself was strong, and I was able to appreciate Racette and Jovanovich more, having seen the second cast.

There were signs that informed the audience the would be recorded, the language used was really quite amusing, and thankfully I got a photograph of it. I especially like the sentence "By attending this event, you are consenting and hereby grant permission to San Francisco Opera or its designees, and its employees, successors, and assignees, licensees and agents to utilize your appearance, image, voice, and likeness, in perpetuity, in any and all manner and form and format of media throughout the world, now known or hereafter devised, including but not limited to recordings, broadcasts, or webcasts of the event you are attending."